T.S Elliot once described April as the ‘cruellest month’ but with the first butterflies beginning to emerge and spring bulbs prevailing despite recent snow, here at the Broads National Park we’re feeling much more optimistic! So here are a few signs of the month to look out for this April…
Meet the most widespread of the hairstreak family, a striking green butterfly who is often one of the first of the species to emerge in the spring. Look out for them in areas with the coconut-scented gorse flower which is one of their favourite sources of nectar. The hairstreak is particularly remarkable thanks to its dazzling iridescent wings, an effect produced by the diffraction of light on a lattice-like structure found within the wing scales. This makes them well camouflaged to predators when stationary.
Where to see: The Green Hairstreak favours scrubby plants and hedgerows with a particular interest in British wild flowers such as Bird’s-foot-trefoil, Bilberry, Broom, Common Rock-rose, Bramble, Dogwood and Gorse. For a good chance of spotting one locate these habitats and you might get lucky.
That rare Broads National Park favourite is one to listen out for this April. The sonorous boom of the bittern can be heard travelling through the reed beds at this time of year. You’re far more likely to hear one than see one though as their preferred method of predator avoidance is to stay stock still and blend in with the reedbeds.
Where to see: To see a bittern you’ll need to be close to the water and ideally near thick dense reedbeds. For the best chance to see one or at very least hear one head over to Hickling Broad or Carlton Marshes and stay very still. Carlton Marshes even had the rare treat of both a Eurasian Bittern and an American Bittern together on the reserve this month - incredible!
In April, oak trees begin to transform once more with their pale green leaves opening to slowly mature into the dark rich green we all associate them with. Interesting fact about oak trees… They spend 300 years growing, 300 years maturing and then 300 years declining which means they have a rough lifespan of 1000 years! They can produce up to 2000 acorns a year, although only one in 10,000 will actually develop into a tree.
Where to see: Oak trees are widespread across Norfolk and Suffolk and can often be found making up hedgerows they also grow as huge independent trees in their own right. For a certain spot check out the grounds of National Trust properties Felbrigg Hall and Blickling Hall.
The grizzled skipper is a small moth-like butterfly which is in serious decline and is listed as a UK Biodiversity Action Plan species. It is distinctive for its striking black and white appearance with a unique chequerboard pattern on its wings. They're one of the earliest skippers to appear in Spring and when flying they dart around very quickly and close to ground, making them a challenge to follow if you're feeling energetic! Their favourite food plant is Bird's-foot-trefoil so look out for its orchid-like yellow flowers or even better plant some and the butterflies might well come to you!
Where to see: The grizzled skipper is a rather rare butterfly in Norfolk and Suffolk so it will be a real treat if you see one, a good idea would be head out of the Broads to the Breckland area and look for chalk downland and other sparsely vegetated habitats.
This native English bluebell has a deep rich scent and hangs from an arching stem. They can be found in vast quantities in wooded areas. They are a quintessential sign of a great British spring time and bring a wonderful flash of colour to the otherwise shadowy woodlands they inhabit.
Where to see: Visit Fairhaven Water Gardens in South Walsham for their famous bluebell walks to a neighbouring nature reserve where these native flowers flourish in abundance. Alternatively pay a visit to Buckenham Woods, NWT Foxley Wood or Sheringham Park for more guaranteed bluebell sightings.