April is the month that the ground flora of woodlands has been waiting for all through the winter. Bluebell leaves are emerging along with ramson leaves; violets, primroses, dog’s mercury, wood anemone and celandine are in flower. All these flowering species make use of the lack of light competition at this time of year. As the woodland trees start to come into leaf, many spring flowering plants are coming towards the end of their life cycle for this season.
Marsh marigold should be in flower in the marsh by now, but the cold March has delayed many flora emergences. Keep an eye out also for ladies smock (also known as cuckoo flower) which flowers in the damp grassy areas and in the marsh. Coltsfoot should start flowering in March, but as yet hasn’t made an appearance. The laurel is flowering around the lake along with the blackthorn blossom in the car park. Hawthorn is the first common tree species to come into full leaf; look at the roadside plantings as these usually are the first. Apart from hawthorn, the elder leaves are starting to grow and some of the willow buds have burst.
The first of the summer migrants have finally arrived; sand martins arrived on 18th March, with the first swallow on the 24th. There haven’t been any sightings of house martins as yet. Chiffchaffs were first heard singing on 18th March with a noticeable absence of willow warblers. Willow warblers and chiffchaffs look very similar; the easiest way of differentiation is song. The chiffchaff has an easily recognisable song – a monotonous chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff. The bulk of the summer migrants arrive in April so keep an eye out for blackcaps, sedge warblers and whitethroats. Stover’s birdsong is now noticeably louder and will reach a crescendo by the end of the month. The songs are used to defend territories and attract mates. The great-spotted woodpeckers are carrying on with their own version – drumming on hollow trees to announce their territories. Long-tailed tits are now busily building their nests in the gorse.
On the lake our coots and moorhens are also nest-building and the mallards are sitting on eggs. The first ducklings, a brood of three, hatched out on 22nd March. Great-crested grebe courtship is worth watching – they fluff up their ruffs, shake their heads and present each other with water-weed staying beak to beak. The second adult grebe arrived on the lake on 18th and the pair have since built a nest. A pair of mandarin ducks and up to nine goosanders stayed on the lake during the whole of March.
The cormorant, black-headed gull, tufted duck and pochard numbers have now dropped as summer approaches, leaving just a couple of herring gull and lesser black-backed gulls, with the heron and kingfisher visiting frequently. Pochard numbers have been unusually low this past winter with only one sighting last month. There hasn’t been any sighting of our sinesis species of cormorant this year which usually arrives on the lake in February. It is a species which nests in trees from the Baltic and south through the continent, and this individual has dropped in at Stover briefly every year since 2007. A little egret was spotted on 13th March.
Due to the cold northerly winds blowing during March the only butterfly sightings so far have been of brimstone, the first on 10th March, and a single comma on the 13th. Usually peacock, small tortoishell, brimstone and comma are out on the wing by this time. These are the butterflies which have hibernated during the winter as adults; peacock and small tortoishell over-winter in hollow trees and ivy thickets. Red admiral is another species most likely to be seen in March. Look out for silky drapes over the tips of young stinging nettles once they grow taller – within them are the first batches of small tortoishell and peacock caterpillars. Orange-tips should emerge this month, the males before the females. They over-winter as a chrysalis and time their annual flight to coincide with the opening of the flowers of the caterpillar’s food plants. These include the pale purple-pink flowers of lady’s smock and garlic mustard. The females lay only one minute orange egg per plant, because the caterpillars become cannibals if they have to compete for food.
The wood ants are now active – they have spent the winter hibernating underground beneath their nests which have slowly rotted down over the winter. They have started to rebuild their large nests out of conifer needles. First the ants all congregate on top of the nest remains in a seething mass using the sun’s heat to warm up their bodies. They then go back to the middle of the nest transporting this heat to its core.
The first of the damselflies will be on the wing in April. Watch out for the large red damselflies around the lake and ditches as they are usually the first to appear. St Mark’s flies emerge around St Mark’s Day on 25th April and generally swarm round the hawthorn trees.
Fox and badger cubs will start to play above ground this month. Roe deer bucks will shortly be shedding the velvet coat from their antlers. They do this by rubbing against bushes and small trees. Usually at this time of year bats, lizards, adders and grass-snakes should shortly be coming out of hibernation. There haven’t been any tadpoles recorded so far, however, there should be more frogs and toads spawning this month making easy meals for the grass-snakes once they emerge. Keep an eye out for the snakes swimming across the lake or ponds. The newt breeding season is now underway.
Sustainable charcoal, made from timber felled within the park is available for sale in the Visitor Centre should anyone be planning a Spring BBQ ! The prices are very competitive; all monies will be ploughed back into projects conserving the biodiversity of the Park.
Last months volunteers’ day was spent on the heath. Join us for the next Volunteer’s Day on 24th April.
This summer’s events programme is posted on the notice boards and is available on the Stover Website www.devon.gov.uk. Please ring early if you would like to ensure a place for any of the ‘booking only’ events as they can fill up fast.