Favourite spring things

Monday 27 May 2013, 13:46

 Nick Baker Nick Baker Naturalist and presenter

Favourite spring things
What's your favourite sign of spring? Seems like quite an easy and straight forward question to answer, until that is you start to think about it. You see spring means different things to all of us, the various natural manifestations that give us that feeling of seasonal joy are very personal and depend on where we are as to what they are and when they happen.
I'm pretty optimistic and I usually can't wait to leave the dark, cold and dimpsy winter season behind so I start looking for spring just after Christmas. It helps living in the West Country as thanks to the warm and gentle caress of the Gulf Stream, spring arrives a little earlier here. In fact if you believe that as a rough concept spring moves forth in a northerly direction at approximately walking pace, then the most southerly spot could be referred to as the origin of spring on the UK mainland. 
So to give you an example I start looking for my first traditional spring-time signs shortly after we enter the new year, it's not unusual to find a ditch or puddle bulging with frog spawn as early as the first few weeks of the year and keeping an eye on a scruffy local hedge bank when we get the first weak rays of sun punching through the chilled air, it's possible to see the very first and often equally optimistic adders, having been drawn from the depths of their winter hibernacula somewhere down amongst the rocks and roots.
But I've still not really answered the question. What is my favourite sign of spring? Well I tend to go looking for the little things. If you leave it and wait for the big in your face fanfares, the cliche and traditional harbingers and heralds of the season you may be waiting a long time as this delayed 2013 season bears testament to.
While I had to wait until mid-April to hear the first cuckoos of the year, I had already been watching my local adders frolicking in newly moulted splendour, the very welcome sight of a bumbling oil beetle and the quilted plump bloody-nose beetle larvae chowing down on the first upward clambering goosegrass stems were soon to follow.
It is these details and in the minutiae that spring is found for me. These little lives respond quickly to the warming nooks and crannies. It is these micro-worlds complete with their own micro-environment that are the place to go for the eternal seasonal optimist. 
This in itself gives me so much choice, there are far more small creatures than the big and charismatic, and all of their lives are kicked into action when their microcosms seem to warm above the magic 10°C. So it could be that my favourite signs of spring would be a minotaur beetle busy burying rabbit droppings, the first tiger beetle of the year, the bursting open of my mason bee tubes and the fuzzy buzzy life of the adults on a sunny garden fence post, maybe the ten-pin clusters of eggs of the dog whelks down in the rock pools or even the frenetic dance of the water fleas in my pond. They all have a case.
For my favourite sign of spring I'll meet you half way - if I can choose one single thing that makes my heart warm a little and tells me, for sure that its life cycle has totally committed to the season and isn't, as soon as it turns cool again, going to return to a state of stupor and hide. Then it is this, the orange tip butterfly.
The male is the best named of our butterflies, even a complete novice to the concept of butterflies can recognise this cheery little fella as he skirts the hedges and waysides, in search of floozies and flowers. 
He is a dazzling dancer of the warm places and give it a week and some of the females (much harder to recognise due to looking very much like a small white or green-veined white) will have fallen for his charms and will have laid their eggs. 
If you fancy impressing your friends with you field skills, then go looking at the underside of the flower heads of cuckoo flower (also known as milkmaid or lady's smock). Choose those a little further away from the crowds (for some reason this seem to be favoured) and you may well be rewarded with the single, skittle shaped egg. Spotting something that stands barely a single millimetre tall may seem a bit of a challenge too far. But have a look for yourself, these little living packets containing all the information and raw materials for the life-cycle that culminates in the perfect spring time butterfly are easy to spy as they come in the same colour as the wing tips of the male - bright orange! 
Every year when I test myself and find my first one, it takes me on a strange nostalgic time trip back to that first moment of revelation when as a small proto-naturalist I discovered my first one in a damp flower filled spring meadow. I implore you to find one for yourself, keep an eye on it and over the next couple of months you'll be able to return to this very same flower head and watch your egg, hatch and the incredible well camouflaged caterpillar (it looks like the green seed pod that it is busy consuming) develop, you may even get a chance to see it form its highly cryptic and lithe chrysalis. 
That one little egg gives me a 'friend' for the rest of the season and into the summer and it's because of all the above mentioned joys this butterfly gives me, that it is my favourite sign of spring. All that remains is for me to ask.... What is yours?

What's your favourite sign of spring? Seems like quite an easy and straight forward question to answer, until that is you start to think about it. You see spring means different things to all of us, the various natural manifestations that give us that feeling of seasonal joy are very personal and what they are and when they happen depends on where we are.


I'm pretty optimistic and I usually can't wait to leave the dark, cold and dimpsy winter season behind so I start looking for spring just after Christmas. It helps living in the West Country as thanks to the warm and gentle caress of the Gulf Stream, spring arrives a little earlier here. In fact if you believe that as a rough concept spring moves forth in a northerly direction at approximately walking pace, then the most southerly spot could be referred to as the origin of spring on the UK mainland. 


