What’s Occurring?

Oak and Ash trees at Parc Slip nature reserve in Tondu

Oak and Ash trees at Parc Slip nature reserve in Tondu

A Woodcock by Margaret Holland

A Woodcock by Margaret Holland

Well, Spring of course, in all its manifestations!

It is normally a fight between cold and warmth as our days inexorably get longer and we do get warmer eventually. This year we have experienced all the extremes, from starting with a relatively mild winter with short days and then recording the coldest March temperature ever in Wales in the first week of that month. The Beast from the East blew in followed by the warmest spring day since 1949.

We have a collective short memory of how bad weather can be at various times of year, even in Atlantic South Wales. Snow in mid-April 1999 coincided with our sixteen pairs of Lapwing hatching their eggs at Parc Slip. The snow lasted almost all week, the chicks did not survive, and half the pairs attempted to lay again.

By now any discerning car driver stuck in a traffic jam on a dual carriage way or the M4 knows its spring because of the mats and clumps of pretty white flowers in bloom on the unvegetated parts of the central reservation. This is Danish Scurvygrass (Cochlearia danica) a native Welsh plant of sea cliffs which enjoys a heavy dose of salt spray and grit in its natural environment and is now moving inland colonising our major road network.

Elsewhere anyone carefully watching the movement of resident birds in their garden should be seeing Blackbirds carrying worms indicating that eggs have hatched and young require feeding. Everyone else will soon be frantically at it as well.

We are also in the middle of a huge migration of birds in North Europe. Our winter visitors have left, the winter thrushes, Redwings and Fieldfares, about two million Chaffinches, halving the population in Britain, as many of our other common garden birds who are also winter visitors from Scandinavia go back north as the days lengthen. Whereas our million or so wintering Woodcock are on their way back to Russia. You can follow their progress with Woodcock Watch.

By mid-March in the teeth of our harshest spring weather our first summer migrants were already arriving. Solid looking male Wheatears who one would feel could put up with it, along with our first leaf warblers, the Chiffchaff. Our first Sand Martins appearing along our river banks and even our first Barn Swallow on the coast.

And now the rest of our summer visitors Willow Warbler, Blackcap and Cuckoo are all just arriving. Follow the Cuckoo migration.

A swallow sitting on a fence post by David Martin

Swallow. Photo: David Martin

Things to look out for in May

Perhaps the most obvious visible migration event in South Wales is the arrival of the Swifts on the morning of either 4th-5th May most years suddenly the skies are full of black scythe winged birds fly at Mach 2 scooping up insects as they go. These are real aerial acrobats who have returned to nest in the roofs of houses, towers of churches and even in crevices in sea cliffs, which will be the first time they have landed since they left our shores in August 2017.

Our longest serving Foreign Secretary Edward Grey (1863-1933) wanted Britain to call the first Sunday in May Beech Sunday, to celebrate the opening of the bright green tissue delicate beech leaves. A sure sign of spring as our trees flush with leaves.

Don’t believe old wives’ tales, I have never known why these wives require to be multiple or old.

“Oak before Ash we are in for a splash, Ash before Oak we are in for a soak.”  Don’t put any money on it, it doesn’t work very well at all.

And perhaps the most important flowers for May are our Bluebells in our woodlands and hedgerows and the white flowers of Hawthorn (also called “May”) in our hedges.

Bluebells at Castle Wood, Llandeilo