The season marches on apace

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The season marches on apace at this time of year and I find that if I do not get out for a few days, then I can miss things.

Maybe it is only the first day that the catkins have opened fully, the day that the last of a particular species of flower withers or the day that the first green bursts forth from some tightly rolled buds on a tree. Whatever it is, I always feel “There goes the chance to see that for another year”. Consequently, I find myself in a bit of a fervor, desperate to get out at every available opportunity.

The weather over the last week or so, although chilly, has had a lot of sunny, bright days to lure me outside, whether into the garden or walking in the countryside. Tidying up in the garden at this time of year is one of my favorite occupations as, every time I clear away some dead growth, there underneath is the fresh new growth - I really feel like it is spring.

On the weekend of the 17th and 18th, I spent quite some time doing just that. While working in the front garden, I saw my first butterfly, a small tortoiseshell which landed on the light wall of the house, which no doubt was warm, fanned its wings a few times and then flew off into the wood. On the Sunday, I also saw a few bumblebees, buzzing among the bright blue chionodoxa flowers.

Another early and welcome source of nectar are the pussy willow catkins - a bonanza for early flying insects. As they do not have petals like most flowers, they are often not thought of as flowers, but flowers they certainly are and when you see a tree covered in fully open catkins, the effect is stunning. I have been watching them since they were little silver, shining, silky buds, lying tight against the branch, like tiny seal pups - now they are big, fat balls covered in lemon pollen, that brushes off on my jacket as I pass. I think that there is no more pretty image than blue tits on a branch of catkins, their lemon breasts almost the same colour as the pollen.

The constant succession of spring flowers seems to really gather speed in March. Already, the snowdrops have gone over, as have the winter aconites and most of the crocuses. Taking their place, one of my most favourite flowers, the delicately coloured primrose, its pretty face open fully to the sunshine, and in my garden a profusion of tiny flowered, blue spring bulbs. Twenty years ago, I planted small groups of scilla, chionodoxa and russian snowdrops, all similar in appearance, all small and bearing star like flowers on short stems. Scilla and chionodoxa are delicate in build and the colour of the spring sky, but the Russian snowdrops are a little taller, a bit more robust looking and are the palest of icy blues with a deep blue stripe down the centre of every petal. All of these bulbs spread easily and are now scattered in great numbers throughout the garden, popping up everywhere, including through the gravel paths and driveway. I do not mind at all and what a beautiful sight they are en masse. The bonus is that the bees love them too.

After nearly a whole day working away among the borders, I brought out a lounger and sat in a patch of sun at the back of the garden to rest my aching back and shoulders. I watched the bright white cumulus clouds zoom past in the blue sky, but slowly my eyes closed and and as I sat, trying to focus on the heat of the sun on my face and ignore the cool wind blowing around my ankles, I amused myself by listening to some starlings perched on the very top of the chestnut tree. Starlings are “creative borrowers”, making up their own songs by combining their own stuttering chatter and whistle with an eclectic mix of excerpts from other birds calls and any passing sound that takes their fancy. I tried to see how many I could identify; the most obvious, the “Kee-wick” of a female tawny owl; the cawing of rooks feeding in the nearby field; the distant (and the starling managed to make it sound distant) rattling call of a magpie; the “Pee-weet” of a displaying lapwing; a wheeling buzzard mewing overhead. Suddenly, and without warning, one starling broke into the most convincing imitation of a wailing, emergency vehicle siren, no doubt picked up from one passing on the nearby main road. It made me smile as it was so unexpected and such a contrast to the other natural sounds.

This week, I noticed that the hawthorns were showing their first tightly packed bouquets of emerald green leaves, the sparrows both house and tree, are flitting about carrying nesting material and the female rabbits are sporting what look like huge, bushy, moustaches as they cram their mouths full of dry grass for their nesting burrows. I also watched two female blackbirds having a very serious fight, grabbing at each other with their claws and beaks, wings flapping vigorously as they rose about three feet or so into the air before falling to the ground again in a vicious, flailing heap. At one point, one bird pinned the other to the ground and got in a few really painful looking stabs before the other bird broke free and flew off. All this time, the male bird had been standing off to one side, just observing, making no attempt to intervene. I was a bit indignant at his non-support of whichever one was his mate, but as my husband pointed out, if it was him, he’d make sure his mate was the one that won the fight - he wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of a lassie that could beat him up! He does have a point!

As the signs of spring increase, I feel a sense of anticipation and excitement. I start getting back to my “spring and summer self”, buzzing around like one of the bees in the garden, desperate to observe everything, seeing masses of things to draw, being constantly bombarded, to the point of overload, with visual images to inspire me, not being able to stay indoors, finding that there are just not enough hours in the day and frustrated that mundane things like ironing, shopping and housework take away from wildlife and countryside time. It does make the time that I do spend outside all the more worthwhile and enjoyable. You’ll have to excuse me now, while I go off to have a quick look at a new clump of particularly beautiful, pale daffodils that have just opened out.

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