3 Apr 2012

Nature Notes April 2012 by Pete Lambert

Nature Notes April 2012

A double junction closure was sending me south in to the flatlands of Cambridgeshire, not a landscape that I appreciate or wish to linger in. Congestion crushed us into a reluctant queue and being stationary a movement within the hawthorn scrub of the embankment alongside caught my eye. The red brown colour and prominent ears said fox but a little shift in the car ahead gave me a better view of a little Reeves Muntjac. I was pleased with the sighting though my pleasure has to be tempered as this tiny ungulate is also a very serious pest. The Reeves Muntjac is named after John Reeves who was a Tea inspector for the East India Company in the 1800’s who observed and gave his name to a number of south east Asian species including the Reeves pheasant. First released or escaped from Woburn Abbey following its introduction to this emparked estate in 1894, this deer originally from the subtropical forest of south- East Asia, has successfully survived and thrived in the southern parts of the UK.  Muntjac tends to live alone or in pairs, rarely seen, they have tiny, un-branched antlers and a voracious browsing habit. The buck has prominent fangs and a v-shaped ridge marked with dark stripes running down its forehead, the doe has a dark triangular patch instead, I had seen a doe. Their success in the UK can be partially attributed to the lack of a breeding season and the rapidity of readiness following fawning. Muntjac slots have been seen in many urban areas and certainly they have reached Telford but I am sorry to say I do hope they stray no further.

Cambridgeshire is all big skies and occasionally our home county can offer some of the same. On an excursion to Melverley I was struck as ever by the flood trash combed into the hedges, a twiggy tidal line four feet or so above ground level. Stopping off to check directions before roaming any further down the meandering lanes I heard my first skylark of the year. This ground nesting bird is silent for the winter but now rises from early in the morning to late evening to pour forth a boiling stream of song and sibilant mimicry. Its song can last up to 15 minutes without break. My skylark had not gone unnoticed as a sparrow hawk bolted across the sky to attempt a mid-air snatch, an ill matched duel began and was quickly called off as the skylark now alerted, twisted and spiralled its way out of danger. As the excitement died another aerial conflict kicked off between a languid buzzard and a crow. The Carrion crow boldly harassed the larger bird who banked away and fled the scene, a victory for the little guy.

Lengthening days mean more time in the garden and the door does not need quick slamming to retain precious heat. Other changes are also to be welcomed, putting out the empties a moth flitted past my head and into the living room. A short ballet followed to everyone’s amusement and I had my first Angle Shades of the year. This Noctuid moth has a lovely crimped back edge to the forewings and a colour pattern a little like a Victorian ink swirl. The moth can be found in most places though can be difficult to see as in rest it can look like a dead leaf.

Other signs can be found of the arrival of spring, the rapidly greening hedges and the movement of species into their breeding territories. A pair of Dippers on the Upper Ceiriog had laid claim to their stretch of the river, somewhere nearby their prospective nest site, and an active upland stream to feed in, and I say ‘in’ as they can quite happily swim underwater! Elsewhere reed buntings are about gathering food, straying away now from familiar canal side haunts into local gardens.

And before February was out my first Lesser Celandine in flower, yellow, fresh and a herald for what’s to come.

Happy Wildlife spotting, Pete Lambert.