Blackthorn winter

Late March is cold and grey with fleeting sunshine; the woods are still winter dead and the promise of spring seems a distant dream. There always seems to be a cold snap when the blackthorn flowers and lights up the hedges.

The early spring flowers appear foolhardy in the chill easterlies that keep the land cold; added to which the clear skies bring ground frosts. Even so the daffodils are fading by the end of March. Then the wind changes; the high pressure that ran the cold from the north and east now brings sunshine and summer warmth from the south to lift early April. Spring weather turns on a sixpence.

The hornbeam woodland on the North Downs is still livened by spring song; the elusive mistle thrush from the tree tops, blue tits and great tits chiding every passer by; and the songs of wrens, robins and blackbirds fill the air. A tawny owl calls and then again in the day time. The hoot comes from the neighbouring yew woodland that survives on the shallow soils of a sleep valley side. There are couple of old crow nests where the owls may have be nesting; the clutch of white eggs is usually laid in March. The badgers are active here too, with well-worn paths along the field edge and under the dark green trees down the brown, bare floor to a sett below. Small latrines are hollowed next to paths then neatly filled with fresh dung.

The view from here is the toothy grin of the grey distant City to the west. The hornbeam woodland is beginning to leaf as the early violets fade. The wood anemones and celandine are in their prime and bluebells more common but not yet a regal carpet. The bramble is starting its long march across the woodland floor and soon will shade the woodland flowers but only as the brief, bright spring is itself lost to the long summer shadows.

In this April warmth, the early butterflies are on the wing; peacocks, brimstones, small tortoiseshells and commas are all found on the sunny, south facing edges of the woods, sunbathing and chasing a mate. Spring is always a headlong rush.

Published by Steve Parr

Professional ecologist and amateur photographer. Love to travel and explore.

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