Early April in the Dalgety Bay woods sees the springtime race in full flow. The trees are beginning to put out their leaves, but for the moment there is still plenty of light getting through to the woodland floor and it is this that the special woodland plants are racing to use while they can.
Real woodland specialists, like the bluebells that carpet some of our broadleaved woods, already have a dense growth of leaves that are using the sunlight to store energy back into the bulb, both for next years early growth and the production of the abundant flowers that will seen in the next few weeks.
Around the edges of the woods, one of the glories of early spring has to be the Celandine with its golden stars open in the sunshine, reminding us that winter really is in retreat.
They have now almost finished flowering as, being low to the ground, they have to complete their flowering before the grasses get too long. While they are out, they are an important source of food for early flying insects like this newly emerged hover fly.
Not all plants are geared up to exploit that narrow window of opportunity in the deep wood, when it is warm enough to grow, but before the trees cut out too much of the light. The Bluebells, a specialist in this environment, will have returned to dormancy before full summer arrives, but others, while also getting an early start to flowering will continue to flower at least until the early part of the summer. These plants are to be found on the edges of the footpaths and on the outer margins of the woodland areas.
White Dead-nettle is now flowering in the Crow Wood grasslands and the related Red Dead-nettle can be found along the pathways and at the edges of Hopeward Wood.
Although superficially like the stinging nettle, these two species of Dead-nettle do not have the stinging hairs that cause the all too familiar painful sensation as they inject a cocktail of irritant chemicals into the skin of anyone who brushes against the leaves of common nettles.
The flowers of these species are also a vital source of nectar and pollen for the queens of some of the Bumblebees that are busy setting up their summer nests after emerging from winter hibernation. The White Dead-nettle is favoured by Common Carder, shown here on the left and also the Garden Bumblebee. These are both species that have tongues that are long enough to reach the nectar in these deep flowers.
The Red Dead-nettle has a smaller flower and can be used by short tongued Bumblebees like the Early Bumblebee queen shown on the right with her face covered in the orange pollen of the flower. The Bumblebee gets the nectar, and the flower gets its pollen transferred for the production of viable seed.
It is not just Bumblebees and Hoverflies that are gearing up for the spring race. Many birds are already building nests, some hopefully making use of the habitat piles of dead branches gathered together by DBCWG volunteers over the winter.
Mostly it is the singing of the males that we hear at this time as they establish and then proclaim ownership of a territory, usually singing from some vantage point in the trees. Resident birds like Wrens, Blackbirds, Dunnocks , and Song Thrushes have already been busy collecting nesting materials and will now have their nests established, but summer visitors are still arriving. The distinctive call of the Chiffchaff Warbler can now occasionally be heard, having flown from its winter quarters around the western Mediterranean.
Occasionally we can see them feeding at a lower level or at least find the evidence of their tastes in food. Blair Law’s 9 year old daughter Erinn was observant enough to spot this Song Thrush’s anvil stone just inside Crow Wood. They use a suitable stone with good all round visibility so they can watch for danger and here they beat the snails that they find against the hard stone surface to crack the shell and so enable them to extract the meat within. This is the only British bird able to do this.
Not all the bird sounds come from the trees however. At this time of year V shaped flocks of Pink-footed Geese can sometimes be seen high overhead with the characteristic gentle honking of their contact calls drifting down to us. In our rather windy location they can only be heard when the air is still or the breezes are gentle. At present they are flying north to their summer nesting grounds in Greenland and Iceland. They too are responding to the advance of springtime warmth and longer days, but it will be May before the eggs are laid in what passes for summer in the high arctic.
So, if you are walking the dog, or just out for a stroll along the woodland pathways, there is much to be seen and heard.