I am in France as I write this edition of NN in early March. Spring is well on the way here with many singing birds. In the garden birds include a pair of Stonechats, a Robin and a pair of Black Redstarts, all busily doing the things birds do in the spring. Yesterday evening I saw a Black-Winged Kite, a bird normally confined to Spain. I had heard talk of this bird in the region, but had never seen this species before. This morning I was delighted to see a female Hen Harrier flying over the fields and a Hoopoe fly from a tree in the garden, and two days ago I heard a Golden Oriole singing in the Poplar woods nearby. Also this morning I also encountered a flock of Siskins, these are winter visitors from Scandinavia and Russia. They were probably moving north to get back to their breeding zone for when the snows have all melted later this month. I also heard a Chiffchaff singing, the first spring migrant usually heard at this time. Ten days ago, I was really excited to see chevrons consisting of hundreds of European Common Cranes flying over the house in the evening, calling to each other as they flew. These huge migrant birds over-winter in North Africa and Spain, then fly north-east to Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and Russia to breed. Indeed, a few pairs of Common Cranes breed in Britain.
Here in France the plants too are responding to the longer days. Celandines like little suns beaming from the grassy banks. I was also delighted to see Viper’s Bugloss and Cuckoo Flower in full flower at the woodland edge. Indeed, all the herbage is growing fast and many shrubs are adorned with blossom, encouraged by the spring rain and the appearance of Bumblebees to pollinate the flowers.
The spring equinox is a time of change, when the hibernating animals such as Dormice, Hedgehogs and Frogs emerge from hibernation. Insects too hatch out from eggs, pupae and hibernation to begin a new generation. The Earthworms come to the surface providing food for badgers and blackbirds while also aerating the grasslands. Winter visiting Redwings and Fieldfares return to Scandinavia and Siberia, while the spring migrants from Africa flock into Europe to replace them. Listen out for a Cuckoo, and look out for the first Swallow or House Martin. If you have sight of a bird nest-box, watch it for a while to see if a Blue or Great Tit enters, then look regularly to see if it stays.
Dr. Martyn Stenning