Since my last post, Spring has really begun in earnest here in Sussex, with pink cherry blossom everywhere now. Most of it seems to be from the Winter flowering Cherry (aka Japanese Flowering Cherry), of which there are many different species including Prunus nipponica, Prunus sargentii and Prunus campanulata.
All of these have many varieties, and some are crossed with our native (whiter flowered) species too. Other Prunus (hence the Prunes reference in the title, which are actually dried plums) coming into flower soon will include Almond, Apricot, Plum and Peach too. Quite an amazing family, and our oldest native is of course the Blackthorn, which is looking beautiful right now (a full two weeks earlier than last year), and smelling wonderful as well. Here is a beautiful example from the Jevington church cemetery, taken on the 9th March.
As well as that, I’ve now seen the first young Hawthorn in flower, Horse Chestnut trees are in leaf bud, with the first leaves now out, and Willow and hazel are both flowering as well, look out for the tiny bright yellow flowers of the willow as the catkins open. Lots and lots of flowers are starting to make an appearance now, some are incredibly early this year, but as one of you had said that I don’t do enough about animals, time to redress that imbalance I think.
My first Small tortoiseshell sightings this year, on the 14th March, and already mating! This is great news for a species that has been in rapid decline recently, and according to UkButterflies, part of the reason why is pretty gruesome indeed.
Apparently a parasitic fly called Sturmia bella, which has been on the rise due to global warming (funny how persistent pressure from right wing media has forced us all to adopt the more neutral ‘climate change’ instead), lays its eggs on leaves near to tortoiseshell caterpillars, which are then eaten by the caterpillars, and then follow a typically wasp like behaviour of hatching inside and then consuming their host, until pupating and then hatching forth, Alien style, as adult flies from the Pupa.
There has been some contoversy online as to how much of the decline is due to this one fly (itself now apparently in decline too). As always, by clear the biggest factor is still us, and loss of habitat.
Walking along beside Wallers Haven last week, I found several dozen of these huge fresh water mussel shells (Swan mussel; Anodonta cygnea) on the bankside.I’m not aware of the predator that could be doing this, but I do know that Carp fishermen use them for bait.
Funnily enough this mussel is also a parasitic species during part of its life cycle, as it has a unique larvae called a glochidium, which after hatching, spreads long sticky lines out into the water to try to catch a fish! Most fail, and die as a result, but a lucky few are successful and then attach to the skin of the fish, tapping into it’s blood supply. Eventually they drop off, several weeks later, and also usually several miles away from the parent, so it’s a good dispersal mechanism as well.
My next bit of zoology also features another first plant sighting, as I spotted Carder bees (a small solitary Bumble bee; Bombus pascuorum) freeding on early Lungwort flowers,
As well as some Garden snails still hibernating (many are active now and seeking mates),
And this interesting bug..
Answers on a postcard please!
Finally, as well as a definitive sighting of Ravens, buzzards, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel, all on or around the Downs, what could possibly be a better signifier of Spring than this..
To finish with, a few very exciting early plant sightings..
Equisetum, the Horse Tail.
Coltsfoot on the Pevensey shingle (9th March),
Ladys Smock, also known as the Cuckoo Flower, and finally, on the 19th March..
The first Cowslip (Primula veris) of the year! These don’t usually appear until mid April, so a great early sighting indeed. I’m spotting something new daily now, so I’ll need to write again very soon. Now that we have passed the Equinox, it is officially Spring, and it is a wonderful time of year indeed.