Spring wildlife at Belton
One of the earliest and most well-documented indicators of spring is always the emergence of the spring bulbs; the first green shoots poking their tips above ground giving way to smatterings of snowdrops, followed soon after by carpets of daffodils, their heads swaying in the breeze. Keeps your eyes open for yellow primroses spreading their pale sunshine too.
It’s not only the flowers that are beginning to stir – look out for the catkins on the Hazel, Birch, Alder and Willow trees around the park (the latter two love their roots near water so look out for them along the river and on the banks of the Towthorpe ponds).
As we say goodbye to the colder weather, we also bid a fond farewell to our winter visiting Fieldfares and Redwings, and as the Starling murmurations over Grantham start to wane, we can look forward to the return of the Swallows performing their high-speed aerial manoeuvres over our beautiful parkland.
Somewhat less ostentatiously, but no less endearing for it, are the small, secretive birds you can spot by standing quietly and patiently at the base of many of our more mature trees and looking up amongst the branches. A liquid ‘drip – drip - drip’ call will alert you to the presence of a Nuthatch. Visually quite striking once you spot it – with a rusty amber breast, silver-grey back, and a black eye stripe that makes him look like a little tree bandit, hopping vertically up and down the tree trunk and branches with consummate ease.
An extremely well-camouflaged Treecreeper will be given away by his silky white underbelly as he flits from branch to trunk and back again, probing under the bark with his down-curved beak for any tasty insect morsels he may find there. And finally, perhaps even a Goldcrest, with its largely unremarkable colouring save for the bright yellow-gold stripe on his crown, will be spotted foraging for invertebrates on the bark and emerging foliage.
Spring is an excellent time to see these fascinating birds, with plenty of insect activity beneath the bark to keep them interested, and before the trees are too densely foliated that they are obscured from view. The best equipment for spotting these smaller birds is your ears (you’ll hear them long before you can see where they are) and a bit of patience! Binoculars are useful, but not essential.
Along the river
A high piercing call and a flash of blue and orange may be all you’ll see of a Kingfisher. But with a couple of nesting pairs along the Witham, and many a confirmed sighting over the ponds in the gardens at Belton, it’s more than possible to see one during your visit. Kingfishers can produce several broods in a season, so once they’ve produced young look out for them on regular hunting expeditions along the river, or teaching their fledgelings to fly.
Herons and a Little Egret (looks a bit like a small Heron but with completely white plumage and black legs and bill) can also be seen regularly along the stretch of the Witham that flows through the park.
Of course, birds are not the only thing that you might see along the river at this time of year; the Witham is also home to Otter and Water Vole. Both species are exceptionally secretive, and you would be very lucky to get a sighting, but the water voles are most active between March and June, more diurnal than nocturnal, and can produce three to four litters of pups each year. These pups are born blind and hairless but grow very quickly and are weaned at around 14 days old. You're more likely to see the signs of their presence than the animals themselves, so look out for paw prints, spraint, and the entrance to their extensive burrow systems.
Out and about in the Park
The Deer, after an arduous rut and a sparse winter’s feeding, will be relishing all the new foliage at this time of year. The bucks will be hard at work regaining the condition they lost during the rutting season, and the does will be feeding for two ahead of fawning in the late spring/early summer.
The Fallow deer, for preference, will go for browsing the trees over grazing the grass, and this is why all our younger trees are protected by tree guards; all the new buds appearing on the trees at this time of year prove irresistible to them, and if left to their own devices we wouldn’t have many trees left in the Park!
If you’re heading out into the further reaches of the park, particularly into Eleanor's Field behind Old Wood, not only are you likely to see the deer congregating there, but spare a glance into the skies to see the beautiful and majestic Red Kites soaring above in the thermals. The unmistakable silhouette of these incredible raptors, cutting silently through a clear blue spring sky, is truly breath-taking and ample reward for the walk out from the immediate environs of the mansion.