Look busy, spring is coming

Spring at Minnowburn Bridge, County Down

Spring is indeed well on its way. You made find this hard to believe. For some, spring will not truly begin until the Vernal Equinox on 21 March or for the more optimistic 1 March, but if you look closely on your next walk, the evidence is there.

Explore Minnowburn, Lisnabreeny and Cregagh Glen to see for yourself. The signs of Spring are everywhere. So, what are these signs? Well, the early herald of spring is of course the snowdrop.

Snowdrops are an early sign of spring
Look out for Snowdrops on your walk
Snowdrops are an early sign of spring

The small, white, bell-shaped flowers are always a welcoming sight as winter draws to a close. Snowdrops, also known as Galanthus Nivalis, are brave little flowers and the colder the weather, the longer they will last, with some flowering into March.

Not only are the snowdrops brave enough to cope with whatever the weather throws at them. They are also the masters of subtlety. Their blue-grey spears have perforated the damp earth and their shoots have expanded, releasing their delicate, dangling green and white bells.

Explore Minnowburn’s Terrace Hill Avenue to discover more signs of spring. Trees like Alder and Hazel are showing signs of catkins and flowers soon to appear on the branches. Tree buds are preparing to swell and burst into life in a few weeks. 

Celandine can already be seen in many of our woods and verges soon to give a bright and welcoming splash of yellow. And if you go walking through Cregagh Glen or Minnowburn, look out for the native Bluebells which are raising their heads above the soil, taking the advantage to feed on the winter sun.  

Bluebells alongside the Giant's Ring path at Minnowburn
Bluebells beside a path at Minnowburn, County Down
Bluebells alongside the Giant's Ring path at Minnowburn

 Why is all of this happening? Well unless you haven’t noticed already, daylight is rapidly increasing and the plants, mammals and birds are certainly responding to it.  Shake off the winter gloom and take comfort in the signs of spring all around us. 

Bats in the lead up to Spring

Have you ever been walking along from Minnowburn carpark towards Shaw’s Bridge in Belfast at night convinced you have heard a series of squeaks or chittering from nearby? Chances are you have heard a bat! This special place encompasses a stretch of the River Lagan which meanders through a wildlife rich mixed woodland before coming to Shaw’s Bridge.  

The Lagan riverside path at Minnowburn
Lagan riverside at Minnowburn, County Down
The Lagan riverside path at Minnowburn

During the run up to Springtime the buds of Ash, Alder, Beech and Oak begin to grow but they are not the only thing awakening. Depending on the temperature, bats can begin to stir out of their hibernation in search for their first meal. Bats, like us, are mammals, meaning the give birth to live offspring which are heavily dependent on their mothers. They also have great eyesight (unlike some of us!), do not drink blood and much prefer to avoid getting tangled in someone else’s hair. Northern Ireland has 8 species of bat which can all be found at Minnowburn.

A common pipistrelle bat, one of the eight species found in Northern Ireland
A common pipistrelle bat, one of the eight species found in Northern Ireland
A common pipistrelle bat, one of the eight species found in Northern Ireland

Bats are remarkable creatures protected by international law and an average night’s feed can consist of anywhere between 1000 to 3000 insects depending on the species of Bat. These insects range from Midge, Moths, Spiders and Mosquitos, in Minnowburn you are most likely to encounter Daubenton’s and Pipistrelle bats. Pipistrelle bats are the smallest of our species weighing only between 5-6g, around the same as a £1 coin, these bats display impressive aerial acrobatics and catch their pray mid-flight. On the other hand, Daubenton’s bats feed exclusively off the surface of rivers and lakes, scooping up the likes of Midge and Caddisfly with their feet. They have been known to be able to swim to safety if they end up the water due to a failed manoeuvre, this has earned them the nickname “Water Bat.”  

Daubenton's Bat
Daubenton's Bat
Daubenton's Bat

Even though bats possess great eyesight, pursuing small insects in the dying light is difficult and they use a form of sonar known as Echo Location. Bats send out calls which bounce off nearby objects which they can interpret building up a greater picture of their surroundings. Distinct species of bats send out these calls at unique frequencies like our various accents, which we can monitor with the use of a heterodyne detector. This can be seen in the video below taken at Minnowburn, with the detector set at 45Hz translating the calls of nearby Pipistrelles seen in the skyline between the trees.