Nature Column: Spring has finally sprung

The female Belted Beauty
The female Belted Beauty

Well it may not have been a cold winter but it was certainly a long and wet one.

This has resulted in large areas of machair becoming water logged but finally it looks as if these will dry out in time for crop sowing.

The weather and climate change however have not finished with areas further South, and dumped sand and dust from the Sahara Desert in various parts of England and Scotland.

The winds carrying the dust seems to have petered out before reaching the islands, but will no doubt have helped some of our summer migrants on their Northward migration.

One of the first birds to arrive was a Chiffchaff, a little brownish-green warbler which was reported at Port of Ness on March 28th.

It has a characteristic song ‘Chiff-chaff , chiff-chaff’ from where it gets its name. Very few breed on the islands as they frequent wooded areas, which are in short supply in the archeopeligo, but are sometimes found near Stornoway Castle.

The first wheatears arrived on North Uist on March 27th and are much more widespread frequenting almost any open areas and breeding in cracks in walls and even rabbit burrows.

These are Robin sized birds and the males have grey backs and a black band through the eye, reminiscent of a highway man’s mask. When flying away from the observer, their white rump can be seen well. The name Wheatear comes from on of the birds older country names ‘White arse’.

On the Machair and marshes birds like Redshanks are displaying and Lapwings are already incubating eggs.

These two species are just part of the community of wading birds which are surveyed regularly on the islands. The Uists have the densest population of breeding waders in Britain and so is of significant importance.

Many more birds will arrive soon including terns, swallows and more well known birds such as the Cuckoo. However birds are not the only wild creatures to emerge as the weather gets warmer.

Already Small Tortoiseshell butterflies have been seen as they emerge from hibernation and search for food plants and mates.

Various moths including the Belted Beauty are out and about and can be looked for on old fence posts and other wooden objects by the coast.

The male moth is basically a variety of various shades of grey whilst the female looks like a small woodlouse and is flightless. The first bumblebees have been seen too. Garden and Great Yellow Bumblebee queens have already emerged from hibernation and are now looking for somewhere to nest.

The latter is one of the special species to be found on the islands and is basically yellow with a single black band around its body. People will travel from further south to try and see this species.

So with insects out, flowers blooming and birds nesting and displaying it looks like spring is finally here.

Stuart Taylor, RSPB Assistance Species Officer