The clocks have gone forward and spring has truly sprung. This is the peak time for spring migration. Whilst we watch for incoming birds, many have started breeding already and it’s a great time to stumble across flowering wetland plants, too.
Last month we saw the first of our species that migrate here to breed and with recent mild weather and light southerly winds, the birdlife is piling in. You might have already been lucky enough to see a little ringed plover, sand martin or garganey on your local wetland but many more species will continue to arrive. The majority are coming all the way from sub-Saharan Africa, having spent the winter on wetlands, in forests and around the coasts of the continent. This means they now need to cross the largest subtropical desert in the world, a journey of over 4,000 miles. As the month goes on, the list of species arriving grows: osprey, hobby, common tern, swallow, yellow wagtail, sedge warbler, reed warbler and cuckoo are all winging their way towards us this month. Their ultimate aim is to find a partner in good nesting habitat and raise the next generation during the next few months whilst food is plentiful.
Another, rather special breeding migrant is the black-tailed godwit. A rare breeder in the UK, around 60 pairs breed on wetlands in the east of England. Since 2017, WWT has been ‘head-starting’ hand-reared chicks to boost the population.
It’s not just the incoming migrant species that are making themselves known. Quiet during the winter, male bitterns can now be heard booming from deep inside their reedbed homes, staking out territory. They’re hard to spot but the best time to hear them is early morning. On the contrary, familiar birds such as moorhen and coot can now be easily spotted on their nests. It’s also a key time for waders; oystercatchers have been known to choose very obvious locations, but you’ll need to look a little harder to get a view of nesting avocet, lapwing or redshank.
For amphibians too, new life continues to grow. The tadpoles that were free-swimming in March will be getting larger and now the toadpoles and newt larvae that were recently laid as eggs will be emerging too.
Along with the flourishing fauna, April is a month for seeking out wetland plant life. It’s the best month for marsh marigolds, or ‘kingcups’, as they show off their gaudy flowers, a signpost for pollinators. In wet woodland, birch trees are producing their catkins, joining the alder and willow already in flower. The pink petals of the cuckoo flower will soon appear across wet grassland; these plants get their name as historically the flowers appear at the same time as the bird is first heard. The orange-tip butterfly lays eggs on the plant stems, but eventually there will only ever be one caterpillar per plant due to the caterpillar’s tendency for cannibalism.
If April is the month to look out for incoming migrants, then May is the time to witness them setting about nesting and producing offspring. Wetland plants will continue to come out in flower and we’ll be able to witness the emergence of the first dragons…
You can find more detailed information on each centre's 'Wildlife' and 'Latest sightings' pages but here is a handy overview:
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