by Jenny Dixon

Wharfedale Naturalists Society

FOR the past couple of years, since my arthritis worsened, I’ve been unable to take walks in the countryside so Lockdown is not very different from my usual daily round! I do, however, have a garden to hobble round and sit quietly in and views of the moors and the lovely Wharfedale valley. I’m immensely grateful for that. Indeed, sitting quietly in the garden during some of this lovely Spring weather has been as good a way as any to get close to nature and to observe Spring unfolding.

It’s amazing what you notice even in a very small patch of green: not just spotting a variety of insects, but watching their behaviour. The bumble bees are mainly big queen bees, newly emerged from hibernation. All their last year’s colony died at the end of the summer so it’s a new start. After warming up in the sun, they refuel from available garden flowers and then cruise slowly over the lawn and adjacent flowerbeds about a foot above the ground, landing now and then to investigate. They are looking for likely holes and crevices to nest. Once that’s chosen, they’ll stock up with pollen and settle down to lay eggs and raise their brood. Once the workers emerge the queen stays inside, laying eggs: self-isolation indeed!

Flies emerge as the temperature rises. Little clouds of tiny gnats rise and fall on the warm air currents above the lawn; squads of jewel-coloured flies jockey for the best position to warm themselves on shiny laurel leaves, and hover flies, like airborne hyphens, hang suspended, then nip in to take a sip of nectar from a flowering shrub. And, what about the butterflies? The first one we spotted was an orange and black comma, with its jagged wing edges and the thin white “commas” marked on each wing. Then came the male brimstone – a vivid yellow - flying purposefully south across the garden. Lovely! We’ve also glimpsed several, apparently dark brown or black butterflies flying too fast to see well, probably peacocks, their glorious colours and great peacock eyes only visible when they land and open their wings. Finally, on April 11th we saw our first white butterfly – an orange tip – usually seen flitting over bluebells in Middleton Woods

The quiet means that we can hear birdsong everywhere. The singers can hear their neighbours, so redouble their efforts. Returning cuckoos are due on the Moor anytime now and, in the new silence, we should hear them from our garden bench with luck.