The changeable weather in April reminded me that folklore has an element of truth about it. This time of the year was known as "blackthorn winter" and my grandfather always said "Don't even think about putting plants outside until the blackthorn has finished flowering". The low temperatures certainly proved that this year and it seems to happen most years. However the warm days saw the first butterflies. As usual the brimstone (25th March) was first followed by a tortoiseshell (3rd April) awakened from hibernation. The next was an orange tip (21st April). It is worth looking carefully at any seen as early sightings of what could be a large white are female brimstones which are almost white, unlike the sulphur yellow male. Small whites often turn out to be female orange tips which lack the orange tip of the male and have black markings similar to a small white. The mottled hind wings make identification easier.
It has been a good year for celandines; the field has been covered without thousands of bright yellow flowers. The primrosesand cowslips in Munday's close have also been a picture. Several clumps of bluebells have also been in flower, however I am not sure these are all pure native bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) as many seem to be Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) or hybrids between the two. The native bluebells flowers are tubular, droop to one side and the tips of the petals curl right back. The leaves are narrow. The Spanish bluebell is upright, the flowers are cone shaped and the tips of the petals only curl slightly. The leaves are broad. The native or common bluebell is under threat from the more vigorous Spanish bluebell which has escaped from gardens and is cross breeding with the native population. A recent survey found one in six bluebells found in broadleaved woodland was a Spanish rather than a native bluebell. A few groups of Snake's-head fritillary have flowered well this year, both the normal purple check and white variety. It is now much less common in the wild, these were planted where they now grow and given a chance should naturalise.The destruction of the hedgerow beside the footpath at the back of the Severn Trent compound made me think how the maintenance of hedges as changed. Of course hedges have to be looked after but with the arrival of mechanised trimming the natural cycle has been lost. Close cut hedges give good cover for nesting birds but produce very little in the way of winter bird food. Historically not all the hedges on a farm could be laid in the same year so there always some that had grown out and the cycle of hedge cutting took several years to complete. Today this would be too costly and labour intensive so cutting by machine has mostly taken over. The result of that is a relatively quick job and all the hedges can be done in one go, probably every year. Fewer hedges are allowed to grow out and winter food sources are depleted. I read recently that since 1945 we have lost a staggering 300,000 miles of hedgerow, more than the distance from the earth to the moon.Last time I mentioned the hazel flowers, the next trees to flower are the willows. Like the hazel the willows have separate male and female flowers but this time not on the same tree. The flowers are very similarat first but, when fully opened, close examination shows that all the flowers on one tree will be male and have anthers that produce the pollen whilst on another tree all the flowers will be female and have pistils ready to receive it. This time less pollen is produced as insects should now be about and carry out most of the pollination. It is also thought that blue tits feeding on the willows may also help spread the pollen.Reports from around the village. George Kirk reports two muntjac seen in his garden, I spotted a very dark one near the brook. Dorothy Williamson took a photograph of the little egret in the next door garden. Richard Dilworth sent in his list of garden birds and included sightings of bank voles, shrews, muntjac, frog spawn and smooth newts in his pond. Richard lives by the brook which seems to be a natural highway for wild life through the village. I happened to look out of the dining room window and saw a buzzard sitting on a fence post not many yards away. I managed to creep out and take a couple of photographs before the dog barked and it flew off. Only once so far have I heard the woodpecker drumming. I saw the first swallow fly over the barn on the 18th April but it did not stay and flew off over the village. A day later I noticed one the crows pick up and fly off with one the tails shed by the lambs. I have not seen them do this before, perhaps he was lining his nest with it as he flew off in that direction. The mother mallard brought two newly hatched ducklings to show me. The jackdaws were collecting horse hair from where they have been rolling. Anthony Wright mentions sighting of a rat in the brook, a frog and hedgehogs in his garden. It is good to know that we some hedgehogs in the village. The hedgehog population is declining so it would be good to give them a helping hand. Hedgehogs have to be able to get in and out of your garden so a couple holes, about 13cm x 13cm, at the bottom of the fence will give them access. A note from the RSPCA about feeding hedgehogs:-“Food and fresh water will encourage hedgehogs to return. Leave out foods like minced meat, tinned dog or cat food (not fish-based), crushed cat biscuits, or chopped boiled eggs. Never feed hedgehogs milk as it can cause diarrhoea; instead provide plain, fresh water in a shallow bowl.”There are a large number of seven spot ladybirds about and I found a single specimen of a pine ladybird. The latter is a small black ladybird with two red spots and two red patches. The lilies are infested with mating lily beetles and hand picking is the only way to get rid of them before the larvae ruin the plants.Thank you to those of you who responded with lists of garden birds. Eleven species were found in nearly all gardens and a further nine in more than one garden. Altogether forty species were mentioned as being seen in and around Langham. I have put my own record of seventy one speciesthat I have seen over the years on the village website. I have indicated my impression of how common they are and also the results of the garden survey. It is interesting how there been changes over the years. Buzzards, red kites and little egrets have appeared recently but some seem to have declined such as the song thrush, swallow and of course the cuckoo. I couldn't remember hearing a cuckoo for some time and on looking back at my records the last time I heard one in the village was 2006. Ten years is a long time to be without what used to be a regular visitor. Any more lists would be welcome also other sightings of interest please email email@example.com. Late News: With regard to the cuckoo David Suter has just told me he heard one calling early morning 3rd May.