Warden’s Journal: Signs of Spring

In the first of our Warden’s Journal entries, Haweswater Site Warden Spike Webb shares his sightings of spring in our corner of the Lake District, prior to the lockdown.

Spring is slowly returning to the Haweswater fells and woods, signs that have been seen this week include frogspawn, flowering Celandines, nesting Ravens and returning flocks of Meadow Pipits to the valleys.

One of the special birds of the Lake District has also been returning from a winter in sub-Saharan Africa. The Wheatear appearing boldly on a rock or dry stone wall is a special sight at this time of year when it can feel like winter is still with us. They are a bird of windy and rocky habitat, happy on a Scottish headland or a scree slope at 1000 metres.

The males are a dashing sight, blue grey and white with a striking black mask. They quickly set up territories with song which includes a spectacular song-flight trying to attract females as well as proclaiming their bit of land. Some males have a wide vocabulary with one male I heard a few years ago mimicking Magpie, Goldfinch and Oystercatcher!

The nest is tucked under a rock at ground level and the adults remain vigilant, interestingly they have different alarm calls for different threats, avian predators like Kestrels receive a higher more drawn out call whereas a Stoat or Weasel is greeted with a harsh grating sound.

Hopefully this summer will be a productive one for our Wheatears as they face many challenges like all of the summer migrants that return each year.

Spike