Welcome to the April edition of DeeWatch, a month-by-month guide to nature-spotting across our diverse and beautiful catchment. Brought to you by the rangers and other local wildlife enthusiasts who take care of Deeside’s nature reserves and countryside, our DeeWatch diary includes sightings from the field as well as suggestions on what to look out for at any given time of year.
Social isolation for us all means there are fewer chances to get out and about, so we need to keep our eyes and ears open closer to home. This is a useful reminder of how much wildlife shares the space around - and sometimes even inside - our homes. Even if you have no garden and live in a flat in Aberdeen, you maybe surprised by what you see outside your window. We missed the normal Spring sightings in March thanks to cooler weather, but as things warm up in April, nature will soon catch up. Everything is very dry just now, so be aware of fire risks, and though it may be tempting to clear up your garden and have a bonfire, spare a thought for all the hibernating wildlife and resist!
You can check out the following websites for more information on what’s going on in nature, and consider helping to make a valuable contribution to our wildlife records with any of your sightings, at this website.
Look out and listen for:
The call of an oystercatcher at night is one of the classic signs of Spring. They’ve now moved inland from wintering on the coast, and their breeding cycle is well underway. Other wading birds like lapwings, or ‘peasies’ as they’re often known locally, can be heard and seen in fields, with their piping calls and aerial acrobatics. Blackbirds are now feeding their young in many parts of the north east.
Oystercatchers, Helen Rowe
Lower down the catchment, look out for mixed flocks of reed buntings and yellowhammers. You may notice a lot of tweeting, and if you wait and watch, you’ll see them feeding in the stubble and flying into trees when alarmed. Yellowhammers are unmistakable, with their characteristic song, “a little bit of bread and no cheese”, and the male’s yellow head shining brightly in the sun. The reed bunting is equally smart with a striking black head and white collar.
April sees the return of many migrant birds – lots we’ll see from our homes or on our daily walks. Swallows, sand martins and house martins are flying in from Africa, and you might be lucky enough to see or hear songbirds in your garden - songthrushes, chiffchaffs or blackcaps. Blackcaps will even feed at bird tables, and a real treat is to hear one sing - they have one of the best voices in the spring birdsong chorus.
Songthrush, Helen Rowe
If you’re lucky enough to be able to walk near water, you may even see your first osprey, hunting for fish – they’ve been spotted near Dinnet. If you have a pond in your garden or nearby, look out for grey herons hunting frogs, toads and hatching tadpoles. Several have been spotted at the Den of Maidencraig Local Nature Reserve pond in Aberdeen.
Grey heron, Helen Rowe
The first swallows will arrive soon, and the skylarks are displaying. Look out for birds attacking their reflections in windows – from pheasants to oystercatchers, they are all trying to scare off competition! If you can't get out beyond your garden, remember to put any dog hair outside for the birds to collect for nest building. Try to resist the temptation to tidy up the garden - starlings will use bits of long grass and dead plant for their nests.
Butterflies, moths & insects
Butterflies and bees feed on early flowers - the daffs in your garden are doing a good trade just now, and emerging insects in turn are food for breeding birds and migrants.
In eastern Deeside, look out for Buff-tailed bumblebees flying low over tussocky ground searching for nest sites. They’re chunky things with an almost orangey-yellow colour to their tails.
Buff-tailed bumble bee, Toni Watt
Fox Moth caterpillars are also around, crawling across paths on heathy ground. They’re getting ready to form their cocoons, but many can be spotted in full view on a sunny day, basking in the sun.
Fox moth catterpillar, Toni Watt
Look out for pondskaters. If you creep quietly up to a pond, you’ll be rewarded with the sight of these long-legged creatures gliding across the water surface. They spend all their lives on the water surface, feeding on dead or dying insects that have fallen onto the water surface. They have hairy undersides on the ends of their long legs that enable them to trap air, and stay on the water surface without breaking the surface film.
Pondskater, Toni Watt
Many of the moths and butterflies that overwinter as adults are stirring now and Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock butterflies can be seen fluttering around the windows of garden sheds where they’ve been hibernating. They’re emerging to stock up on nectar and find a mate - males are territorial and you may see two duelling together, spiralling upwards rapidly, then separating as the male holding his patch sees off the rival. Females of both species lay their eggs on nettle patches in sunny spots.
