Snowdrops appear in January, leaf break is underway by mid month and the dawn chorus starts in earnest soon after Christmas with great tits, blackbirds, mistle thrushes and song thrushes tuning up and improving by the day.

Bewick’s swans start to migrate back to Siberia in February and pink-footed geese (below) head to Iceland, queen bumblebees emerge and frogs pop up their heads in ponds.

It might be the middle of February, but the pink-feet are on their way back to Iceland (Chris Gomersall, rspb-images)

So, the subject of my blog this week is a question and one that I’d love your views on. When does spring really start in the UK?

Has spring sprung?
When do you expect to see your first butterfly? Is it a warm late March day when a butter yellow brimstone dances down a country lane, or dashes through your garden? Or is it when hibernating peacocks wake up and start to leave your house, shed or loft?

I saw my first butterfly of 2017 on the 3 February when I had a good look at the sunlit, south-facing side of the main house here at RSPB HQ at The Lodge in Bedfordshire. As it was relatively warm and the sun was shining, I had a feeling there may be some insects on show. What surprised me was just how many there were. Nearly double figures of honeybees were busy nectaring and among them were several Eristalis tenax hoverflies – honeybee mimics. Then the real icing on the cake came as a butterfly flew strongly overhead and landed on the side of the house, opening its wings to catch the rays when I could confirm it was a red admiral. This is a relatively new species to overwinter as an adult in the UK, but as this one proved, they are doing it successfully.

Sunny days bring overwintering butterflies out. The red admiral is a relative newcomer to UK winters (Chris Gomersall rspb-images).

For me, the seasons are a fluid transition. There is no day when winter stops and spring starts or when summer’s delights suddenly give way to autumn leaves and bird migration. It just doesn’t work like that and watching out for, and seeing, those gradual changes is one of those things that will make you a more observant, knowledgeable and ultimately better naturalist.

We hear much about the May dawn chorus, but poke your head outside between 7.30 to 8.30 am at the moment and you should hear song thrushes tuning up (Chris Gomersall

And of course, where you live in the UK has a big difference too. It is easy for us southerners to get excited about spring, but if you live in Scotland, it could be several weeks before the same signs and species are sighted.

Being in tune with the weather and the seasons and helping readers of Nature’s Home prepare for and make the most of the seasons is really important to me. The mailing dates are due to our first issue of the year containing the Big Garden Birdwatch participation form and this means we are always ahead of the seasons, but as my February spring sightings prove, just how far ahead of spring are we when we mail our spring issue in mid-January?

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