After the awful weather we’ve had, the arrival of spring is a welcome relief for us all. Although the winter has been wet, it has also been mild and here at RSPB Lakenheath Fen it feels as if spring is just around the corner.
Many of us have our own personal indicators of spring – it might be hearing a particular bird singing or your favourite tree coming into leaf.
For me, the appearance of butterflies is one thing that makes spring very special. Amazingly, I spotted a peacock butterfly in my garden in mid February. It was rather blustery but clearly warm enough to entice the peacock out of winter hibernation. Let’s hope it isn’t in for a nasty wintery shock over the next few weeks! The first appearance of another butterfly, the beautiful yellow brimstone, is one event used as an ‘official’ indicator of spring by scientists.
Brimstones are often the first butterfly to appear when the days start to warm up. This is usually in late March. In 2013 when winter stayed on for a final late blast, most appeared in mid April.
Perhaps with the mildness we’re experiencing at the moment we’ll be seeing brimstones very soon. Males will appear 1-2 weeks earlier than females, to seek out and secure a territory.
When the females come out of hibernation a wonderful courtship takes place. The butterflies spiral around and around each other, flying up and up into the air.
Male brimstone butterflies are easily spotted – their bright yellow wings are a delight to see as they flutter past. Indeed the yellow ‘butter’ colouring of the male is thought to be where the name ‘butterfly’ comes from.
The females are pale green in colour so not as bright as the males but both have an orange spot on each wing. They fly and feed during the heat of the day and settle in late afternoon, hanging upside down beneath the leaves of shrubs.
When it comes to feeding, brimstones are particularly fond of purple flowers and at Lakenheath Fen there are plenty of those on offer. Purple loosestrife grows in our marshy areas. Wild teasel can be found along the riverbank and burdock grows on our trail edges. The brimstone is able to feed from the flowers of wild teasel and burdock because it has a very long tongue – not all butterflies are able to feast on the nectar of these prickly plants so the brimstone is very lucky!
Last summer the reserve was awash with colourful butterflies – it really was a joy to behold.
Here at Lakenheath Fen we are completing our new raised plant beds outside the visitor centre, to bring our visitors even closer to plants and nectar loving insects that call the reserve home. One plant bed will demonstrate things you can do in your own gardens, featuring native plants beneficial to many different insects and birds.
Why not come along and discover how together we can give nature a home, no matter how big or small your own green space is. Then we can all enjoy those signs of spring, at home and out in the countryside