The March of Spring

Spring has arrived and, although no one has remembered to tell this to the weather, the pond snails have definitely got the message:

Identification is tricky but these may be wandering snails, Ampullaceana balthica 

Numbers of these snails were floating around upside down on the water surface. Perhaps this is how they ‘wander’ and disperse:

Further investigation revealed that there were also many pairs joined up in the shallows. Pond snails are hermaphrodite and are capable of being either the donator or receiver of sperm. Here are two mating:

I tried to find out a bit more about the biology and life cycle of a pond snail but it was quite difficult. I was, however, amazed to discover how much there is going on inside them:

A diagram of a generalised snail – although this is a land snail with four tentacles rather than the two that pond snails have. I do find the large size of the lung and the brain very surprising. I also note that both male and female reproductive organs are there – but I still have so many unanswered questions about how it all works. One of our sons had a Giant African Land Snail called Charlotte as a pet and we were shocked and dismayed to see that she produced hundreds of baby snails all on her own. Diagram from Wildlife Gardening Forum website

We had not noticed synchronised snail mating in the ponds before but will watch out for it again at the next spring equinox. Perhaps by then I will know a bit more about them.

The two large ponds in the meadows are only 100m apart and were dug within a year of each other, but they don’t have the same depth profiles and planting. Interestingly, they support noticeably different species – for instance the hide pond is absolutely packed with smooth newts.There are far fewer newts in the wild pond but this is the pond with all the frogs.

While the hide pond on the left was hosting this wandering snail event this week, there was not a single one of these snails to be seen in the wild pond on the right

But the wild pond has snail species of its own:

This large snail from the wild pond is probably the Great pond snail
There are also many ramshorn snails in the wild pond, although I am not sure of the exact species yet

I look forward to doing some pond dipping this spring and learning more about what is going on in the depths of these ponds.

It is not just the snails that have noticed that spring is here. The birds are pairing up as well:

A lovely pair of robins

Unfortunately there is still no sign of the colour-ringed female herring gull X9LT, the mate of the charismatic Chuckles who is here in the meadows every day. I haven’t seen X9LT for months and am fearing the worst. The website of the North Thames Gull Group shows that she was colour-ringed by them in January 2015 at Pitsea landfill site in Essex when she was estimated to be about four years old. She moved here to the Kent coast in 2020 and a few sightings of her have been logged since then. However, there has been nothing since I last submitted a sighting of her to them in May 2022.

Chuckles is a real character and we have grown very fond of him. We particularly like how he dive bombs the dog when she barks at him

X9LT and Chuckles have raised young together for the last two years and brought them here to the meadows once they fledged. Herring gulls live for about twenty years and mate for life and so sadly Chuckles might be on his own from now on.

The magpies have reached the advanced point in their nest building where they are lining it with mud:

Groups of starling that have been murmurating over our British reedbeds and piers all winter are now stopping off in the meadows to feed up before crossing the North Sea back to their breeding grounds:

Grey wagtails are also moving. We often see them here in the spring and autumn:

A mother rabbit has been venturing out with two sweet little Easter bunnies in the reptile area where the grass is longer and more tussocky. We haven’t seen rabbits living in this area before and I read that females who are lower down the rabbit hierarchy are often forced to take themselves off to have their young away from the main warren.

The young rabbits are ridiculously sweet but I worry for them because they are isolated from the main group and there are a lot of foxes here.

But the One-eyed vixen’s mate has a dogfish rather than a rabbit this time:

Despite having just finished a seven week course of Arsen Sulphur mange treatment, his mange is still advancing and I have now started him on a week’s course of Psorinum in the hope that this will be more effective. Both these treatments are recommended for foxes with mange and have worked for me in the past.

There have been no signs that there are any badger cubs this spring. Usually the cameras catch the cubs being moved between burrows or there is evidence that the female has been suckling – but this year, nothing – although I am still prepared to be surprised.

I went round the meadows with the ecologist who is continuing to monitor our slow worms this year – a few years ago he moved about a hundred here from a site that has been developed. We found two neonate slow worms that will have been born last autumn, along with some lizards and a pygmy shrew.

A neonate slow worm, just up from below ground now that it is spring

The camera at the feeding cages caught a squabble amongst yellowhammer:

A blackbird with a worm:

Alexanders are plants that love a coastal setting and in the early spring they grow in absolute profusion in these parts, blanketing out other things. We are scared of what they would do if we don’t control them and last year we ensured that no alexander set seed in the meadows. This involved a mixture of digging up the plant with its parsnip-like tuberous root, or simply taking off all the flower heads. Even after all that work, this year we are faced with an even bigger battle with the plants growing in increased abundance along the hedgerows and advancing into the meadows. We are determined that no seed will set again this year but it is a back-breaking job. The hope is that next year things will be better.

Alexanders growing in our hedgerows

What a joy it was to see brimstone butterflies flitting between primroses in the wood this week:

Adult brimstones hibernate overwinter in woodland and emerge on warm spring days
They are beautifully camouflaged on primroses and seem to disappear as soon as they land on them. There are surely far fewer primroses in the wood this spring – perhaps the heat of last summer took its toll
Scarlet elf cups grow on twigs and small branches in the leaf litter

My brother bought me two treecreeper nest boxes for my recent birthday:

The advice was to put the boxes up two to three metres high in a sheltered position on a tree with a heavily textured bark. What fun it was going round the wood looking for a good place for them:

It will be interesting to see what uses them this year – because I am already presuming it won’t be treecreepers!

But I have saved my most exciting spring news until last. There does still continue to be some squirrel activity around the tawny owl nest box…

..but owls raised chicks in this box last year and I was really hoping they would again. This week it is tentatively looking like they might – every night they have been photographed around the box…

…and even peering in on several occasions:

I need to change this camera onto video to be able to tell if the owls are actually going into the box and hopefully there will be more news on this next time.

2 thoughts on “The March of Spring

  1. Good news about the owls. 🙂
    Amazing that you have seen butterflies already. Still waiting here up north.
    I hope Chuckles will be ok. Could he pair up again or is this rare?
    In my local nature reserve there was a pair of geese. One was white and the other looked like a greylag. Anyway they were a pair and were always together. Then one day the female ( the one that looked like a greylag) flew off honking furiously and has never returned. The white gander is now alone. Feel sorry for him really. Could she have left because they didn’t manage to have a family perhaps? X

    1. I don’t know what the future holds for Chuckles now – I’m sort of learning as we go along, but for sure it will be reported here! That’s a sad story about your goose and I too am feeling sorry for him – let’s hope that he finds a new partner this spring x

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