So to give you an example I start looking for my first traditional spring-time signs shortly after we enter the new year, it's not unusual to find a ditch or puddle bulging with frog spawn as early as the first few weeks of the year and keeping an eye on a scruffy local hedge bank when we get the first weak rays of sun punching through the chilled air, it's possible to see the very first and often equally optimistic adders, having been drawn from the depths of their winter hibernacula somewhere down amongst the rocks and roots.

Adder Adder by Moonrhino from the Springwatch Flickr Group.

But I've still not really answered the question. What is my favourite sign of spring? Well I tend to go looking for the little things. If you leave it and wait for the big in your face fanfares, the cliche and traditional harbingers and heralds of the season you may be waiting a long time as this delayed 2013 season bears testament to.


While I had to wait until mid-April to hear the first cuckoos of the year, I had already been watching my local adders frolicking in newly moulted splendour, the very welcome sight of a bumbling oil beetle and the quilted plump bloody-nose beetle larvae chowing down on the first upward clambering goosegrass stems were soon to follow.


It is these details and in the minutiae that spring is found for me. These little lives respond quickly to the warming nooks and crannies. It is these micro-worlds complete with their own micro-environment that are the place to go for the eternal seasonal optimist. 


This in itself gives me so much choice, there are far more small creatures than the big and charismatic, and all of their lives are kicked into action when their microcosms seem to warm above the magic 10°C. So it could be that my favourite signs of spring would be a minotaur beetle busy burying rabbit droppings, the first tiger beetle of the year, the bursting open of my mason bee tubes and the fuzzy buzzy life of the adults on a sunny garden fence post, maybe the ten-pin clusters of eggs of the dog whelks down in the rock pools or even the frenetic dance of the water fleas in my pond. They all have a case.


For my favourite sign of spring I'll meet you half way - if I can choose one single thing that makes my heart warm a little and tells me, for sure that its life cycle has totally committed to the season and isn't, as soon as it turns cool again, going to return to a state of stupor and hide. Then it is this, the orange tip butterfly.

Orange tip butterfly on Cuckoo flower Orange tip butterfly by brianfuller6385 from the Springwatch Flickr Group.

The male is the best named of our butterflies, even a complete novice to the concept of butterflies can recognise this cheery little fella as he skirts the hedges and waysides, in search of floozies and flowers. He is a dazzling dancer of the warm places and give it a week and some of the females (much harder to recognise due to looking very much like a small white or green-veined white) will have fallen for his charms and will have laid their eggs. 


If you fancy impressing your friends with you field skills, then go looking at the underside of the flower heads of cuckoo flower (also known as milkmaid or lady's smock). Choose those a little further away from the crowds (for some reason this seem to be favoured) and you may well be rewarded with the single, skittle shaped egg. Spotting something that stands barely a single millimetre tall may seem a bit of a challenge too far. But have a look for yourself, these little living packets containing all the information and raw materials for the life-cycle that culminates in the perfect spring time butterfly are easy to spy as they come in the same colour as the wing tips of the male - bright orange! 


Every year when I test myself and find my first one, it takes me on a strange nostalgic time trip back to that first moment of revelation when as a small proto-naturalist I discovered my first one in a damp flower filled spring meadow. I implore you to find one for yourself, keep an eye on it and over the next couple of months you'll be able to return to this very same flower head and watch your egg, hatch and the incredible well camouflaged caterpillar (it looks like the green seed pod that it is busy consuming) develop, you may even get a chance to see it form its highly cryptic and lithe chrysalis. 


That one little egg gives me a 'friend' for the rest of the season and into the summer and it's because of all the above mentioned joys this butterfly gives me, that it is my favourite sign of spring. All that remains is for me to ask.... What is yours?

Comments

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  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1.

    It is very difficult to think exactly what your personal definitive sign of Spring is. I would say the first indication of Spring for me is when gulls start to display their more 'normal' plumage- such as when the black headed gull's chocolate brown head starts to be seen again (as opposed to the predominantly white head that can be seen in Winter). A more obvious seasonal indicator for me is the arrival of swifts signalling the start of Summer!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 2.

    Hi all.

    My favourite signs of Spring, tend to be the little things - Wolf Spiders chasing females, Zebra Spiders on red brick. Ants getting organized, Snails (when they're not decimating the lovely Daffodils) Millipedes hunting at night, Crocus, Daisies on the lawn and Lesser Periwinkle hiding under the hedge.
    But then, there's the dawn chorus, aroma of Honeysuckle and watching the Pipistrelles emerging in the evening.
    Proving, it is just not humanly possible to chose just one.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 3.

    Wheatear for birds and Orange Tip for butterflies

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 4.

    A good question. Although most of that has gone out of the window with this year's terrible Spring. Sadly up here in the Northwest the cold wind kept it well below that magical 10 degrees C for so long. No frog or toadspawn at all in my usuals ponds, and flower feeding bees and insects are a fraction of what is normally around.

