Spring at London and Whipsnade
Monday 15 May 2006
As temperatures eventually start to climb and spring looks set to get underway in earnest, London and Whipsnade welcome all manner of insects, birds and blossom to the area.
One of the most spectacular sights of spring is the blossom that bursts out after a few days of warm weather and the cherry trees at Whipsnade are a picture this year, with one of the best displays of blossom in recent memory.
The hawthorn bushes are also looking beautiful, cloaked in swathes of delicate white flowers. The hawthorn is a haven for wildlife at this time of year as it provides food for over 150 insect species, including the hawthorn sawfly, shield bug and cockchafer beetle, whilst the berries are eaten by many native birds, including blackbirds and song thrushes.
Spring-flowering bulbs are another thing to look out for – Bluebell Wood at Whipsnade is carpeted in native bluebells and the area is designated as a County Wildlife site.
Native bluebells are rapidly disappearing from our countryside, often being taken over by the invasive Spanish bluebell, so it’s important that we protect our delicate native variety. At ZSL Whipsnade Zoo we have erected some temporary fencing around woodland areas to keep out hungry wallabies, Chinese water deer and mara!
With the breeding season upon us, native birds are starting to get very active. The house sparrows at ZSL London Zoo are nesting in several places, including in one of the nest boxes on the Clock Tower and are busy collecting food for their young, which should start fledging in a week or two.
At ZSL Whipsnade Zoo the ravens have successfully nested and reared young and the lapwing are breeding in several areas. Keep an eye out for migratory species such as swallow, swift, housemartin, chiffchaff and willow warblers, which are returning to Britain after wintering abroad.
Along with the warmer weather mammals are also easier to spot. Brown hares can be seen boxing on the chalk grassland at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo and bats are cruising for insect prey.
Slow worms are beginning to emerge, and toad and frog spawn can be seen in many of the ponds and lakes. These are easy to tell apart – frogspawn is laid in large clumps near the surface, whilst toadspawn is laid in long strings usually in deeper water.
Plus, butterflies can regularly be seen now that spring is here. Beautiful peacock butterflies are emerging after their winter hibernation and yellow Brimstone butterflies are also a common sight on warm days as they flit around searching for nectar and mates.
You might also see red-tailed bumblebees searching for nectar and pollen – the Wildlife Garden at ZSL London Zoo is a particularly good place to see this species and other types of bee.