Spring is one of the best times to visit National Trust woodlands. As the days lengthen and winter starts to fade the woodlands come alive in fresh bursts of colour and the cacophony of song birds.
Malachy Martin, National Trust Conservation Ranger in Fermanagh explains what to look out for and the best places to go to discover the joy of spring.
At this time of year the ground beneath the oaks is a carpet of wildflowers and herbs, all competing for light before the leaves in the canopy thicken up. Snowdrops are first, quickly followed by primroses, wood anemones, early purple orchids and a little later bluebells.
The woods are filled with bird song at the beginning of the breeding season as the males are claiming their breeding territories. Resident robins, blackbirds, thrushes and wrens are joined by migrant warblers such as chiffchaffs, blackcaps and willow warblers. After the cuckoo the chiffchaff is perhaps the most identifiable as its song is a repetition of its name.
The odd bee will be seen and heard at the start of spring; these are probably large furry queens that after mating the previous year have slept peacefully through the cold of winter. Butterflies will start to appear and spring caterpillars are a vital food source for breeding birds such as the blue tit, which time their nesting season to coincide with the caterpillar glut.
Ponds become noisy places as the male frogs wake up from their winter hibernation and croak to attract females from their winter quarters on land. There is a good pond at Florence Court to visit and if you are lucky enough and time it just right you may witness the splashing activity as mating frogs fill the water with masses of spawn.
While at Florence Court listen out for a new addition to the estate, the great spotted woodpecker. They begin to ‘drum’ to attract mates in spring, both male and female can take part having maintained separate territories outside the breeding season. The male woodpecker also performs an elaborate courtship that may result in a spiralling chase around the tree.
Over at Crom the bird to listen out for is the Grey Heron. They are often seen standing still in the shallow waters of lakes, rivers and ponds, patiently waiting for a tasty fish to pass. They nest in tall trees with other herons to form a heronry. The nest is a large platform, made from twigs and grass, and built by both male and female birds. The most distinctive call is a loud, harsh ‘frarnk’, often given when flying overhead with its long legs stretched out and its neck pulled in.
Also at Crom, swallows, house martins and swifts return in mid spring after spending the winter in warmer climes. Swifts spend most of their lives in the air landing only to breed. On fine days they circle high up in the air but at dusk they swoop around roof tops in high speed aerial chases giving high, screaming calls.
Crom is also very important for bats and they return to their maternity roots in late spring. While we generally need bat detectors to hear bats, some young people can hear their high pitched calls. Some of the smaller bats such as pipistrilles flap their wings very rapidly and the distinctive whirring sound produced, lead to them being called the ‘flittermouse’.
It’s time to get outdoors and experience all that spring has to offer at National Trust places near you.