    A lot has depended on where I've been living or going at the time. I recognise all the above examples as they have all figurred on the things I first look for. Like @keith, sometimes it has been Wheatears. The last few years it has been the first Mining Bees. I prefer to get to know my local patch. So I know all the suntraps where the first Bluebells come into flower, the first Lesser Celandine, the first Marsh Marigolds, and the first Mining Bees emerge.

    Yes Orange Tips are special and they've always been a favourite. I hope people don't mind me sharing a special photo of a male Orange Tip I managed to luckily get a few years back. The sun had gone in and I found one resting on a piece of grass. Afer getting conventional shots of it with longer lens, I put on a short macro lens and crept right up to it. I was waiting for the sun to come out, and for it to be backlit. I knew I'd only have a fraction of a second before the Orange Tip opened it's wings in response to the sun, and the opportunity was lost.
    http://farm2.staticflickr.com/1363/4601584054_5a4a89336e_o.jpg

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 5.

    As I am somewhat impatient, the first sign that signifies Spring is on its way for me is the first snowdrops coming into flower! Then I look for the first shoots of the daffodils, then tulips and finally, the first hirundines (Swallows and Martins) and first birdsong.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 6.

    Gosh their are so many signs of Spring that I look forward to with anticipation every year.
    Firstly it has to be the dawn chorus..................then the first Daffodils that open, Crocus's springing up out of nowhere...........our local woods carpeted with Bluebells............Daisy's popping up in the lawn............hearing a distant Cuckoo calling...............seeing the first Butterfly flutter past..............the low pitch sound of a May Bug buzzing past on a quiet evening...........and the first glimpse of Swifts and Swallows silently soaring in the clear blue skies above my head.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 7.

    Please feature more things about amphibians

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 8.

    When the swallows arrive, we know spring is here, the bonus this year is that a pair of swallows have built a nest in our porch, so we will see up close the next generation. Currently nestingin and around our garden are Hedge and common sparrows, Reed Buntings, Blue and Great tits, Bull finch, Black birds, Crows, Barn Owl and Colerd Doves. We live by the river Trent and Paupers drain and are lucky to see the swans, ducks and moorhens every year but this year we have a pair of tuffted ducks who have chosen the drain to nest on which is fantastic. WE ARE SO SO LUCKY

  • rate this
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    Comment number 9.

    The Adder says it all for me as a few weeks ago when it was so warm I went for a walk on Blackdown in Haslemere Surrey. The way I wander around slowly, wildlife is something I notice. Catching a look at an Adder is usual but 4 in the space of 20 minutes was new for me. Three of them were the largest I have ever seen?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 10.

    my pond starting to come to life but this year very few frogs (sad)

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 11.

    One of my favourite spring(watch) things is spotting Chris's song references each year - although I think this year he's gone for Strummer rather than Spring - missed the first episode which I must catch up with on I-Player as I was watching Springsteen rather than Spingwatch at the week-end. On Tuesday I'm sure we had some Clash in the programme - definitely 'Groovy Times' (Chris with the Great Tits) and I think an 'outside broadcast' - bring 'em on 'London's calling'.......

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 12.

    To me, snowdrops are a winter flower, so for me the first true sign of spring are bluebells. They were late this year due to the long winter spell of winter temperatures, thus proving their link to spring!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 13.

    My favourite Spring thing is the first day the Starling fledglings arrive. Yes, the noise is deafening and the action frantic, but it's new life at its most apparent.

    As they are Red List status, it's also something we should all enjoy while we can.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 14.

    I think the sound was possibly a Bat?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 15.

    I love the smell of Spring, the fatness of the trees and bushes....everything is so fresh and the animals are so cheeky and lively. I particularly love bees and the blossom.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 16.

    I love seeing the blossom which has been spectacular this year. The Crab Apple is probably my favourite. Birdwise it's the sound of the Chiffchaff.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 17.

    The thing that tells me spring's has arrived is colour , green shoots bursting through the heavy soil . Blossom bursting into dazzling displays , Butterfly's gently float by , orange tips , tortoiuseshell , Red admirals .

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 18.

    My favorite thing to say Spring is here is seeing the Wood Mouse back at the top of the Garden I have even got some great photos of him this year, one with him on the Bird Feeder Thanks all for a great show.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 19.

    WOODMOUSE STASH

    (sorry, I know this is the wrong place, but I don't have Facebook or Twitter)
    On the Springwatch blog you note lots of visits to the log of a Wood Mouse, and wonder if it is stashing its booty. Almost certainly! I have a Wood Mouse in my garden - I often see him up on the bird table at night, when I'm out feeding the foxes.

    This morning I took down last year's hanging basket to clear and re-plant - and found it contained a stash of peanuts, mixed in with a stash of dried hedgehog food (from the hedgehog feeding station on the oposite side of the garden to the bird table). Probably about a cupful altogether, that must have taken him ages to collect.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 20.

    Reptiles. seeing the first Common Lizards basking. You know you are truly out of winter is when you find a grass snake. some may hate the smell of their musk, but for me, it is the scent of warmth to come, spring, summer and the end of winter.

 

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