In pictures: 16 signs that Spring has sprung around Scotland

Spring is on its way with hints of warmer, longer and lighter days in the air.

The return of the Orange Tip butterfly is one sign that Spring has sprung in Scotland. PIC: NTS.
The return of the Orange Tip butterfly is one sign that Spring has sprung in Scotland. PIC: NTS.

Plants and wildlife are also waking up after the dreich months of winter. From beds of snowdrops to calling cuckoos and sliding adders in island glens, there are signs of the new season emerging all over the country.

Here, rangers and wildlife experts from the National Trust for Scotland give 16 insights into how Spring is dawning across Scotland, from Dumfries and Galloway, to Perthshire, the Highlands and the Hebrides.

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1. Toni Watt, Crathes Castle, Aberdeenshire - the Orange Tip butterfly

After a long cold northeast winter, the return of our insects is always special. Here at Crathes Castle one of our first butterflies to return is the Orange Tip, beautifully and distinctively coloured it can be found feeding on cuckoo flowers in the forest clearings all over the estate.

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2. Richard Clarkson, Dumfries and Galloway - the Wheatear

The return of the Wheatear is a sure sign that spring is on its way. These long-distance migrants arrive back in the UK from central Africa via Spain in early March, and an unexpected flash of their white rump against the muted colours of a fading winter gives away their return to Grey Mare’s Tail nature reserve.

The male is unmistakable, with its blue-grey back, black wings and mask, buff tinged breast, and of course the white rump and black T’ on its tail.

3. Emily Wilkins, Iona, Argyll and Bute - the corncrake

Spring on Iona is heralded by the rasping call of the corncrake. Patches of iris and nettles in corners of the island’s small crofting fields serve as early cover for this secretive bird on its return from Africa. As the grass grows taller they will move into the meadows for nesting and their sound will be heard echoing everywhere, although catching sight of one is more of a challenge.

4. Toni Watt, Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire - the damselfly

Spring has really arrived for us here in the northeast when our first damselflies return. The Flight pond at Castle Fraser is a Priority Site for the British Dragonfly Society with 10 species of dragonfly and damselfly which is unusual here in the northeast, and is especially important as it includes the most easterly population of the endangered Northern Damselfly.

5. Liza Cole, St Abb’s Head, Berwickshire - breeding seabirds

April is when the seabird season kicks off at St Abb’s Head and the clifftops start to come alive again as tens of thousands of seabirds return to breed.   There is so much incredible behaviour to watch – reaffirmation of pair bonds (most seabirds pair for life, but get divided from their partner in the winter months), fighting for nest sites, nesting building and egg laying.  Shags are the earliest breeders, laying up to 4 eggs in their untidy nests early in the month.    Meanwhile guillemots and kittiwakes gather just offshore, their familiar calls drifting up to the clifftops. 

6. Seamus McNally, Torridon, Ross-shire - red deer

Spring in Torridon means the weather is showing signs of improvement and the mature red deer stags are starting to cast their old antlers. This is an annual event for the stags and must cause them some pain, but within a few days the scars have healed over and the new antler starts to grow. They will grow steadily until they reach their full size towards the end of July, covered in a hairy skin called velvet which contains the blood vessels and nerves. This strips off in August revealing the new hard antler.

7. Judy Baxter, Rockcliffe, Castle Douglas, Dumfries and Galloway - the buff-tailed bumblebee

This bumblebee can appear really early - I had one at Rockcliffe on the 19th of February this year!  The first bumblebees to appear are the queens that mated last summer and then hibernated underground through the winter months.  These are large furry bees that are well insulated against the chilly weather and they are busy looking for some of the few flowers that are around at this time of year.

8. Kate Sampson, Goatfell, Isle of Arran - adders

A sure sign that spring is on its way is adders basking in the sun in Glen Rosa. Once these cold blooded animals have warmed up, they can then head off into the moorland in search of their first meal of the year.  Glen Rosa is particularly good for adder spotting as there are quite a few of the melanistic black adders.  Mating takes place in spring, and can be quite dramatic with several males battling it out for a receptive female, coiling up around each other trying to knock each other down in a sinuous, slithering ‘dance’.

9. Alasdair Eckersall, Ben Lomond - Pipistrelle bats

At dusk watch out for the flitting silhouettes of bats at the woodland edge, or above the paths and tracks at the foot of Ben Lomond. They are mainly Pipistrelles, which will have been scattered through hundreds of smaller roosts through winter, with most of them gathering into larger maternity roosts in the farm steading and local attics for the spring and summer.

10. Susan Bain, St Kilda - lambs

In April the first Soay sheep lambs appear on the St Kilda archipelago.  These tiny lambs form part of the wild flock of Soays that can be found on the islands of Soay and Hirta.  Although only around 2kg at birth they soon form ‘lamb gangs’ to explore their unique environment.

11. Andrew Warwick, Ben Lawers - Purple saxifrage

Purple saxifrage is the first alpine plant to flower, heralding spring in the uplands.  It is commonly found of cliffs in Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve and is sometimes already in flower as the last snow melts from the plant.

12. Kirsten Dallas, Balmacara - Highland cattle

A sure sign of spring on the Balmacara Estate is the arrival of calves and lambs on the crofts. Crofting is a small-scale and low intensity form of agriculture that has great environmental benefits, as well as being the defining social system of Highland communities. At this time of year it is the young highland cattle that steal the show as they wander through the crofts and villages quite happy to pose for pictures!

13. Rule Anderson, Kintail - cuckoos

Cuckoos start to arrive at Kintail from Africa from mid-April. Most of us have heard the distinctive call but how many people have ever seen a Cuckoo?  Take a walk along any of the National Trust for Scotland-maintained paths at Kintail in late Spring and you have a good chance of hearing one - they often call from a prominent tree on open hill slopes. You might be lucky enough to spot it as it flies in or out from this perch, or look out for small birds such as Meadow Pipits revealing their presence by noisily mobbing them.

14. Ian Joyce, Culzean Castle, Ayrshire - snowdrops

The snowdrops at Culzean are, for me, the first sign that spring is arriving. We don’t get much frost or snow here but occasionally we do get to see the little green shoots starting to peak through some melting snow. We have recently embarked on a project of planting to increase the amount of this lovely little flower. A couple of years ago we had a weird spring with some flowers late and some early. This meant we had a short period when snowdrops, daffodils and bluebells were all in full bloom together. The Cliff Path in particular is spectacular once the bluebells flower.

15. Shaila Rao, Mar Lodge Estate, Braemar - nesting ravens

Here at Mar Lodge, where snow often lies all year round, spring arrives far later than in most parts of the country. Nevertheless, when crossbills are singing away in the pinewoods and golden eagles are performing their death-defying display flights in the mountains you can be sure that spring is on the way. For me though, spring hasn’t started until I’ve seen pairs of ravens settling down to nest. These charismatic, intelligent birds are usually well on their way to rearing young on their favourite crags and cliffs in February and March.

16. Louise Medine, North Perthshire - wood anemone

The wildflowers in the Pass of Killiecrankie are our signal for the arrival of spring, with a carpet of wood anemones (Anemone nemorosa) appearing. The wood anemone is almost scentless and has no nectar, but it is still visited by flies, bees and beetles because the pollen is edible. It is also known as the ‘windflower’ – so called because the flowers will not open until the wind blows. It spreads surprisingly slowly -six feet in a hundred years - as it relies on the growth of its roots rather than the spread of its seed. It is therefore a good indicator of ancient woodland. It flowers early to make the most of the spring sunshine, before the woodland canopy becomes too dense.