April's best wildlife sights - and how to see them

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April's best wildlife sights - and how to see them

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Now's the perfect time to draw up your hit list for the weeks of wonderful wildlife watching ahead. It’s all go from April Fool's Day with an extra hour of daylight to spend outside now the clocks have gone forward, temperatures on the rise and migration season kicking off. Fabulous sights, sounds and smells are everywhere and it can be hard to know where to look next with a riot of colour and species on show.

With so much to look for and only so much time to do it in, I thought I’d share my top 10 targets for the month to give you some inspiration, and share some tips on how to see them, but I’d love to know what your springtime targets are this year.

1. Sunbathing serpents
I’m a little obsessed with adders. They have the "x-factor" of being our only venomous snake, being really hard to see for most of the year and you have to use a lot of fieldcraft, and skill, to find them. April is a terrific time to seek them out because they are still spending long periods basking in the sun to warm up after hibernation. They will also slough their old skin in April, so they look super smart and bright. My top three tips for finding them are: search in the morning before it gets too hot, concentrate on south facing banks and slopes and move really slowly and tread lightly, ensuring your shadow does not pass over basking spots.

Use our top tips, and you could be enjoying a close encounter with an adder this April (Ben Andrew rspb-images.com)

2. Herald of spring
The sound of a singing cuckoo singing never fails to bring a smile to my face. You know that spring is really here when you hear your first cuckoo of spring. It is sadly so much rarer now, making that first April cuckoo encounter even more precious. Look out for the males perched on a dead limb, or a post, and approach the singing bird carefully and slowly so you can get a view of that lovely barred plumage. I usually hear my first in Cambridgeshire around 25 April. How about you?

3.Snuffling badgers
It’s a common enough mammal, but how often do you get to see a badger? April is a good month to spend some time watching for them with the adults spending plenty of time above ground and the cubs making their first appearance, perhaps, at the end of the month. Find a sett, then put in some evening vigils to see when the badgers emerge. Don’t sit any closer than 10 metres and stay out of sight, sit in silence, make sure you are downwind of the sett and be in place one hour before dark and you could be enjoying snuffling badgers this month.

A close encounter with a badger could be one of your April highlights (Ben Andrew rspb-images.com)

4. Dancing newts
The perfect excuse to take some time out and peer into a pond. Male smooth newts look superb in April with big black spots and a wavy crest. They indulge in little underwater courtship dances with the females and regularly come to the surface too. Where there is one, there are often more, so keep looking. Choose a sunny day and watch for bubbles!

5.Song thrush serenade
The nightingale is my top songster target for May, but before they arrive, I make sure I spend some quality time with my local song thrushes. The longer evenings now are a great time to listen because they are often the last bird to stop singing. There’s less competition early in the month, so the varied phrases carry far and wide. It's up there with the nightingale and woodlark for sure.

6. Nodding snake’s heads
Keeping the serpent theme going, this gorgeous wildflower grows in ancient flood meadows in south and east England, but the snake's head fritillary is widely planted and available as a garden plant, so enjoy it where you can. It’s worth the effort to visit a traditional meadow though as tens of thousands of purple heads stretching as far as the eye can see and nodding in the breeze is a sight you’ll never forget.

Visit a fritillary meadow this April when these serpentine flowers will be in full bloom (Andy Hay rspb-images.com)

7. Dainty dip feeders
Not all gulls are big, noisy and fill their bellies with unmentionables from the local rubbish dump. The little gull is just that – the world’s smallest in fact – but it is a delightful little bird, flying low over the water on paddle-shaped wings flashing jet black below and pale grey above, picking emerging insects form the water’s surface. The adults have a tiny spiky bill and jet black hood (not brown like the black-headed gull – don’t get me started...) and the young birds in their second year have a black “w” written across their upperwings and a no hood. Watch for them feeding over freshwater, often in flocks, after east and south-east winds.

8. Orange-tip butterflies
The beautiful orange-tip butterfly is an insect that just keeps on giving. The super bright orange tips to the wings of the males alone make this a headturner, but both they and the females have an attractive mossy-green pattern on the underside of their hindwings. They also have a beautiful display flight. Look for them along country lanes, damp meadows and lightly wooded areas, especially where garlic mustard and cuckooflower grow.

9. Lekking black grouse
Sadly, the black grouse is a bird I have to travel quite some way to see, but if any bird was worth the effort of a trip to Scotland, Wales or northern England, this is it. The birds will still be “lekking” in fields and moors in April with the males strutting around and making their amazingly far carrying "bubbly" courtship notes as the brown females watch from the perimeter in search of their perfect mate.

Karate kicking blackcocks are stull fuelled up on testosterone in April (Mike Lane rspb-images.com)

10. Colourful damsels
For most of us, the large red damselfly is the first dragonfly or damselfly that we’ll see and April is the month to check ponds and wetland margins where there is standing water. The males are a tropical red colour and you’ll find several together once those double figure temperature days are here to stay.

So, what do you think? Would that little line up satisfy your thirst for wildlife this April, or are you thinking "How  could he not include that?!". You can leave a comment below to let us know what's on your mind, and hit list, this month or email us at natureshome@rspb.org.uk.

  • Hi Lynne.

    That's fantastic. Good luck! Keep an eye on your Summer 2017 issue of Nature's Home magazine that will be mailing out this week. We have a beautiful swift cover - one of my favourite covers ever- and a fab feature on swifts too. Hope you enjoy it. Can't wait to see my first swift either.

  • Hi Mark. We have Swifts nesting in our neighbours house every year, so have now installed our own RSPB Swift box with camera. They usually arrive in late April or very early May and we consider this the start of the Summer. Can't wait to hear and see them

  • Hi Clare.

    Coincidentally, little gulls are on the move across the UK as I type this with today's easterly wind drifting them across the North Sea on their migration. Flocks are stopping off at several lakes and reservoirs and I'm hoping to catch up with some at my local patch tonight. Fingers crossed. Great to hear from a  fellow gull fan. They are beautiful birds with wild spirits and wonderful characters.

  • I'd love to see a little gull this year - it would be a first for me.  I'm very happy to watch all the bigger ones, though - any gull is a joy to watch in flight and they are anything but boring.  I also love watching them around the local crabbers - they will sit and patiently wait, only to become a raucous mob the second crabs are released and bacon scraps are thrown away!