Signs of spring

by Richard Jones

I've just been wandering about the garden in my shirtsleeves, feeling the real warmth of the sun catch me, and it seems that all the wildlife has just been queuing up ready for this sunshine.

Common cluster fly, Pollenia rudis, sitting on a leafSpring has sprung. All at once. The guinea pig and his hutch are back outside. Shieldbugs, in their purple-brown winter colours, are sunbathing on the fence. The first bumblebee of the year, a queen buff-tailed, floated past and a male feather-footed bee hovered briefly outside the kitchen.

I've just been wandering about the garden in my shirtsleeves, feeling the real warmth of the sun catch me, and it seems that all the wildlife has just been queuing up ready for this sunshine. The trouble is, I've written about all these early spring appearances before. There must be something different.

But then my eye is caught by a perching fly, also warming itself on the ivy leaves. It is a pretty mottled grey, sometimes appearing greenish or bluish, the pattern changing slightly as it moves, its microscopic velvet dusting (called pruinosity) catching the light from different directions. Slightly smaller than a blowfly, it is Pollenia rudis, the common cluster fly.

It gets its name from its winter habit of clustering together in large groups, sometimes in huge knots, in lofts, lean-tos, greenhouses or elsewhere indoors, usually close up against a window frame. Here they remain until driven out again by the new March sunshine. And here they are.

Sometimes regarded as a minor nuisance, they buzz lazily about the house when they awake from hibernation, but unlike blowflies and houseflies, they are not attracted to food and are not implicated in the spread of diseases. Gilbert White, in his Natural History of Selborne, makes mention of them as they 'retire into houses, and swarm in the windows.' He obviously spent some time watching them become slower and more torpid, commenting that as their strength diminished, the flies laboured, lugging their feet 'with the utmost difficulty', some 'actually stick on till they die in the place.'

Like the Reverend White, I often find them lying dead, on the floor or stuck on the glass. In my case however, it is at the Velux window in our loft. Having crept into their winter shelter, under the open eaves of the roof, at the edge of the house, they become confused in the darkness, but fly up to the light of the window only to find they cannot get out. This one did though, and a handsome beast it is too.

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Gardeners' World Web User 17/03/2010 at 18:25

i saw the first bumble bee of the year on sunday on one of my patio pots obviously enjoying the first warm weather fo the year, it was mainly black and large but with a small amount of orange at the base of it's tail.

Gardeners' World Web User 18/03/2010 at 10:59

I have a cold but thought a walk up the garden would help the stuffiness and am I glad I did - the birds were singing at the top of their voices,the smaller daffodils have all burst into bloom to join the snowdrops and crocuses, bumblebees here and there, a young squirrel scurrying away as he is still wary of me, the vegetable garden beautifully friable making me wish my temperature would go down. I love the spring.

Gardeners' World Web User 18/03/2010 at 12:52

Not with us yet on Bodmin moor! Yesterday was the first day in 10 with no frost. Really looking forward to the spring now. that said the garlics are coming through and broad beans are still living in teh cold frame!:) Doug

Gardeners' World Web User 18/03/2010 at 20:08

Out in the garden, the sun shining, bulbs erupting everywhere, most of the climbers showing signs of life, the buds on some of the azaleas just showing colour, its happening, Spring is almost upon us at last. I was attracted by the bees making the most of the warmth and harvesting nectar from the crocus, when a large Queen bumble bee passed close by and settled on a shrub. Having studied it a bit closer, I could see that it didn't look like the usual ones seen in my garden, so I legged it indoors and grabbed a book on British insects. After a good hour of darting about the borders, I think that I have identified two Bumble Bees, Bombus Terrestris and Bombus Lapidarius. The frogs have been busy also, as one pond is full of spawn, another batch of helpers for the summer slug patrol

Gardeners' World Web User 19/03/2010 at 08:42

Tried digging in my garden last Sunday and the fork bounced off the ground. Snow just about disappeared. Please think about us in the magazine we are at least a month behind

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