The magic of a spring walk

What a fantastic spell of weather we have been having – the loveliest spring in quite a few years.

On one of the most beautiful mornings I had a walk through the woods and along the river Ury close to where I live. There is something very magical about a still, warm, sunny morning in spring. This walk, I was accompanied by activity and birdsong for the whole of the time that I was out. People often ask me if I get lonely out walking by myself all the time, but I can honestly say I really never feel alone or, indeed, lonely. All of my senses are working full time to take in the surroundings; faint whiff of fox or delicate scent of blossom; chiff chaffs calling, blackbird singing or buzzard mewing; soft touch of newly emerged larch needles or rough scratch of pathside gorse; taste of sharp sorrel or juicy tight bundles of beech leaves tasting of spring and, of course, an absolute overabundance of images for the eyes.

Everything is so fascinating, and not always the big dramatic things. Sometimes, the smallest flash of beauty can be every bit as breathtaking. Walking through the spruce wood, shafts of dust mote laden sunlight were streaming through the trees. That in itself was gorgeous, but there, perfectly illuminated in the light, was a spider’s web suspended between the trees. Across the delicate strands a rainbow of colours lit up the web, each silk fibre looking like a fine fibre optic and in sitting in the centre a dew-laden spider, gleaming like a jewel. It really was stunningly beautiful; a moment in time where the angle of light, position of both the web and myself all came together to create a transient work of art. Five minutes later it would be gone.

At the edge of the wood I heard the raucous call of a jay and the frantic flapping of woodpigeon wings. Knowing that there was some mischief afoot, I positioned myself under the scuffle. Looking up, I could see the jay harassing the pigeons, squawking loudly and jumping at them, causing them to frantically flap and leap around the tops of the trees. I thought that I knew what was going on and after a few minutes, the pigeons flew off in a flurry of wings. All was ominously quiet for a moment and then I saw the jay fly off. There in its beak was a white pigeon egg. I waited and after a short time, the jay reappeared and took another egg. Neither the pigeons nor the jay returned after that.

Lowering my gaze and rubbing the back of my stiff neck, I saw a clump of that most fragile looking plant, wood sorrel. It always seems such a frail plant to be in the very hostile environment of the thick, sterile looking layer of pine needles in the shade. The leaves are not unlike clover but are bright green and more delicate in appearance and the flowers are translucent white with pale lilac veining. The leaves fold down and the flowerheads droop at night as though the plant was nodding off to sleep. Wood sorrel has a strange arrangement for producing seeds. The flowers borne now on long fine stems produce lots of nectar but few seeds. Later on in the summer the plant will produce different blooms, a mass of small flowers low to the ground that seldom open and are self-pollinating. These are the ones that produce most of the seed. Why and how, I wonder, has such a system evolved?

Emerging from the wood and strolling along the river, lively and sparkling in the sunshine, was like walking into a different world after the quiet shade of the trees. Masses of birds were busy among the trees and shrubs and I watched a male woodpecker until he disappeared behind the trunk of a very large beech tree. He did not re-appear, so I moved to a position where I could see the other side of the tree where he had landed. There, about 20ft up on a dead limb were several holes, some old looking but a few new shallow ‘test’ holes and one obviously newly excavated deep hole. I waited patiently, trying not to be distracted by other things that I was aware of around me. Soon, the male flew out of the hole. Delighted, I walked off to leave him to his homemaking, but with a mental note to come back and see how he was getting on.

Heading to a bridge where I knew that there was a good chance of seeing a dipper, I admired the miniature wildflowers that grew among the short grass. At this time of year, before the grasses and taller plants get going and swamp everything, many of the low-growing flowers are at their best. Across a patch of green a blue haze seemed to hover like a mist. This was a huge swathe of speedwell. Each little flower is an exquisite beauty on its own, sky blue with a white ring in the centre, but seen together they create this foggy illusion. Nearby were wood anemones or windflowers, living up to their name by gentle moving on their slender stalks even though I could feel no discernable breeze.

The dipper was indeed in his usual position on the rocks midstream, his white bib gleaming and his white eyelids flashing every time he blinked. He seemed unwilling to do much apart from bob up and down, so I turned to walk along the riverbank. There I had encounters with two contrasting wagtails, the pied looking very dapper “gentleman off to his club” in his black and white plumage high on the rocks at the top of the bank, and then on branches hanging over the river, the far more subtle, elegant grey wagtail dressed in dove grey, white and that lovely lemon. However, the more exciting thing was a rock on the riverbank with a pile of fish bones and a couple of rocks further along a large, prominent, rock dark-stained on top. I suspected that an otter may have left both these signs there, but as I know that there are mink around the river too that the fish bones could be attributed to, I could not be sure. It is another thing to investigate as the season progresses.

Lonely or alone – never in a spring like this! Oh and I saw my first swallow on the 18th!