Nature Notes – April 2015

This is the time when all the spring changes are happening, plants growing, creatures coming out of hibernation, and migrant birds returning.
By May the bats are emerging from their hibernation in roof spaces and old trees. They are often to be seen in gardens from early dusk, with their erratic, fluttering flight. These are almost certainly Pipistrelles, our smallest and by far our commonest bat. However, it has recently been discovered that there is another species of Pipstrelle. Bats are often identified in flight with electronic ‘bat detectors’, which de-code the ultrasonic calls they make so that they become audible. This has revealed a Pipistrelle which calls at a higher frequency than the normal species, (55 kHz as opposed to 45 kHz for those who really want to know), so that it has been dubbed the ‘Soprano Pipistrelle’. It is almost identical and so had passed unrecognised for years, but recent studies of its DNA have confirmed that it really is a separate species. How common it is is not yet known, but it is certain that it does occur in East Anglia. You may have them in your roof!

Spring sees the emergence of our bumblebees, with the noticeably large queens coming out of hibernation. They are seeking the pollen and nectar from early flowers, which means that gardens can be very important to the survival of these insects, and good places to see them. Among them is a bee which is not a true bumblebee although it resembles one. This is Anthophora, which the books rather unhelpfully call a Flower Bee, as if that distinguishes it from the others! It is large and entirely black, except for its orange hind legs. Look out for it. Flower Bees have particularly long tongues, well suited to flowers with a tubular shape. Pulmonaria, which I have often recommended as a valuable early garden flower, is their particular favourite. Of the dragonflies and damselflies to emerge from the pond, the first is usually a red damselfly (the Large Red Damselfly), deep red as its name implies and with red eyes. It is soon followed by the better known bright blue species.

The ladybirds will also be appearing. Best known are the bright red ones, the large 7-Spot and the smaller 2-Spot. However, there are other ladybirds, about 25 species in all, not all of them red. Last spring we had one in the garden which was new to me. This one was yellow, with black spots, but so tiny (only 2.5mm long) that I hardly recognised it as a ladybird at all. It is called the 16-Spot Ladybird, and apparently lives in grassland, although it is very little known. There are new things there to be discovered all the time.

Look out for the Swallows and House Martins which are arriving now. Let’s hope that there will be rather more than last year. The Swifts will not arrive until about the first week of May.

By Geoffrey Abbott