Nature Diary April

Flowers are starting to come into bloom as this month progresses, particularly cowslips and white spring flowers.

Cow parsley, with its white lace-like blossoms, starts the roadside verge flower show. A variety of insects including ladybirds and soldier beetles visit the flowers, while rabbits and brindled ochre moth caterpillars dine on the young leaves.

Keep and eye open for the St. George's mushroom, which favours birch woods and old grassland. This is the only large white mushroom to fruit in spring and gets its name because traditionally it will appear around the 23rd - St. George's Day.

Badger cubs begin to surface for the first time so now you can take advantage of any earlier preparations you have made. Viewing will probably be best in the evening. Badgers can be attracted to the spot you want to photograph them by using unsalted peanut butter, honey or peanuts. Wear rustle-free clothing (no nylon) and keep absolutely quiet. Due to the sad history of man's cruelty to these creatures sett locations are rarely advertised. If you are inexperienced at badger viewing it may be advisable to contact one of the various badger groups i.e. The Peoples Trust for Endangered Species, 0171 498 4533 or National Federation of Badger Groups, 0171 498 3220.

In the same way, fox cubs begin to play above ground and may be visible at any time of the day. There are various tell tale signs that are worth looking for. Trodden-down ground around the earth and remnants of past meals that cubs use as toys are a good indication of activity. The best sorts of places to look are in hedgerows or woodland but away from paths and areas surrounded by undergrowth. Be careful to avoid approaching too closely. Keep down wind and be very very careful not to be seen.

Easter bunnies enjoy being weaned on spring plant growth this month. This is one of our most accessible species for practicing mammal photography on, especially at dawn and dusk. Typical behaviours include youngsters nibbling grass around their burrows and dominant bucks using chin glands to mark out territories. If you are quick with a camera you may even catch fur flying when rival bucks explode into a bout of vicious fighting.

Owls are fascinating birds but they can be difficult to find. As in most things habitat is the key. Rough grassland supports vole populations and which in turn attracts tawny, barn and long-eared owls. Worm eating little owls prefer areas with shorter grass. Higher ground such as heather covered moorland is the favoured terrain for short-eared owls. Some areas are noted for their owl populations and here are a few to consider:

  • Glenlivet Estate (NJ172189), postcode AB37 9EX
  • Mersehead RSPB Reserve, Galloway (Scotland's undisputed barn owl hotspot), nest boxes and grassland have encouraged tawny and barn owls to breed (NX925565), postcode DG2 8AH
  • Blacktoft Sands RSPB Reserve, Humberside (a barn owl nest box outside one of the hides can offer excellent views) (SE844235), postcode DN14 8HL
  • Strumpshaw Fen RSPB Reserve, East Anglia, is one of the few areas of the UK where barn owl numbers have increased notably in recent years (TG341065), postcode NR13 4HS

If you hear a male cuckoo calling it may be worth trying to attract him within photographing range. Hide yourself as best you can and don't move. Repeat his cuckoo's call when you hear it to get his attention (try saying "owe" twice, make it higher pitched by using the back of the throat).

Once dippers have established their territories (usually in February) the serious business of raising a family begins. They tend to perch on favoured rocks along river edges, which become stained white with droppings, making the birds relatively easy to spot. Once a territory is established dippers tend not to stray onto a neighbours patch. Laskhill Dale (SK204660), (postcode DE45 1JE is close), in the Peak District is often touted as the best place in the country to photograph dippers.

Warring coots may provide the opportunity for some action photography this month. Coots are extremely aggressive during the breeding season and scuffles frequently break out when a bird wanders into a neighbour’s territory. Listen out for a rise in their high pitched calls and capture the action as it unfolds. The birds will roll onto their backs and fend each other off with their huge feet and chase intruders across the water’s surface with their wings raised.

Orange-tip butterflies are on the wing. The males have brilliant orange tips (what a surprise) and look spectacular in flight. Once on the wing they don't seem to stop all day long, so to photograph these you need to be there before the day warms up. Look for their food plants, one of which is Lady's Smock (also known as cuckoo flower), as often the first thing they will do each day is feed.

The first bumblebees you see in the year are lone queens emerging from hibernation. They must forage alone until enough food is gathered to support a colony, then a new generation of workers is raised. By this month, worker bees are out in force looking for nectar sources. Occasionally a weary bee can be found that is moving slower than normal. These are idea macro subjects, and it’s possible to get so close that details of pollen attached to their bodies can easily be seen through the camera lens.

Here's something you may not have thought about photographing - the wonderfully slimy slug. The warm damp April weather is perfect for slugs. There are over thirty different species in Britain, some of which are easy to identify providing you don't want to be too taxonomically correct. Otherwise it will be out with the field guides. Look in these types of places: woodland (especially after a bit of rain), grasslands, marshes, waste ground, in gardens, under logs and on tree trunks.

March  Index  May

The Locations: Where grid references are given they are based on the Ordnance Survey Landranger Grid.
Where possible postcode/map links have been provided to Google Maps showing the exact location.