Feathered friends spring to life

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THE Easter weather was not as good as we’d hoped, though it could have been worse. Spring continues apace, with signs that summer is heading our way.

The first puffins have arrived at Bempton cliffs, a little earlier than usual.

The RSPB reports encouraging numbers of the birds arriving to join the thousands of razorbills and guillemots at the popular reserve.

Puffins return to their old burrows and if possible they will use them again this year.

If not, they’ll excavate a new nesting tunnel or take over an old rabbit burrow.

Swallows have been sighted on the coast, skimming over fields in pursuit of midges to build themselves up after the long journey from sub-Saharan Africa.

Often it’s the excited twittering that you notice first, a sound that’s so characteristic of summer.

Swallow pairs always return to their old nest site, while their offspring from last year try to find a site nearby.

They swoop into old barns and outbuildings, looking for a narrow ledge above head height on which to construct their mud nest. Swallows, like house martins, are said to bring luck to the places where they nest.

On a fine day, the volume of song from garden birds is astonishing. Even small birds like wrens, robins and dunnocks have formidable voices.

April is the time for courting and egg laying, when birds are keen to maintain their strength. So a supply of sunflower hearts will attract some handsome visitors to the garden.

There’s the greenfinch, a gorgeous green bird with a gold wingbar; the cock chaffinch with pink breast and blueish cap; and most exotic of all, the goldfinch.

You can’t mistake a goldfinch with his red mask and black wings flashing with gold. His song is unmistakeable too, a high-pitched tinkling and buzzing that sounds like a zebra finch crossed with a wind chime.

A little flock of goldfinches is called a “charm”, which originally meant a magic song, and the sound of several goldfinches certainly has a quality that makes you stop and listen.

Spreading drought

Early April’s rain (and melting snow) gave a boost to the trees, clothing the branches in a flush of green. Farmers and gardeners had been waiting for this.

As the old sayings go, “April wet, good wheat,” and “April showers bring forth May flowers.” But with rivers running as low as they did during the 1976 drought, it will take more than April showers to bring water levels back to normal.

We can’t blame the shortage on leaking water pipes. Before it comes out of our taps water has to come out of the sky, and the last 12 months have been the driest since 1910 in some parts of England.

The impact on the environment is already severe. Rivers and lakes aren’t just ornamental, they support a largely unseen world of aquatic life: specialised plants, bugs, fish, water voles, and birds like the kingfisher.

There’s concern about the wetland reserves that many bird species depend on, and some small ponds have already dried up, threatening the breeding sites of toads, frogs and especially newts.

In Yorkshire there are no restrictions on domestic use so far. Unlike some of the other water companies, Yorkshire Water has a network for moving water around the county.

But the areas around the rivers Hull, Derwent, Don and Rother are officially designated as suffering from drought, so it makes sense for all of us to save water where we can. If reservoirs and boreholes are not replenished soon, we’ll all be affected.

April weather is usually a mixture of everything, and folklore says we must put up with a cold, wet month if the summer is to be any good.

It also maintains that rain on Good Friday and Easter Monday means “a good year for grass and a bad year for hay,” in other words, a wet summer. We shall see.