Tales from the Shack: An update on the wider estate for March

Posted by CDoyle on 31/03/2020

Tales from the Shack is a regular monthly update from Rob Isenor, one of our conservation volunteers.  In this blog, he updates readers on the natural world in the wider-estate.

Life on the edge

At this time of year, you will notice Blue Tits and Great Tits investigating the nest boxes in your garden. The Great Tit female lays 5-11 eggs in April or May, weighs 16-21 grams and has an average lifespan of 2-3 years. The Blue Tit has a clutch of 7-16 eggs in April or May, weighs 9-12 grams and again lives 2-3 years on average.

Both species are usually single brooded so the timing of laying and subsequently hatching is critical and must coincide with the emergence of the caterpillars of butterflies, moths, sawflies etc. Not only is this the main source of protein and minerals to sustain the growing chicks but it is the only source of water for them. A sudden cold snap delaying caterpillar emergence can be a disaster for already hatched chicks and can lead to population crashes in some years. One brood, a life span of 2-3 years…. definitely life on the edge.

To illustrate how important looking after our ecosystems and certainly our insects, an average brood of nine Great Tit chicks will gobble down 120,000 caterpillars while in the nest…..staggering! But spare a thought for the parents having to supply that amount.

Nature’s calendar 

April is the middle month of spring and with an average maximum temperature around 13 Celsius it starts to feel so, especially as we have about a 1/3rd more sunshine than March. April is the month when nature starts its business in earnest not only with the spring blossom but the birds are now singing to their fullest. Swallows and Cuckoo’s are returning from their winter migration along with a whole host of summer visitors.

Hedgehogs are now out and about piling on weight in readiness to breed…carefully! Badger cubs born in February maybe seen at the entrance to their set wondering what the big wide world is all about!

Look out for Orange Tip Butterflies that are only seen this time of year, they are quite common and extending their range northwards… global warming?

Also, look out for the rather exotic looking Lords and Ladies plant also called Common Arum, Cuckoo pint or Parson-in-the-Pulpit. It has arrow shaped waxy leaves and a hood or spathe surrounding the club like flowering structure called a spadex. The whole plant gives off the smell of decay to attracts flies for pollination but due to backward pointing hairs in the flower some cannot get out and meet their demise for their trouble. This is one of only a few plants that gives off a slight heat and the pollen grains a faint light.

Enjoy spring as best you can but stay safe.