Spring at Lackford

hawthorn in flower by Mike Andrews

In these strange times when we are stuck at home, wildlife continues as normal. Spring is very active time for much of our wildlife and it is a time of much change with birds arriving back from Africa to spend the spring / summer at Lackford Lakes.

I aim to update this blog as much as I can throughout April with updates from the reserve so you can read about what has been happening even though you might not be able to get there. These updates will be gathered from local visitors, walking from their home as part of their daily exercise. Please keep checking back here for updates on spring at Lackford Lakes.

Last updated - Thursday April 30th

At Lackford Lakes, we see signs of spring during February with many of our resident birds like song thrush and robin singing away to attract a mate and establish a territory to breed.  Towards the end of February, we see the first oystercatchers and first great crested grebes on our lakes as they return here to breed at Lackford Lakes.

Moving into March, the pace of spring picks up.  More of our resident birds can be heard singing with greenfinch, dunnock, blue tit and great tit joining in.  Then on Sunday 8th March, the first chiffchaff was heard singing by the trails.  Interesting these birds tend to start appearing around the same time every year.  Almost immediately after completing their migration from Africa, they start singing to attract a mate.  Within days, the distinctive chiff-chaff call could be heard from all corners of the reserve as more and more of them arrive each day.  During the same week (from the 10th March onwards), we had some early sand martins moving through making the second bird species to check in on migration.  Next to check in on Wednesday 25th March, was a couple of blackcaps.  These seem to have arrived a little earlier than normal and this was probably down to the favourable southerly winds during the middle of the month



It is not just the birds that give you that spring feeling in March.  During the last week (21st to 27th March), we have had some nice sunny days, and this has meant that the trees have really started growing with blackthorn in bloom and hawthorn coming out.  At the same time, our early insects have started making an appearance like bee-fly photographed below.  This sunny weather has also meant the first butterflies are really getting going with plenty of brimstone, peacock and comma being seen.





The past week (up until Friday 3rd April), has been typical of this stage of spring.  Cool easterly winds so signs of spring slowed down a bit.  The chiffchaffs and blackcaps are still singing well at Lackford but we are still waiting reports of our first swallow or willow warbler.

Then the sun came back out during the weekend (4th/5th April).  The butterflies reappeared (comma, brimstone and peacock) and more of our trees are beginning to show signs of life like this alder tree with some new leaves photographed here.

Alder tree leaves beginning to emerge

Alder tree leaves beginning to emerge

A few new birds did check in this weekend with a nice adult little gull flying around the sailing lake and our first common tern of the year.

This is where we are now at with spring- I will be adding more as I get reports of more things happening.  This coming week should be more promising with southern winds forecast - bringing in more birds from Africa.  Hopefully, swallow, sedge warbler and willow warbler will check in this week. 

This past week (6th to 12th April) has been unseasonably sunny and this has helped many of our plants get a head start in growth.  More and more of our trees are now in leaf including some very early oaks.  This is a little earlier than normal this year.

trees turning green

trees turning green

As expected this week really started the spring arrival of birds from Africa.  I had just finished my last update (Sunday 5th) when the first reports of swallows came through.  Willow warbler checked in on Tuesday 7th and sedge warbler on Friday 10th.  Both the willow warbler and sedge warbler are running a little late this year for some reason but at least they have started to make appearances.

What was unusual was the early arrivals nightingale, cuckoo and whitethroat  - all checked in on the 9th April.  Perhaps the nice sunny weather has encouraged these birds to get here early.  

Next up should be reed warbler, garden warbler and perhaps hobby.

The sunny weather this past week, has also encouraged a few more butterflies to take to the wing.  Green-veined white, holly blue and plenty of orange tips have now been recorded.  These join the peacock, brimstone and comma.  This takes our butterflies to 6 species so far for 2020.

green-veined white

green-veined white

The sunny weather continued during the week (13th to 19th April).  This means the continuation of growth around the reserve.  Hawthorn is already beginning to flower around the reserve and most trees have leaves including the oak - I feel that is it quite early to see these at this stage already.

The sunny weather this week, has kept the butterflies going with more seen around the reserve this past week.  New this week is small tortoiseshell taking our total to seven species for the year at Lackford.  The best ones at the moment flying around seem to be green-veined white and orange tip (a lot flying around my house too).


orange-tip by Mike Andrews

Bird wise, arrivals of new species slowed down a bit.  This was probably due to the easterly winds that we have been having which is not good for birds migrating back from Africa.  Cuckoo and nightingale are now regularly heard singing around the reserve so some are still getting through.  The main arrival happened Friday into Saturday when the weather turned a little cloudy with a few spots of rain.  Many more sedge warblers can be heard calling away in the reeds on Saturday morning and garden warbler checked in then too.  Looking at the spring arrival chart below, you will see that garden warbler has arrived as expected - with arrival dates in previous years around this point of the month.

Spring arrival chart Lackford Lakes - 19th April 2020

spring arrival chart - 19th April 2020

garden warbler

garden warbler by Mike Andrews

So we are still waiting on reed warbler - this is now running a little late this year so should arrive this coming week.  Our early whitethroat remains the only one we have recorded so this indicated this individual birds was very early indeed as we are still waiting on the arrival of the rest of the whitethroats and lesser whitethroats - both due back this week.  Others that we are waiting for include hobby and swift - will they get back this week as well or will they wait until the last few days of April before making an apppearance.

With the sunny weather continuing again this week and winds still coming from the east, it will be interesting to see what happens this coming week.


hawthorn in flower

hawthorn in flower by Mike Andrews

Growth continued around the reserve during the last few weeks, just take a look at the hawthorn now.

When I last updated you, we had quite a few birds arriving back from Africa during the weekend of the 18th/19th April when the weather was a bit changeable.  Along with lots of sedge warblers we got reports of many whitethroats, lessser whitethroat, reed warbler and house martins also arriving back during that time.

So that really left us with hobby and swift to get back so the race was on to see which one would be next.  Swift was next on the 21st April and lots more arrived during the weekend 25th/26th April.  It is good to see these birds back, they will only be here until August and hopefully they will nest again in the centre.  

Our first hobby was seen on Monday 27th April and more have arrived back since then.  As normal they seem to like feeding at the back of the sailing lake when they first arrive back.

Here is how our arrival sheet looks now.

spring arrival chart Lackford Lakes - 30th April 2020

Spring arrival chart Lackford Lakes - 30th April 2020

As you can see most have now checked in and we now move into a different stage of spring - the breeding season.  Many birds will be on eggs or will shortly be, some of the early ones will already be feeding young so this becomes a busy time for our birds around the reserve.

In the chart you will see a few gaps, these are mainly from our water birds and they have probably been on the reserve but we have no reports to fill in dates for these.  For turtle dove, it seems like we have now lost them as a breeding bird at Lackford but we are always hopeful so we are keeping this on our list.

small white

small white by Mike Andrews

The sun was back out again during the last few weeks and the butterflies continued to enjoy this.  Another three species have started to fly and makes the total of 10 species for us so far in 2020.  Small white, speckled wood and small copper has been added to this list.

small copper

small copper by Mike Andrews

As we move through spring, more and more insects will also be seen around the reserve.  In the past week, the first damselfly was seen - the large red damselfly.  May should see a lot more action from our damselflies and dragonflies.

Hawk will be keeping you updated about what is happening on the reserve as things happen during May.  I am sure he will share some stories about the insects that can be found on the reserve.