Sophie Rolfe, Visitor Ranger

As spring emerges in the Park with trees coming into leaf and wildflowers adding glimpses of colour to the landscape, here are a few species and some facts about them, to look out for over the next couple of months.

Many of the overwintering birds will have returned to their summer breeding grounds by March, but one bird that we are all familiar with is the Mallard. Generally Mallards start laying eggs around the middle of March, but sometimes earlier if conditions are right. Each brood consists of around 12 eggs at a time, and take around 28 days from laying to hatch. They nest near water, with the nests well covered by vegetation or in natural holes such as in the base of a tree.

Spring is the time butterflies begin to emerge, and one of the first species to be seen on the wing is the Brimstone. The Brimstone is a large butterfly, and the bright yellow colour of the males makes them easy to spot on the wing. However, they camouflage well with leaves so are difficult to see when they land, especially the females as they are much paler in colour. The larvae feed on the leaves of Buckthorn and Alder Buckthorn, while the adults have a preference for purple flowers, making the Bluebells an important food source. The yellow colour of the males is thought to have inspired the name “butterfly” due to the butter-like colour.

One of my personal favourite in early spring flowers is the Snake’s-Head Fritillary. Generally seen in April and May, it can’t be mistaken for any other plant due to its bell-like flower with chequered petals that are usually purple but can also be pink or white. Due to the national decline in meadow habitats this flower has been declining in number due to habitat loss. In the park the best place to see this flower is on the mound near the Pyramid sculpture along along the back of Gunwade Lake.