Wildlife and wildflowers to look out for
Blackthorn is one of the first trees to blossom, providing a valuable early source of nectar for bees, and a spectacular display of frothy white flowers.
These are among the first birds to return from Africa in spring. They’re small and fairly plain-looking, so the easiest way to identify them is by their song.
All sorts of flying insects emerge in spring, including butterflies, dragonflies, ladybirds and mayflies. Keep an eye out in areas of grassland or near water.
This hardy flower brightens up woods and hedgerows in spring. It was a favourite of Prime Minster Benjamin Disraeli, who lived at Hughenden in Buckinghamshire.
The sight of boxing hares is a hallmark of spring. Rather than competition between males, this behaviour is actually females fending off unwanted male attention.
There are two main types of wild violet you might find in early spring. Common Dog-violets lack scent, but Sweet Violets were used as perfume in Ancient Greece.
Frogspawn and toadspawn
Frog and toad spawn can be found in ponds from January to March. Frog spawn is always laid in jelly-like clumps, whilst toad spawn comes in long chains.
Early Purple Orchid
This is one of the earliest orchids to appear in meadows and woods in spring. Look out for pink-purple flowers and dark green leaves with dark spots.
The cuckoo’s call is instantly recognisable, although they’re now quite rare. Listen out for them in grassland and reedbed habitats around late March and April.
Wildlife spotting tips
Know what you're looking for
Before you head out, it’s worth doing a bit of research to find out which animals and wildflowers are in the area. Many of the places we care for will have information about local wildlife on their webpages. This will mean you can head to the right habitat if there’s something you particularly want to see, like the great crested newt in the sand dunes of Formby, Liverpool or newborn lambs in the green pastures of Wales.
Keep your distance
It can be a really exciting experience to see a new creature in the wild, but it’s important to give them plenty of space and stay calm to avoid disturbing them. You're more likely to see wildlife if you stay hidden, so go for muted colours of clothing and avoid wearing perfume or scented sun cream. A pair of binoculars will help you to see details from a safe distance.
Capture the memories
Spotting a kingfisher, roe deer or a rare pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly can make you feel even closer to nature. You never know when you might make a special discovery, so why not take a camera or notebook and pencil to record your findings? You could even pack a pocket guide to help you identify the flowers and animals that you come across.
Look & listen
Many creatures large and small are excellent at camouflage. Droppings, flattened grass tracks or muddy paw prints can let you know if there’s anyone in the area, and if you listen hard you might be able to find a chaffinch by following its song, or hear other creatures moving in the undergrowth.
Wildlife works on its own time, and you might have to wait for hours to see shy or rare animals like kingfishers. Take a rug to sit on, layers for warmth and a raincoat to keep you dry. Water and snacks are a good idea as well but remember to avoid strong-smelling foods, and always take any litter home with you.
Think like wildlife
Animals will often head for shade on a sunny day, and when the weather is dry they’ll need to find water to drink. Wet weather brings bugs and worms to the surface, making a feast for the birds. Many of the places we care for will run regular guided walks with rangers, which are the perfect opportunity to pick up some more tips.