Reports of early spring sightings throughout the country have been coming in for weeks now… not surprising since it’s been the warmest winter since records began. In the Museum’s garden those early signs have included wild daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) that flowered on 3 February – nearly a month earlier than the previous 3 years; and another early plant record – our first primrose (Primula vulgaris) flowered before mid-winter’s day, again nearly a month earlier than last year but more about primroses in the next blog.
No records for our amphibians yet as the cold spell these last few weeks seem to have deterred early movements from breeding frogs and toads – usually in our pond in mid-March.
We are also waiting patiently for signs of fox cubs, first spotted last year by Daniel Osborne at the end of March. On most days we catch sight of the adults that have made the wildlife garden their home and hope to share some sightings with you on video. In the meantime, Daniel, who followed their movements closely last year gives an account of his observations…
As the end of the year draws closer, my mind has cast back to another story about bats… Well it’s not just that I’m obsessed with bats, but I do like sharing good news – in autumn we found that we have two species of bats newly visiting the wildlife garden.
During the week of our Bat Festival and International Bat Night, and through the help of Philip Briggs of the Bat Conservation Trust and tree surgeons Liam and James from Wassells Arboriculture, an Anabat recorder was installed in the lime tree overlooking the pond. This provided us with a new way to register bats visiting our small patch of London.
Our annual Bat Festival this year follows International Bat Night on 29-30 August. We’ll be teaming up with our partners Bat Conservation Trust and the London Bat Group to celebrate the wonderful world of bats. You can discover many fascinating batty facts including how to help bats in your garden, the diet of bats and how to make a flappy bat.
There will also be an opportunity to see some of the specimens from the Museum’s collection. As we wrote in our Going Batty post last year, curator Louise Tomsett will reveal more about the Museum’s collection of over 30,000 specimens of bats including the importance of their use in research and in the discovery of new species.
Which is very timely because a new species of horseshoe bat has just been described from one of our specimens held in the Museum collections.
A family of long-tailed tits were noisily searching the woodland canopy for insects, as I arrived at work – a welcoming sight and sound! Following a week’s absence from the Garden, the woodland vegetation has changed to a darker green, while the meadows and ponds are now brighter with meadow clary (Salvia verbenaca), bee orchids (Ophrys apifera), and an increased number of oxeye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) and common spotted orchids (Dactylorhiza fuchsii). All these are great plants for insects to forage amongst, but what about the native plants good enough for us to eat?
Our resident foodie, forager and wildlife gardener/ecologist, Daniel Osborne, explores some of our edible plants:
“Until about 7,000 years ago, every human that lived in the British Isles hunted and gathered all of their food. They had and shared a rich knowledge of the uses and edibility of the plants in their landscape and were able to sustain themselves throughout the year. They had skills that, through the study of bushcraft and books like Richard Mabey’s Food For Free, I have become confident enough to dabble in. The results have been truly enriching.
In these few paragraphs I do not intend to list all edible native species, share recipes or discuss the health benefits or legality of wild food, as these are covered elsewhere with much more expertise and clarity than I could achieve. Instead I will talk about what thrills me: finding new flavours and connecting with our hunter-gatherer ancestors.
The rich warbling song of the blackcap has welcomed us into work over the past 2 weeks! (you can hear an Eurasian blackcap, Sylvia atricapilla, as recorded by Patrick Aberg here). Not only that but we’ve had robins nesting just above the threshold of our shed with the accompanying chatter of baby birds anticipating food, holly blue butterflies visiting clusters of fresh holly flowers, sightings of orange tip, brimstone, peacock and speckled wood butterflies, tadpoles in the main pond, the occasional glimpse of a fox cub, and many more signs that Spring has well and truly sprung.
The mosaic of ground flora throughout the different habitats in the Garden is changing by the day with a particular blue haze and glorious scent of bluebells in the woodland areas.
While winter tasks in the Wildlife Garden kept most of us busy outside for the first quarter of the year, these cold months are also a good excuse to hunker down inside and look back at the previous season’s species records, enter new records on our database and consolidate reports on our findings.
As mentioned in one of our early blogs biological recording is carried out – like most activities here – with the help of many volunteers (specialists as well as beginners), and naturally our own scientists, during the course of their working day. Sometimes we enlist the help of aspiring young scientists…
Recording is carried out by observation and surveys. From mosses on walls, rocks and bare ground and the animals that inhabit these miniature forests, to the tree tops where great and blue tits may be spotted feeding on aphids and other small insects in the upper branches, as well as high flying butterflies such as the purple hairstreak that feed off honeydew.
Invertebrate surveys are carried out using a variety of methods including pitfall traps for ground invertebrates, malaise traps for flying insects, and light traps for nocturnal fliers.