Spring is a busy time and always exciting on the wildlife front, with the first sightings of all sorts of species that have been hidden away over the winter.

We normally start the weekly butterfly surveys on 1 April, but the first week was so cold and cloudy that there were no butterflies to be seen! Since then of course it has got a lot warmer and in the third week of April I recorded 74 butterflies of eight different species across the two transects at Lark Rise Farm, Cambridgeshire, including the always cheery sight of male orange tip butterflies patrolling the hedgerows.

All the ‘hibernating’ butterflies are now out – brimstone, small tortoiseshell, peacock and comma – and they are joined by species that overwinter as pupa, such as holly blue, orange tip, green-veined, large and small whites and speckled woods. The species that spend the winter as caterpillars will now be pupating, ready to emerge in May – such as small heath and common blue. The sequence of appearances is often very similar but the details change every year.

The birdlife is also in flux as our winter visitors start to disperse and summer migrants arrive. On 19 April the first swallow was back at Lark Rise Farm, in Cambridgeshire. On 8 April I did a survey of the ’98 land and counted over 100 corn buntings. These were mostly in flocks, which is their winter behaviour. A few males had split off to start singing but for them it is still really winter, they don’t start breeding until mid-May. The UK population of corn buntings is thought to be around 20,000 birds, so this represents 0.5 per cent of the whole population. Most of these birds will disperse to breed in different parts of Cambridgeshire as the spring proceeds, but we hope that a few pairs will remain on site and breed with us again.

Most definitely a winter visitor only, the great grey shrike made another brief appearance, this time at Westfield. It will soon be heading to Scandinavia to breed over the summer. Accompanying all these spring changes, the vegetation is developing rapidly with hedges coming into leaf and flowering, and new flowering plants every week. My whole job is a moment in nature at this time!

By Dr Vince Lea, Head of Wildlife Monitoring