Despite the recent bad weather, Jono Leadley sees tell- tale signs of the changing season.

It is late March and the cold winter weather stubbornly refuses to let go and give way to the more pleasant days of spring.

Nevertheless, the lengthening days are affecting the wildlife and I have twice seen blackbirds collecting nesting material in the last couple of days.

The volume of birdsong has gone up several notches, with the cheery winter song of the robin being joined by strident song thrushes belting out their melodic, repetitive phrases first thing in the morning from the top branches of a tree or chimney pot.

The quintessentially English summer song of the blackbird seems misplaced in sub-zero temperatures, but is delivered with vigour each dawn and dusk as the males stake their claims on the best breeding territories.

Few butterflies and bumblebees have dared to venture forth from their winter roosts, although on a recent sunny morning I did see a brave small tortoiseshell flitting along a riverside path.

Another sign of spring, the first summer migrant birds, have begun to arrive in the county. A wheatear graced a grassland site near Leeds earlier this week, while sand martins have been seen over a number of wetland sites.

Recent north-easterly winds have created tough conditions for northbound birds and some excitement for birdwatchers. Common scoter, a hardy sea duck, made brief visits to a number of sites across the county as they headed north to Iceland and Scandinavia for the summer. These small dark ducks usually move along the coast but sometimes take shortcuts across land.

If they hit bad weather they may pause for a rest on a lake or gravel pit. Several flocks were seen earlier this week including six at Bank Island near Wheldrake Ings.

The usual view of a flock of scoters is a string of dark birds flying low over the sea or a collection of distant dark blobs bobbing up and down in the choppy waters. Their presence at an inland site gives us a great chance to study the birds more closely. The jet black males sport a bright yellow bill flash and the dark brown females a pale cheek and throat patch, while both sexes can be seen performing their characteristic stretch – a downwards neck-jerk and simultaneous wing flap.

Another seabird, the kittiwake, has been seen inland in numbers, too. These birds are also heading north to breeding colonies, the nearest being the cliffs of Flamborough Head.

Unlike most other gulls, this dainty black-legged species does not commonly come inland. On arrival at the coast, they will join thousands of other seabirds which are gathering.

Spectacular ‘‘washing powder’’ white gannets are already jostling for the best nesting spots at Bempton Cliffs, soon to be followed by gangs of guillemots and razorbills and everyone’s favourite, the puffin, characteristic of Flamborough.

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust has had a busy winter managing its 95 nature reserves across the county. Trust staff have been ably supported by hundreds of committed volunteers and together scrub has been cleared, woodlands coppiced, livestock checked, fencing repaired and much, much more.

At Wheldrake Ings, repairs will take place to the vandalised bridge once the floodwater has subsided and new information signs will be put in place to guide people along the riverside path.

The signs, stunningly illustrated by wildlife artist Ray Scally, show the wildlife and habitats of this internationally important site, how the Trust manages the land and a little of its history.

This work was generously supported by Yorventure. New signage at Staveley Nature Reserve is also soon to be put in place, informing visitors of the fantastic wildlife, including the ever-popular otters and owls that make this site their home.

At Askham Bog, scallops have been cut into the woodland surrounding the popular boardwalk. This will create sheltered glades where plants will flourish and butterflies and other insects will find warmth and shelter.

Hopefully, by the time I write again, the song of willow warblers and blackcaps will resonate from the birches and alders of Askham Bog, brimstones and swallows will fill the sky with colour and we will all be embraced by the warmth of spring.

l If you would like to support Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s work, consider becoming a member. Join online at or phone 01904 659570.