Signs of spring update: bees and butterflies
Spring moves quickly. It only seems like yesterday that the snowdrops were peeping up. The daffs have long since arrived. Now it's time for the bumblebees and the butterflies.
For me, the first sight of a bumblebee or butterfly is a spring rite of passage. There are few more poignant giveaways that the season has changed than seeing these fragile, flower-loving creatures out and about. From the amount of sightings we've had from you, it seems most of you feel the same way.
As samy1e rightly points out, the bumblebees around at the moment are likely to be Bombus terrestris. The buff-tailed bumblebee queen, the largest UK species, is usually the first bee to emerge, often at the end of February. Though one eagle-eyed member of our photo group spotted one on 12 February and Springwatch producer Richard Taylor-Jones caught one a whole month earlier in Deal, Kent.
The geographical split and date of our other sightings - from the Avon Wildlife Trust, Gwent, east and west London, Buckinghamshire, Stockport and Humbie in Scotland (pictured rather beautifully above) all from the last week - suggest Bombus terrestri is well on the way to finishing its hibernation. The other queen bee possibly out and about at the moment is Bombus lucorum, the white-tailed bumblebee. If you're interested, Bumblebee.org have a lovely guide on how to tell the two species apart.
Onto the butterflies. Autumnwatch contributor Ed Drewitt spotted a red admiral right here in Bristol on Sunday. Over on the Springwatch photo group Ian Boyd took this photo of his first tortoiseshell of the year on the Isle of Wight last week. Jim Bennett also saw the same species at a similar time, but much further north. Also in the north-west, Dan Mitten was lucky enough to have a brace of tortoiseshells in his garden.
Martin Goodey spotted his first painted lady on 5 March. "Not pristine but not tatty either," he says. "These late winter/early spring migrants are thought to be a race from North Africa rather than the near continent. They've been reported in Cornwall since the 20th February."
Child of Herne saw a painted lady at Selsey Bill in early February a few years ago. "I told the butterfly group and was informed that occasionally you get early migrants from North Africa," he says.
Other species - small tortoiseshells, commas, peacock, brimstone and some red admirals as adults - don't migrate. Instead the adults hibernate here over the winter. Sussex Wildlife Trust has some excellent advice on how you can help them shelter over the cold months.
Thinking about overwintering butterflies inevitably raises the issue of climate change. Butterfly Conservation reports that the January mild spell brought all five overwintering species out of hibernation. While this isn't proof of anything in itself, there is evidence that warmer winters are starting to affect butterflies. Butterfly Conservation has found that "red admirals in particular are now surviving our winters in increasing numbers in the far south."
A less iconic insect but in its own way as fascinating as the butterfly or the bee is the oil beetle. It begins its life in an egg laid close to a bee nest. After hatching, the larva climbs up a flower and then hitches a lift on a bee's back to the bee nest. Here it will spend the rest of its life feasting on pollen and bee eggs. Nice.
But it needs help. It's thought - though not known for sure - that five out of nine oil beetle species have been lost in this country. So if you want to help gather more info, from 25 March Buglife is running an oil beetle survey. Register on its website and get an ID guide. This time last week it had three records which is possible evidence of an early spring, according to Buglife's Andrew Whitehouse.
The adder is another critter in big trouble in the UK. So it's always good to hear of sightings. Stephen Duffy saw his first of the year at Chobham Common in Surrey at the end of February, then another a week later around the corner. Mike McCarthy took an intimate photo (below) of one on 3 March in Aberkenfig in Wales.
No update about spring would be complete without news of the birds. Hot off the press from Paul Stancliffe at the BTO is that the light southerly winds during the early part of this week brought with them some summer migrants. So far there's been 16 wheatears (mostly on the south coast although one was in Glamorgan), 24 sand martins (all in the southern part of the country) and swallows in Cornwall and Somerset.
Also, the first hoopoe of the spring was seen on Cornwall on Monday and yesterday a little ringed plover arrived at Beddington Sewage Farm, London.
Paul's guess is the strong westerlies we have right now will stop any more migrants arriving at least for the next couple of days. The winds are due to turn southerly on Saturday and become lighter on Sunday morning. So if you're on the lookout for more avian tourists, Sunday morning might well be the time.
Blue and great tits should be starting to nest right now. That is exactly what's happening in at least four nest boxes in George Cunningham's Liverpool garden. Though poor Pippa Roberts in south Lincolnshire hasn't seen any blue tits in her garden for months.
If you've seen any nesting (or indeed any other spring signs) then please let Nature's Calendar know: so far this year it's had only 14 reports compared to 75 this time last year.
Keep us posted
How has spring been for you so far? Is it different this year - are you seeing more or less of any usual signs? Is it coming later or earlier for you?
Post a comment right here and let us know. Or if you're on Twitter like us, tweet with the hashtag #ukspring and also see what other people are experiencing. There's a great discussion over on our Springwatch photo group on this very subject. If you have photos, please post them there.