We may be in the midst of a blisteringly cold wintry spell but spring is just around the corner and there are already early signs appearing all around us. With the reserve still closed to all but those within walking distance, we can enjoy the signs of spring on our daily walks with just a little reflection of springtime at the wetlands.
Snow drops have appeared quite early this year, in large numbers along the hedgerows. It seems to be a good year for this recognisable spring flower. Celandines are another recognisable spring flower to look out for, often one of the first to bloom in woodlands and hedgerows. It doesn't always follow however, and we have already had sightings of December daffodils and January primroses in the county. The trees will soon begin to bud and it won't be long before the grey fluffy willow buds appear all around the Levels. Left photo: Snowdrops in early February; Right photo: Willow buds in mid February (Sarah Parmor)
With March just around the corner we can look forward to the emergence of the queen bees from their winter hibernation. Desperate for nectar they will head straight for their favoured food source before beginning the search for a favourable nest site. We will have to wait a little longer for the rarer shrill carder bee queens, which emerge a little later in April. If the weather conditions are suitable butterflies will also become more active, look out for peacock or brimstone butterflies, both species were recorded around the reserve this time last year.
As winter becomes spring we will start to see fewer of the large wader flocks such as knot, curlew or lapwing as they return to their breeding grounds. We will in turn see the return of migrating birds either on passage or local breeders. Amazingly swallows were seen this time two years ago not too far away over the Gower in Swansea, but sand martins are usually the first of the hirundines to return. The mosaic wetland habitat of the Levels is perfect for insects and invertebrates which is why it is not only home to a diverse range of species but makes a perfect refuelling stop for migrating birds such as sand martins. Maybe this will be the year they choose to nest in the sand martin wall we have on the reserve? Time will tell.
Our parks and gardens will be the stage for the fabulous dawn chorus morning birdsong. Blackbirds, robins, wrens and great tits vying for the lead vocal. At the wetlands early spring is when we would hope to hear the first unmistakable boom of a bittern or a Cetti's warbler's piercing song across the reedbeds. It's not just about sound however, a visual highlight to look out for in spring is the skydancing display of a buzzard or marsh harrier. Corvids are also excellent aerial acrobats and if you're lucky enough to see 'tumbling' ravens it just looks like they're having so much fun. Ravens are early breeders and may have already started nestbuilding so look out for them carrying twigs and nest material. Photo: Robin in full song (Jeremy White)
We've come though the toughest of winter's in so many ways, but there is hope on the horizon. Maybe this year more than ever, spring will be the season of hope and anticipation. Hopefully your nest boxes be used this year or maybe there will there be frogspawn in your pond. There's so much to look forward to but for now we can simply enjoy those first, early signs of spring.
Blackbird, black headed gull, blue tit, bullfinch, buzzard, Canada goose, carrion crow, coot, Cetti's warbler, cormorant, curlew, dunlin, gadwall, great spotted woodpecker, great tit, grey wagtail, herring gull, jay, lesser black-backed gull, long-tailed tit, magpie, mallard, marsh harrier, moorhen, mute swan, redwing, reed bunting, robin, shelduck, starling, stonechat, wigeon, woodpigeon, wren
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