April News from South Hill Wood

April News from South Hill Wood

With thanks to David Linstead for this note about what can be seen in South Hill Wood and the accompanying page of photographs.

Out and About in South Hill Wood and the Glen April 2020

Now that our walks are all so local and circumscribed by the virus restrictions, it seems ever more important to enjoy the natural spaces we have nearby. Though they are small and heavily used, especially now, South Hill woods and the Glen are surprisingly rich in plants, birds and other creatures, and the seasonal changes are easy to see, especially in the Spring.


April is a transitional month for the birds. For the residents, breeding and territory are uppermost, and early Summer migrants may begin to appear. In South Hill, The male Great Spotted woodpecker was drumming early in the month, and has hopefully found a mate and settled down somewhere to breed, though now he has to compete for holes with the ring necked parakeets, who are already busy nesting, as they are early breeders in the UK. The Green woodpecker has also been around both the wood and the Glen, calling with his characteristic yaffle. I hope he also finds a mate and breeds. Both our woodpeckers seem to be hanging on rather, and it would be sad to lose either. Chiffchaffs started singing in late March and have continued until recently. These may well be overwintering birds rather than new migrants, as chiffchaffs overwinter locally in some numbers. They do not usually stay to breed in the wood, though they do breed as locally as the wooded area at the side of Pickhurst School. Blackcaps are also very vocal at the moment. With up to 4 or 5 males singing in the wood, and several more in the Glen. They also may have overwintered. Blackcaps are not uncommon locally on feeders in the Winter. Blackcaps do breed in the wood and probably in the Glen. They prefer dense and secluded bramble. Other birds more obvious at the moment because of their exuberant song and fierce defending of territory are the wrens and the nuthatches. The wood supports two or three pairs of nuthatches and numerous noisy and pugnacious wrens. At least one more pair of nuthatches use the woods at the back of the Glen.


Spring is an exciting season for plants in the wood especially. At this time the wood reveals evidence of its ancient heritage. The unspectacular perennial Dog’s Mercury (Mercurialis perennis), with its insignificant flowers is first, followed by the beauty of the wood anemones and bluebells. The extent of both is dependent on continuous clearing of bramble scrub, which would otherwise overwhelm them. The anemones had a good season this April, but the bluebells have gone over quickly, a result of the dry month and rising temperature. Later in the month the white Cow Parsley, Jack by the Hedge and blue flowered Green Alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens) have begun to become dominant, together with stinging nettles. This is always a little sad, but means that we can start to look for some interesting butterflies and other insects.

Butterflies and other insects

Perhaps I’m just visiting more frequently, but butterflies seem to have been particularly good this April. Most individuals flying at this point will have overwintered as adults. Earliest is usually the yellow Brimstone, soon followed by the Orange tip and the various Whites. This year I have also been pleased to see Peacocks, Commas and a Small Tortoiseshell. The Small Tortoiseshell was a female egg laying on Stinging nettle which is the favoured food plant for its caterpillars, so I shall be looking out for these in a few weeks. The Speckled Wood, a butterfly which is a feature of the wood throughout the Summer, has also put in an early appearance.

Another insect which is a harbinger of Spring is the Large Beefly, Bombylius major. This interesting early Spring insect looks like a Bumblebee but is quite unrelated to the bees. In fact it’s a parasite on ground dwelling bees and wasps. The adults search for nests of solitary bees, wasps and beetles and when they find one, hover near the nest entrance and dip their abdomen into the surface of the soil to lay their eggs. The hatched larvae then lives off (parasitises) the bee, wasp or beetle larvae. I have seen this beefly in the wood in the special conservation area near the electricity substation, where there are clear patches of bare soil, and Alkanet flowers, which they will take nectar from with their extraordinarily long proboscis.  This sunny area is favoured also by all the butterflies, and is the best place to look for them and other insects.

David Linstead 25-04-20