This was one of those simply unforgettable weekends in the garden. The sun arrived on Saturday and with it came many of the harbingers of spring.
The week had already started in promising fashion when warmer temperatures stimulated the first frogs to spawn on Thursday. Something of a mating frenzy has since developed and a very conservative estimate puts the number of frogs involved at around 70. I reckon there could quite easily be double that number: that's considerably more than last year and a real indication that the garden frogs have recovered from the pond 'transplantation', showing every sign of developing into a much larger population than was supported by the old pond.
I went out into the garden on a sunny Saturday morning expecting to see one or two signs of spring, but I didn't anticipate just how many would greet me! I sat by the pond watching and listening to the frogs for a while. The soft croaks made by the courting frogs is a wonderful sound - so evocative of this time of year.
It wasn't long before I saw the first peacock - the first of five or six that came through the garden during the course of the next three hours or so. I also saw a single small tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae
) and, for me best of all, two glorious brimstones (Gonepterix rhamni
): the original 'butter' fly. Close on the tail of the first peacock was a queen buff-tailed bumblebee. This is the best time of year to see buff-tailed bumblebees, since only the queen has the tell-tail buff tail: workers have a white tail and are indistinguishable from those of the white-tailed bumblebee. And talking of white-tailed bumblebees, they were the next to show up! Altogether I probably saw a couple of dozen queen bumblebees, more or less evenly mixed numbers of buff and white-tailed. It was very instructive to note which early-flowering plants were being visited by the foraging butterflies and bees. I was very gratified when one or two bees visited the grape hyacinths (still in their pots!) that I bought last week precisely for this purpose.
Looking closely around the garden revealed considerable numbers of active seven-spot ladybirds (Coccinella septempunctata
) and a couple of queen wasps, one of which I was able to see clearly enough to identify it as a common wasp. Later on I also came across a mature shieldbug - probably a hawthorn shieldbug - when I disturbed a log pile. I'm not sure whether this animal was already active or if I disturbed its hibernation spot.
The amazing thing to realise about all these insects is that they were all mature adults at the end of last year and have spent the winter months hibernating to escape the worst weather. Until Saturday I had seen none of these animals so far this year - anywhere. Yet here they were, on the first really warm day of spring, coursing through my garden, just as they must have been doing through millions of gardens up and downt the country! That's why Saturday was a special day for me.
Three of the insects indicator species on the BBC/UK Phenology Network's Springwatch project (see news for 25th January 2005
) and I duly recorded my sightings (and the frogspawn from last Thursday) on their website at http://recording.phenology.org.uk/