Taking time for wildlife during lockdown

Lorienne Whittle, 13/05/2020

Thank you to everyone that has managed to observe local wildlife and record the timing of those events on Nature's Calendar. Our advice on recording remains the same in light in recent government announcements.

More than ever I've really enjoyed looking through all the photos you've sent in. There's a certain comfort in knowing nature has continued to flourish as spring unfolds. I thought you might like to see how our recorders have managed to capture spring across the UK, especially if you haven’t been able to get out and about as much recently. From blue tits nesting to blooming bluebells, here’s some highlights for you to enjoy.


When do blue tits nest?

Many of you have enjoyed the extra time to watch the garden birds and other wildlife. A particular highlight has been the busy nesting birds. 

Smile for the camera (Photo: Matt Wickens)

Peek-a-boo blue tit (Photo: Italo Cafolla )

Blue tit nesting (Photo: Duncan Day)

For most this hive of activity all began just before lockdown, meaning many of you have by now had the pleasure of watching the intrepid young leave the nest. Our earliest nesting blue tit record came in January, but the average date of the records received so far is the 1 April. Great tits were on average slightly later (6 April), Blackbird (22 March) and rooks the earliest (2 March).

Find out more about blue tit nesting habits.

Blackbird nesting (Photo: Peter Hall)

Male blackbird collecting food (Photo: Steve Mulford)

Blackbird feeding young (Photo: Steve Mulford)

Did you miss the bluebells this year?

Nature’s Calendar asks you to record when you see the petals of the first bluebell ‘bells’ open enough for you to see the middle of the flower. You can tell the native English bluebell by their nodding flowers all on one side of stem and cream anthers inside the flower. In contrast, Spanish bluebell flowers are arranged in a spiral all around the stem and have blue anthers.

Whilst bird and insects continued to be recorded, we had far fewer bluebell records this year. This is because some wildlife is easier to spot from your homes and gardens, but native bluebells tend in places such as ancient woodlands and you weren't able to get out and about to these locations during lockdown. 

Bluebell first flowering (Photo: Amy Ness)

The familiar drooping flowers of the native English bluebell (Photo: Andy Willis)

Cuckoo flower (Photo: Chrissie Barrow )

Garlic mustard is an important host species for many insects (Photo: David Wardrop))

If you missed the bluebells then here are some of my favourite photos of beautiful spring flowers. Don’t fret, the bluebells will be out again next year, so look out for them mid to late April and remember to record the first one you spot flowering on Nature’s Calendar!

Butterflies emerged as lockdown began

Lockdown came into play at the same time that the Nature’s Calendar spring recording season really kicked off. With many recorders having more time out in their gardens to enjoy the sunny weather, butterfly records have been particularly popular this year.

Met Office statistics show March was the sunniest since 1929. April also had above average sunshine, low rainfall and was the fifth warmest April since 1884. This has an impact on the emergence of insects in particular. Nearly half the records submitted over the last two months have been a first recorded insect, the vast majority being submitted in the first few weeks of lockdown. 


Comma (Photo: Heather Hadley)

Peacock butterflies were one of the most popular to record (Photo: John Rowley)

Small white (Photo: Julie Stroud)

Orange-tip, brimstone and peacock butterflies were the most popular species recorded. The average date to see an orange-tip for the first time was 13 April. This is the earliest average for this event from 2001- 2019 (also 13 April in 2001). The average date to see peacocks was 29 March. Adult peacock butterflies enter diapause (the correct name for hibernation in insects) over winter, finding dry places such as crevices and sheds to spend the colder months. The dry, sunny and warm weather in early lockdown stimulated many to emerge.

Around now, female peacocks will be looking for patches of nettles to lay batches of up to 500 eggs, so the whole life cycle can begin again. Leaving some caterpillar food plants, such as nettles, in your garden is a simple way in which you can help local wildlife. Read more about how to attract butterflies to your garden, including plenty of things you can begin now to attract wildlife for next year’s recording season! 


Migratory birds return

One sure sign of spring for many is the return of the swallows. This year the average date to see a swallow for the first time was 17 April. The average date to first record a swift was some two weeks later, on 3 May. Both of these dates are quite early and research is needed to understand the causes of this early migration.

I find the speedy arrow shapes of swifts, swallows and house martins difficult to tell about. You can learn more about identifying migratory birds with our easy guide. 

Swallows return to the UK (Photo: Clare Richardson)

First wheatear spotted in Wales (Photo: Geraint Thomas)

Returning Whitethroat singing (Photo: David Howarth)

Male blackcap first recorded (Photo: Beverley Tabor)

Swifts, swallows and house martins will by filling our skies with their delightful aerial acrobatics all summer, but remember to record the date you last see them on Nature’s Calendar. Nature’s Calendar records numerous migratory birds; most when they arrive in the UK, others when they leave and some both. I’ve included some photos of our lesser seen and recorded migratory birds too. Learn more about wheatears and whitethroats and look out for them over the next few months.


Trees and shrubs begin to flower

One of the things I love most about spring is the changing palette of colours. Whether it’s a street tree blossoming or a countryside vista, nature makes our world brighter at this time of year. Once the greening of our trees, hedgerows, woods and fields is complete, the flowers of trees and shrubs add another dimension. There’s an array of smells to awaken the sense too – hawthorn, lilac and later elder are especially perfumed shrubs. Accompanied by the buzzing of insects that visit these flowers for nectar, springtime really is a feast for the senses.  

The May flower - hawthorn first flowering (Photo: Isabel Fairgrieve)

Puruple lilac flowers coming out (Photo: Serena Turton)

Rowan blossom (Photo: Peter Gordon Smith)

British Wildlife publication:

A comparison of Nature's Calendar with Gilbert White's phenology.

We had an article published in the April edition of British Wildlife comparing recent records from Nature's Calendar with those of the 'father of ecology', Gilbert White (1720 - 1793). An eminent natural historian, Gilbert White encouraged many to record the signs of the changing seasons and the article shows how his phenology records are still so valuable today. 

Find out more about this research. 


Which wildlife events can I record next? 

Although spring is the busiest time in Nature's Calendar, there's plenty to record as we move into the summer months. Take a look at our phenology calendar to see when to expect each event to occur. Of course there's variation each year and depending on where you live, so the best way it to keep your eyes peeled when you're out and about. 

Highlights over the coming weeks include the flowering of elder, ox eye daisies and dog rose. If you are up for more of a challenge, why not take the time to learn about different grass species? Read our guide to help you identify the four grasses you can record on Nature's Calendar. 


Join thousands of other people and let us know what's happening to wildlife near you.

Join thousands of other people and let us know what's happening to wildlife near you.

Have you seen your first butterfly or swallow of the spring? Is it a good year for wild autumn fruits? Take part in Nature's Calendar and help scientists to monitor the effects of climate change on wildlife.

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