Happy spring, everybody.

There has been plenty of evidence of spring for a few weeks now — crocuses, bumblebees, birdsong, hay fever — but yesterday was the vernal equinox, which is the cue for lots of people to say that it’s ‘officially’ the first day of spring. I don’t really see why astronomy should get to trump biology; the self-importance of the mathematical sciences, probably.

Though actually, if you must fit messy old nature into tidy human boxes, it’s not a bad approximation for when spring gets properly underway. The first spring migrants have just started arriving in the past few days: yay wheatears.

Meanwhile the pond has been full of toads gettin’ jiggy with it. Except that suggests something lively and maybe even fun, whereas toad sex appears to be a grim, attritional feat of endurance. The males clamp onto the females for days at a time; often you find two or three attached to the same female. And sometimes the females drown under the weight, so you find several males clasped implacably to a corpse. Romantic!

In other garden wildlife news, we have this exciting bundle of feathers:

Exciting because it used to be a woodcock, which is a really unexpected addition to the garden list… except that it can’t actually go on the list because it’s just some feathers. Still, a nice meal for one of the local foxes. Or possibly a cat? Not one of our cats, partly because they’re shut in at night but mainly because they definitely would have brought it into the house. Which is what Oscar did with this (you can see the shadow of his ears at the top):

It’s a big beetle grub; I’m pretty sure it’s a stag beetle, although they normally live underground so I don’t know where he found it.

I went along to the north Kent marshes a couple of days ago. More signs of spring: a comma (the butterfly, not the punctuation) and a lizard, plus I saw a few wheatears, which would be one of my favourite birds even if it wasn’t the first spring migrant every year.

Plenty of the winter visitors were still there, though; brent geese, godwits, plovers, and most pleasingly a short-eared owl. I also saw peregrine, marsh harrier, buzzard, and had great views of a group of four bearded tits, which was bird of the day. But I don’t have photos of any of those, so I’ll leave you with this highland cow which was more willing to pose for pictures.

Mooooo.

3 Comments

  1. 21 March 2012 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    Hey nonny nonny, toad group necrophilia, it happens every year round here too, an unseemly business. Do you think they drown? I always assumed it was the real big old females who made it to jettison their eggs literally with their last gasp, a bit like salmon going upriver to spawn and die. We used to get quite a few of those funny little midwife toads, but I’ve not seen any for a while.

    Happy spring to you too!

  2. Harry
    22 March 2012 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    Huh, I didn’t know about midwife toads in the UK. They make an extraordinary noise.

    I admit, the drowning thing is just me guessing.

  3. 22 March 2012 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    There’s a line in Shakespeare about hating something ‘more than the engendering of toads’, one can see why.

    Thanks for the link about the midwife toads, which confirmed that the chiming noise is only made by them. I still hear it so they are still about, but less often. I only encountered them after coming to France, and for a long time thought they were just unfortunate immature regular toads which hadn’t made it to the pond in time to spawn, and were doing so prematurely; the noise was a puzzle for a while too, can’t remember how we found out it was a toad.

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