We work hard to make our canals and rivers havens for nature, and soon these peaceful corridors will be alive with the sights and sounds of spring. Come and see what you can spot as the warmer weather brings new life to our waterways.
Springtime, the time when our beautiful British countryside comes into its own. Warmer temperatures encourage animals and insects out of their winter hibernation, and newborn baby mammals and birds can be spotted for the first time.
Take a visit to your local canal or river, stand still for a moment to enjoy the view and listen out for these welcome signs of spring.
Blackbirds, often one of the first songbirds to set up home in early to mid-February, build their well-hidden nests from moss and twigs among brambles or climbing flora such as honeysuckle. If you happen to unwittingly paddle close to its nest, an adult bird may burst out from the undergrowth, shrieking their distinctive “chink, chink, chink” alarm call.
Another of our waterway birds with a distinctive alarm call is the bright blue kingfisher. Once you have heard them whistle past a few times, only catching a glimpse in the distance as they disappear out of sight, you will begin to recognise the characteristic high-pitched shriek.
Kingfishers build their nests in burrows, which the pair jointly excavate into soft sandy soil using their beaks. Nests are normally located about a half a metre from the top of the bank. Kingfishers like to perch before returning into their nest, so look for well-placed branches, which offer a good lookout.
Nesting banks usually have characteristic white staining splashed across the mud, caused by their droppings. If you’re really lucky, you may even see an adult male trying to woo his female with gifts of fresh fish, which he will spin around in his beak so that he can feed it to her, head-first (which makes it go down much easier!).
One of the plants often seen growing alongside canals and rivers is the tall, thin reeds, which 'whoosh' and rattle as they sway in the breeze. These make ideal habitat for the aptly named reed warblers and their close relatives, the sedge warblers.
These birds are what some bird watchers refer to as LBJ’s… Little Brown Jobbies! They are dependent upon tall reeds to build their nests and will arrive from their over wintering grounds in faraway Africa around April time, ready to breed in summer.
These warblers weave carefully constructed ovoid shaped ball baskets between the reeds with a small entrance hole near to the top. You can often hear them long before you spot them, as they are very good at hiding, so listen out for their repetitive, rhythmical ‘chirr, chirr, chirr’ from within the reeds.
As wildlife begins to emerge from their secretive winter hiding places, it can be much easier to see many animals before the vegetation bursts into life. If we’re lucky, we may catch a rare glimpse of the nationally declining water vole. These dumpy-looking burrowing mammals look a lot like the brown rat, but have more of a snub shaped nose, with ears hidden by fluff and a shorter tail.
Soon that empty sounding ‘clinking’ and ‘clunking’ of leafless trees bashing against one another in the wind will cease as their buds burst into life. The striking colours from the bright pollen filled catkins of the yellow hazel and purple alder trees will break out of the monotonous browns of winter.
Spring flowers such as cowslips and primroses will begin to bloom and before long will form a yellow carpet often seen along woodland-fringed waterways. Many trees have flowers (catkins are actually flowers) that often go unnoticed, but when you take the time to stop and observe them you will find that the blooms of the horse chestnut tree, for example, are quite beautiful.
The Canal & River Trust has top team of committed experts and enthusiasts, who help to protect our waterway environment and improve it for both people and nature. Follow this blog to find out more about the hugely varied work they carry out.See more blogs from this author