Monday, 26 March 2012

A sense of spring

It is the spring warmth on my skin that really lifts my spirits, the sense that winter has passed and that life is returning. These first few days of spring, though changeable, mean more to me than the warmer, predictable, days of summer and I suspect that it is the sense of renewal that makes this season so special.

The dawn air rings with the calls of rooks. Settled at their rookery, there is much society to be had as pairs reinforce bonds or bicker with their neighbours over the ownership of sticks destined for the nest. The clear skies and lack of foliage show the rookeries off at their best, the birds striking in their black feathering and bone white faces. While other birds are singing to attract a mate or are still on their way back from African wintering grounds, the Rook breeding season is well advanced. Most Rooks will be incubating a clutch of four or five eggs by now and it will not be long before there are hungry young in the nest. The blue-green eggs, with their pattern of speckles and blotches, were once the unfortunate targets of egg-collecting children and it would have been a fearless youngster who sought out these nests, perched precariously within the fine outermost branches.

In addition to the avian activity, the first of the season’s insects are on the wing. Most obvious of these are the butterflies and queen bumblebees, newly emerged from their winter slumberings and in need of nectar to replenish resources metabolised during the dark days of winter. The queen bumblebees seek suitable nesting chambers in which to initiate a colony that will grow in size through into autumn and the next major change in the seasons. I love watching these bees as they buzz about noisily, peering into each potential nest site before lumbering on somewhere else until the perfect site is found.

This spring seems to have started with good numbers of hoverflies foraging at early season nectar and there have even been reports of Hummingbird Hawk-moths active within the county. These are either recent emigrants or, more likely, individuals that arrived late last autumn and which have, somehow, managed to survive the winter.

With the leaves yet to form on the trees, there is a flush of green across the woodland floor. These are plants that manage to take advantage of the short gap between the end of winter and the restoration of a new summer canopy, after which the woodland floor will be plunged back into shade. Visit an old woodland, like Bradfield Woods (just over the border in Suffolk) and you will be treated to a fine display.

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