April was certainly a month of contrasting weather. The high daytime temperatures varied between 110C and 230C but the night time lows were mostly between 100C and 50C with only three nights where the air temperature fell below freezing. An air frost is when the air temperature is below the freezing point of water at a height of at least one metre above the ground. A ground frost is when ice forms on the ground where the surface has a temperature below the freezing point of water. When the ground cools quicker than the air, a ground frost can occur without an air frost. A grass frost occurs when other surfaces - such as road surfaces - don't experience a frost, due to their being better at holding onto any warmth. Tall plants can therefore sometimes suffer frost damage at the bottom whilst the top remains untouched. Rainfall was less than half of the average for April and wind speeds generally light, although one day brought gusts of over 20mph. It was unusual to have to water potted plants at this time of year.
The warm days saw the first butterflies with, as usual, the first a Brimstone on 15th March closely followed by a Tortoiseshell. The first Orange Tips were seen on 8th April and the first speckled wood 29th April. An insect to watch out for at this time of year is the carpet beetle. The beetle itself lives outside but enters the house through small gaps and even on cut flowers. Once inside it lays its eggs which hatch into the larvae and it is these that do the damage. They are very small, only about 2mm to 3mm. The picture on the website edition of this article is of a Varied Carpet Beetle, one of the commonest. A heavy infestation is difficult to eradicate but regular vacuuming, particularly of dark places, is the best way to prevent them getting established. The British Pest Control Association claims that it is now the major textile pest, more so than the clothes moth.The primroses (Primula vulgaris) and cowslips(Primular veris) in Munday's Close have flowered well this year. At the time of writing the wild flower meadow area is a sea of yellow cowslips. If you look carefully at the flowers of the primrose you will see they are two types. One type has the stigma at the top of the flower tube and is known as pin-eyed. The other has the anthers at the top of the flower tube and is known as thrum-eyed. This arrangement ensures that each flower is pollinated from another flower. There is another species, the ox-lip (Primula elatior), which is much rarer and looks like a cross between a primrose and a cowslip but it is a separate species. Unfortunately all the species cross pollinate so hybrids do occur that look like ox-lips. I have several in the garden and all are slightly different but look like large flowered cowslips. This linkhas photographs of some of the hybrids that can be found. Another primula flowering in gardens now is the auricula(Primula auricula). There are two types, the alpine auricula which can be grown in the garden and the show auricula which has a powdery meal or "farina" on the leaves and needs protection. Theyellow auricula, illustrated in the web version, is directly descended by offsets from plants grown by my grandfather and is a very old variety. Among other plants that appeared in Munday's Close were cuckoo flower(lady's smock), spring squilland grape hyacinth, the later probably a garden escape. The early hawthorn blossom at the end of April was that of the two-styled hawthorn which flowers earlier than the common hawthorn.The hedge alongside the footpath by the Severn Trent compound has not regenerated very well and the area appears to have been sprayed which means it will not even be populated by other plants. The rare milk thistle has survived the winter and will hopefully flower - if it remains uncut! In an attempt to protect it an agreement was made with the contractor not to mow it and a traffic cone was placed there so he would know where it was. Unfortunately, someone, for reasons best known to themselves, kept moving the cone and eventually removed it completely. April was a good month for birds, I counted 36 species during the month. The red kite was seen several times flying very low and giving a good sight of its size. A little egret made several visits staying in the field for several hours at a time. Three yellow wagtails and a grey wagtail were seen along with the usual pieds. The yellow wagtails, two males and a female, were feeding right under the horses hooves and had to keep jumping out of the way. A stock dove is nesting in the barn and has laid 2 eggs. Collared doves have almost disappeared as the sparrow hawk has been very busy. A pair of mistle thrushes were looking for worms in a damp area. I saw the first swallow on 23rd April and a pair are now investigating the barn as a possible nesting site. I hope they decide it is a good place as last year there were no nests in there. In Munday's Close chiffchaffs were very vocal and a pair of bullfinches were seen feeding on young hazel buds. The jackdaws were busy collecting hair moulting from the horses. One even decided to go straight to the source of supply and was seen standing on the back of one of the horses plucking out the hair.Sightings emailed to me from around the village include frogs, toads and newts emerging from hibernation. Anthony Wright is pleased to have his hedgehogs back and reports sightings of long-tailed tits, great spotted woodpecker and starlings in his garden. I was going to say I not seen many starlings recently and thought the local population had crashed dramatically, then on the last day of April a flock of more than thirty appeared. Anthony also reports mallard ducklings on Robin Williamson's pond. The adults from the pond have taken to flying down to the barn when I arrive at the field gate to take advantage of the corn fed to the pheasants. Four mallard drakes were seen in the field at one point.