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brings more and more signs that the natural world is waking up and getting ready for the warm days of summer. The first songbird migrants are arriving from Africa. The chiffchaff is among the earliest, although some are now taking advantage of our mild winters to stay all year.

Many resident birds have established their territories and are preparing to breed. On lakes and rivers dabchicks (aka little grebes) are pairing up, resplendent in breeding plumage. Kingfishers are busy digging their nest tunnels in river banks. Skylarks are climbing high into the air above their grassland nest sites, singing on the way up and again on the way down.

On warm sunny afternoons you may here the lazy drone of queen bumblebees, prospecting for nest sites. If you make cavities in sheltered spots such as hedge bottoms or under piles of logs or stones you might tempt them to build a nest there. Bumblebees are in widespread decline. They are inoffensive creatures and valuable as pollinators of both wild plants and fruit trees, so please try to make them welcome in your garden. They are docile creatures and unlikely to sting unless squashed by mistake.

Butterflies are coming out of hibernation as well. Look out for the bright orange wings of commas around the woodland edge and alongside hedges.

In the woods wood anemones, primroses and lords & ladies (aka cuckoo pint) are in flower and, in wet places, cuckoo flower and lesser celandine. Sallows also are flowering, their catkins providing valuable pollen and nectar for moths and butterflies, for hoverflies and for bees.

Ivy seems to be strangely out of sync with everything else, because its berries are now ripe and are appreciated by seed-eating birds. Hedges are greening up and are adorned in places by a white mist of blackthorn flowers that appear before its leaves.

The ducks, geese and waders that visit the Essex coast in large numbers in winter are starting to leave for their breeding grounds in the north, but it is stlll worth visiting coastal reserves like Tollesbury Wick, Cudmore Grove, Marsh Farm or Blue House Farm to see them. Or go to Abberton Reservoir or Hanningfield Reservoir where you can sit in the comfort of the visitor centre or of a hide to watch them.

Photo © David Harrison