Early last week I saw my first Swift of the year over West Monkseaton, almost exactly when I had expected to, and it brought a large smile to my face. I always look forward to the arrival of the local Swifts – partly because I had never lived in an area where they returned to breed and partly because they are such fantastic birds.
A week on and their numbers are building, both over the local streets and also at Holywell pond – a sure sign that summer is on its way. They will stay here until mid August, raising their young on the abundance of insects a British summer provides, before departing back to Africa for the winter. Swifts are amazing birds, spending almost their entire lives on the wing – even sleeping and breeding in the air.
I love watching them scythe through the sky with their screaming calls, especially when the young have fledged and they fly low, sweeping arcs across the local back gardens, chasing one another. Migratory birds are always amazing but the Swift has to be among the very best. I feel privileged that they come back to us each year, to spend a few short months over our houses and countryside.
And I will be sad the day in August when I realise they have departed, when I can no longer hear their joyous, screaming cries. But for now, I am pleased to have them back.
There weren’t too many April showers to speak of this year up here in the North East but here are the best pictures of the great flowers I have seen in April and early May.
Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea) are still in flower, more abundant than in early spring, although this one was looking slightly the worse for wear.
Another great spring flower, the humble Cowslip (Primula veris) is still in its prime along the hedgerows and field margins nearby.
These are the flowers of Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) which has been in flower since at least the beginning of March, with many plants still in bloom in hedgerows and in the woods at Holywell Dene.
Red Campion (Silene dioica) are now becoming more and more numerous. These grow in hedge banks but also woodland on fertile soils and even along cliff tops.
This is Bush Vetch (Vicia sepium), a legume like peas and clover, which grows in hedge banks and sometimes in woodland clearings. All vetches are favoured by bumblebees as they produce the highest quality pollen and nectar, containing amino acids that the bees can’t synthesise themselves.
Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys), part of a large clump I found growing at the base of a tree. What a gorgeous plant – enough said.
No hedgerow in spring is complete without the White Dead Nettle (Lamium album) which is another massively important plant for bumblebees and other nectar loving insects at this time of year. And unlike the Common Nettle, these need not be handled with care as they don’t sting.