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What to look for in April
April is the month that our summer birds start to return - flying immense distances, often from sub Saharan Africa to nest here.
Preparing for their arrival can make a great difference to whether or not they breed successfully.
Make sure that there is some open water so that they can drink when they get in - and for swallows, house martins and swifts make sure that there is plenty of mud about so that they can build their nests. If it has been dry weather you can simply water a patch of clay soil or even compacted grass and they will be able to scoop up beak fulls to make their nest.
Do not put pet fur out for birds to make nests with if your pet has been wormed or treated for fleas in the past three months - the chemicals can persist in the hair and have been shown to harm fledglings.
Wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) is appearing in the woods - it looks a little like a bright green clover and grows at the base of trees and under fallen logs. The taste is pure sherbet - an acidic kick, caused by oxalic acid, the same chemical in rhubarb. Take an apple and a paring knife with you on a walk and make apple slice/wood sorrel sandwiches.
Dandelions start to flower in April here. They are often regarded as weeds but they are a really important plant for bees.
Eight dandelion flowers - the average in a small lawn - provide enough nectar for 15,000 bee visits per day. This is because what we think of as the ‘flowers’ are actually composites made from 100 separate ‘florets’, each providing food for visiting bees.
If you want to eat the leaves, cut them to the ground and cover them with a light proof bowl for a week or so. The growing leaves will blanch in the dark and look like endive - delicious with bacon or halloumi in a salad.
Brown hares spend the beginning of the month ‘boxing’ - standing up on their hind legs and pummelling their front legs. This is usually a male and a female and seems to happen when a male is being too persistent, chasing the female at speeds of up to 40 miles an hour in the hope of mating.
The boxing happens when she gets fed up and turns to tell him to get lost.
Leverets, baby hares, are born with their eyes open and fully covered in fur - hares don’t have burrows, so the babies are left in slight indentations amongst long grass called forms.
Hares tend to live on open ground and their best defence is to stay completely still and flattened to the ground until danger is completely unavoidable and they start up and run.
This is one of the many reasons that dogs should not be allowed to run off lead in grass in Spring, even when there are no visible creatures for them to disturb.