Look out for white butterflies towards the end of the month.The Green-veined White is the most common in Deeside.You can identify it by the dark greenish speckled veins on the underside of its wings. The Orange-tip is also widespread and the male has very distinctive orange wing tips, but both sexes have a beautiful marbled pattern on their hindwing undersides.
Orange tip butterfly, Helen Rowe
Hebrew Characters (as featured last month), Common Quakers and Clouded Drabs are some of the commonest nocturnal moths around just now. You might see them appear at lighted windows, or head out with a torch and you could spot them feeding on pussy willow catkins.
Common Quaker moth, Helen Rowe
By day, look out for the Kentish Glory moth – the leaves of young birch trees are food for their offspring, so if you’re in the Banchory areaor further up the Dee valley, you may see the orange-brown blur of males flying at high speed in search of females that giveoff their attractant pheromone scent.
Kentish Glory moth, Helen Rowe
You’ll see the familiar seven-spot ladybird throughout Deeside this month, as it turnsup anywhere there are aphids to feed on. Adults hibernate in hollow plant stems, sometimes clustering in large numbers. It’s a migratory species - large numbers fly in from the continent every spring, boosting our native population.
Mating seven-spot ladybirds, Helen Rowe
Roe deer bucks are currently ‘in velvet’ – this one was recently spotted at the Den of Maidencraig on the outskirts of Aberdeen. The velvet skin covering the antlers contains the blood supply for their fairly rapid growth over a few months. Deer grow a new set of antlers every year, ready for the rut (mating season), which is summer for Roes and autumn for Reds. Red deer stags are casting old antlers now and their new sets are just starting to grow.
Otters will make trips to ponds and watercourses in Spring, to catch breeding frogs and toads - you may find remains of frogs or toads near water where they’ve been feeding. Loch Kinord and Loch Davan are good otter-spotting places, particularly at dusk or dawn.
Badgers are emerging with the arrival of Spring - they had their cubs in January or February, and will now venture out from the sett before nightfall.
Trees, flowers, fruits & fungi
Trees are coming into leaf across the catchment, and the new leaves are super tasty to bugs as they have fewer tanins - willow catkins are a great source of early pollen for emerging insects. There are some great online links to print off and take with you, which will help you identify species and keep kids busy.
Bees and insects are delighted too with the Spring-blooming flowers – across the city, the last of the crocus are wilting and the daffodils are coming into their own along the riverside and in the parks, thanks largely to David Welch, who planted 12 million daffs and 30 million crocus over the course of 20 years!
Further west in the catchment, Potarch is a great place to spot wildflowers, especially on the south-facing banks of the Dee. Look out for wood anemone, the pale yellow wild primrose, the bright buttercup-yellow lesser celandine, the poisonous green-flowered dog’s mercury, and the tiny but recognisable flowers on barren strawberry. Coltsfoot, a yellow dandelion-like flower has been out for some time now, appearing much earlier than their horse-hoof-shaped leaves, and often very close to the water’s edge. Coltsfoot can also be seen along the Denburn near Maidencraig. You’ll spot the dandelion everywhere of course – as common as it is, it’s a valuable source of spring nectar and pollen for our insect pollinators, so please try to leave some to flower in your garden rather than mowing or weeding them all!
Coltsfoot, Helen Rowe
It’s been a bit dry for fungi but they will begin to appear with more rain. Near conifer woodlands you might see small brown mushrooms growing out of the soil around the base of trees. If you carefully dig around them you can follow the stem down to a buried cone, to which the fungus is attached. The Strobilurus species of this fungus tends to appear earlier in the year, and there are different species depending on which decaying cone they’re feeding on - pine cones or spruce cones. Hard to identify without a microscope but the fun part is trying to dig out the cone with the mushroom still attached! You’ll also spot false morels nearforest tracks. Remember – NEVER eat them, they have a cumulative poison called gyrometrin which has a chemical composition similar to aviation fuel.
Strobilurus fungus, Toni Watt
Take note! If you’re out and about trying to identify local nature, this app allows you to take pictures on the spot that it will tryto identify. If it doesn’t know what the species is it gives suggestions of what has been found nearby, and saves your records. It can also look at previous pictures on your phone - handy for things that will sit still and wait for you to take a picture! Competitive kids and adults can evenearn badges and achievements!