Nature Notes – May 2017

A few years ago I talked about the few reptiles which still survive in our area – namely the Grass-snake and the Slow-worm, which are both quite scarce. It was good to see, in mid April, a fine adult Slow-worm which Jill found sunbathing on the Churchyard path (the Slow-worm, not Jill). This one was about 15inches long, a shiny pale bronze colour with darker spots, and the lizard-like head with lack of neck that show it is not a snake. Being proverbially slow it was easy to capture it and put it somewhere safer, namely the heap of grass clippings, where it was not at all slow in diving in. A word of caution – Slow-worms are completely harmless, but they may be damaged if picked up as they have a dramatic way of shedding their own tails when they feel threatened. The tail thrashes about in a most convincing way, a very successful distraction for any predator.

Another previous note mentioned a new species of bumblebee that has recently colonised our gardens from Europe. Easy to recognise, it is black with a ginger thorax and white tail. I found one loitering around outside our back door, where I discovered it was going in and out of an old disused bird nestbox. This is what these bees normally do, nesting themselves in old boxes and tree holes, giving them the name of Tree Bumblebee.

Perhaps our best-known summer migrant, if not the most often seen is the Cuckoo. April has been a good Cuckoo month, with one calling in the Valley as early as the 11th, and heard every day since. It seems to move around from downstream in Benhall to up towards Rendham, but often quite close to Dernford. Calling from close to the house it is very loud indeed – not altogether welcome at 4.30 in the morning! Look out for the Cuckoo over the village. It is about pigeon sized, but much slimmer, with a long tail and long thin wings which are held in a loose drooping fashion quite unlike other birds. The male (the one which makes the ‘cuckoo’ call) is grey. Its underside is pale, with dark bars which are narrow and hard to see. The female is slightly browner and makes a trilling ‘bubbling’ call that is seldom heard.

Our other migrants will all be here or arriving by May. Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps have been singing since the end of March. A few Swallows (although as yet very few) are back, and even a Turtle Dove in Rendham. The Swifts should be here by the second week in May.

Geoffrey Abbott