Clear signs that spring is on its way are now well and truly obvious and the added flourish of brightness and colour, whether from blossoming trees or spring flowering bulbs, is most welcome. With days that are noticeably longer comes more opportunity to go in search of wild encounters.
With the height of the ‘dawn chorus’ of bird song still some weeks away, April is a time to savour the sweet serenade performed by the song thrush before its wonderful performances become drowned out amongst the cacophony of song presented by other less ‘talented’ species. As warmer days increasingly rouse nature from winter stasis there are also opportunities to observe wonders such as badger cubs exploring above ground for the 1st time or hedgehogs reacquainting themselves with their local patch. As we move towards May there will be more opportunity to catch the first cuckoo call of the year was birds arrive back from wintering in Africa.
Spring is also a great time to observe species that are often overlooked and sometimes misunderstood including reptiles. Whereas a badger watching session might start an hour before dusk, the time to look out for snakes, slow worms and lizards is just as the early morning sun hits south-facing banks or slopes. These cold-blooded creatures must sit tight whilst they absorb enough early morning rays to raise their temperature and if you tread lightly and avoid casting shadows across their basking spot you could be in for a treat.
The species of reptile most likely to be encountered in gardens is grass snakes, which sometimes lays eggs in compost heaps where the warmer temperatures provide ideal conditions for incubation. Grass snakes might seem frightening to some, but these distinctive beasties, replete with striking yellow and black collar around their necks and black markings along their bodies are not to be feared. Shy, retiring, and non-venomous, they are the UK’s only egg-laying snake.
As they emerge from winter hibernation one place they can often be found is the garden run by the Muddy Fork charity at our Idle Valley Nature Reserve near Retford. Here, resident grass snakes, hedgehogs, and several other species that see out the winter in hibernation – making use of the compost heaps, tree root systems and abandoned rabbit warrens – will be making an appearance. This presents the growing community of conservationists and gardeners, who visit to access horticultural therapy, with wonderful opportunities to see and enjoy wildlife at close quarters.
Details of all Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust nature reserves across the county can be found at nottinghamshirewildlife.org. As lockdown restrictions ease the charity plans to move from weekend open of the café and shop at the Idle Valley Nature Reserve to full seven day a week operations.