May songs and shades

In early May, the dew-drenched mornings are song-filled; the winter silence is drowned by a competition of attraction, much heavy dissuasion and possibly a little distraction.  On a patch of long abandoned heathland, linnets sit atop tall brambles and spin out a breathless jingle; warblers scratch and whistle from the spring green birches. Male song thrushes and blackbirds sit high in the leafing trees and ring out their familiar songs. A bullfinch whispers as if on a muffled flute hidden within a thicket with the female quietly responding with a few soft whistles; a dunnock repeats its weedy warble from the bramble; a green woodpecker laughs and great spots argue; the sounds wax and wane in an unpredictable tumble.

The oak trees come into leaf and have a yellow hue in the morning light, before the leaf unfolds, the shade thickens and the woods become dense summer dark.

The roe deer venture out to browse at dawn but move off quickly on approach; two bolt  across a clearing as a dog barks and gives chase. Among a small herd of horses there is a foal, all lift their heads and stand square on with an intense gaze.

On the North Downs, the orchids are appearing and the sward is picked purple with milkwort; creeping buttercups create yellow carpets with patches of deep blue bugle in the pasture fields.  The ash and beech woodlands are full of dog’s mercury that is well past its best, but there are banks of woodruff and occasional sanicle in the deeper shade both hiding in plain sight by the roadside.

Bluebells fill many of the woodlands and ramsons the stream sides and deep shade. In the shade of Farningham wood there are the soft white flowers of Solomon’s seal and lily of the valley. In open woods and scrubby margins the brambles rise and blanket the ground and this impenetrable tangle provides nest sites for blackcaps and garden warblers, whitethroats and lesser whitethroats, nightingales, blackbirds, song thrushes and dunnocks; when flowering and fruiting it becomes a food source for hazel dormice and a wide range of invertebrates.

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Lily of the valley under beech on the North Downs

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