Nature Notes – April 2016

Although a few of our summer visiting birds sometimes manage to arrive in late March, this year I have not yet seen any. Probably the long period of easterly or northerly winds will have been holding them up. The earliest of them should still be here in April. Some, like the Wheatear, are typically seen along the Suffolk coast on their way to more northern parts of the country. Sand Martins, another typically early arrival are usually seen at first over water, reservoirs or gravel pits. This is where they find the earliest flush of aquatic insects emerging. In our area however, the first arrival to be seen is the Chiff-chaff. The unmistakeable ‘chiff-chaff’ of its song is the best clue, and although it is an extremely small bird, its habit of singing from high branches, before the leaves are out to hide it, make it easier to find.

The arrival of the virulent and fatal disease of our Ash trees, termed ‘Ash Die-back’, has left the headlines. However, it is well established in Suffolk, and I expect that once the trees are out again its presence will show even more. Look for wilting and dying leaves, and dark stained patches on the bark below the branches. However, unlike the Elm which suffered so catastrophically some years ago, the Ash reproduces freely by seed. This means that there is always the possibility that a more resistant strain might arise, although I don’t think there is any sign of this so far.

A few years ago I talked about the arrival of a new insect, the Harlequin ladybird from Asia. Since then, there has been a large cluster of these ladybirds hibernating each winter in a corner of a window in Sweffling church. They are large, and extremely variable, as we saw when some of them started waking up on Palm Sunday. Apart from the normal form, red with many black spots, there were some with white rings round the black spots, some almost black with two red spots, and one completely red.

By Geoffrey Abbott