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Helping armchair naturalists

Tuesday, 31st March 2020

Sunday 22nd March 2020

Today is Mothering Sunday (“Mother’s Day”) and the sun is shining. Alas, because of Covid-19, many mothers will not see their offspring and will have to rely on a ‘phone call or contact by internet
Friday saw the first day of spring – the astronomical version, based on the “vernal equinox”, when the sun is directly above the equator. Sometimes it falls on 20th March rather than 21st, but the arm chair naturalist will have realised that spring doesn’t suddenly arrive on a given date. From late February the Armchair Naturalist will have noticed new signs of life, especially the appearance of flowers and the rapid growth of leaves (Figure). For the naturalist the meteorological “first day of spring” on the 1st March, which is based on the likely rise in ambient temperature, is more likely to fit his/her observations of the natural world outside through the window.
 
Rapid Growth of leaves
The leaves of wild arum (Arum maculatum, lords-and-ladies, cuckoo pint) growing vigorously outside the Coopers' home . Later characteristic "spathes" and orange-red spikes will appear

At this time of year, the Armchair Naturalist should be thinking broadly – birds, butterflies, bumblebees and beetles can all be indicators of spring, but so also are amphibians, such as frogs, reptiles and small mammals such as moles (Figure). More of these in later Armchair Naturalist blogs.
 
Moles Hill
Molehills are a sign that moles (Talpa europaea) are on the move, probably stimulated by the warmer weather.

You may not be in a position to see all of these animals, but each observation is important. The insect that buzzes as it passes your window, or perhaps appears in the sitting-room may well be a bumblebee that has just emerged from its winter hibernation and is looking for a secluded spot ion which to make its nest (Figure). Bumblebees are in trouble. 97% of our wild flower meadows have disappeared since 1945 and gardens have became a vital home and foraging ground for bumblebees and other vitally important insects (“pollinators”). Even if you don’t have a garden, you (the Armchair Naturalist) can encourage these important insects by installing a plant pot on your window sill and sowing some wildflower seeds in it. Suitable sustainable seeds can still be bought online, despite Covid-19 restrictions. If you don’t use a computer yourself, ‘phone a friend or family member and ask them to order the seeds for you. It will be worth it!
 
Habitat
A suitable secluded spot for a bumblebee's nest.

Saturday 28th March 2020

Its nine days since we wrote the foregoing piece. Our diary entries since then have reflect the very welcome warm sunny days that we have experienced here in Norfolk. We’ve seen our first butterflies – a bright yellow male brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) and the familiar small tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae), both of which (like the bumblebees) must have emerged from hibernation and which will soon be looking for food plants on which to lay eggs (Figure). We’ve seen two species of hoverfly from our window; they look like (and mimic) bees or wasps and are true flies, with only one pair of wings, and totally harmless. They search for wet places in which to lay their eggs. We’ve also found our first ladybird of the year; counting the number of black dots on its abdomen tells us that it is a seven spot ladybird. Very easy!
 
Nettles
Young growing nettles (in the centre of the picture) attract small tortoiseshell butterflies, which may then lay their eggs.
 
Pond

Any wet place may provide a suitable spot for hoverflies to breed - for example, this tiny "pond" (in the centre of the picture) - a partly-sunk bowl in vegetation just outside the Coopers' front door.


And In addition to these and other insects, we’ve enjoyed watching goldfinches fly past en route to our neighbour’s bird table, a male blackbird (Turdus merula) foraging (there must be a nest in the neighbour’s hedge) and many, many, house sparrows (Passer domesticus) - but more about them in the a forthcoming podcast!

John & Margaret Cooper

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  • Comments

" Comment" by
03 Apr 2020

Lovely article. Things have been defrosted here in Florida, U.S. for some time but we do see subtle changes in bee and butterfly populations as they pass through. Sadly, we haven't seen as many backyard birds as we used to see. Thank you for your writing.

" Comment" by
02 Apr 2020

Enjoyed thank you.

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