The feeling of spring

Primroses

Primroses

Early Mining Bee on Willow Catkin

Early Mining Bee on Willow Catkin

Spring is here at last, and what a welcome thing it is. It started when I was cooped up in a hospital room for two weeks, watching the crocuses on the balcony bloom in their tubs, and the first small tortoiseshell butterfly flutter past my window. But I could not go out and enjoy it.

Coming out of hospital, the first thing I noticed was the wind on my face. Cold, for sure, but very welcome, and something that had been sorely missed.

They seemed almost imperceptible at first, the signs of Spring at the woods. It was very subtle. One week, you could see through the understorey, through the woods to the fields beyond. Then a few days later, you couldn’t. Just a few buds bursting here and there and the woods were transformed once again.

Birch Leaves and Catkins

Birch Leaves and Catkins

Daffodils

Daffodils

The daffodils came out in great numbers, followed by the lesser celandine, primroses and cowslips. This last weekend the first bluebell buds appeared, the blossom was profuse on the blackthorn, and the first cherry blossom also came into flower. Snakeshead fritillary are also in flower, and the smell of wild garlic hits you before you see the emerging leaves.

Cowslips

Cowslips

Ladybird on the edge of a leaf

Ladybird on the Edge

Within a few days, tiny green leaves were all over the birch trees, like little jewels, backlit by the sun. Catkins cover the willow trees, leaf buds bursting, early bees feasting on the pollen. Comma, small tortoiseshell, brimstone and peacock butterflies are everywhere in the sheltered parts of the meadow. Chiffchaffs are calling. The first blackcap is in song.

Surprisingly, for most birds are still building their nests, we even have a robin feeding her young, the nest precariously perched in an empty log bag thrown onto the top shelf of our log store.

Robin Feeding Young

Robin Feeding Young

This is the feeling of spring. The wind on your face. Some warmth in the sun. Frantic bird activity, flowers on the woodland floor, and the delicate sight of new leaves and catkins. A feeling magnified by my release from captivity. A glorious feeling. A joyful time of year.

Blackthorn

Blackthorn

Lesser Celandine

Lesser Celandine

Comma Butterfly

Comma Butterfly

Peacock Butterfly

Peacock Butterfly – shame about the background but lovely butterfly all the same.

Cherry Blossom

Cherry Blossom

Early Spring

Golden Tassels - Hazel Catkins

Golden Tassels – Hazel Catkins

Alder Catkins

Alder Catkins

Alder Catkins

Alder Catkins

Birch Catkins

Birch Catkins

Willow Catkins

Willow Catkins

Golden Tassels - Hazel Catkins

Golden Tassels – Hazel Catkins

I’ve seen hazel catkins out in January before (just!), but never seen willow or alder catkins at this time of year.  Yet that is what is happening at the woods right now.  The lack of a really harsh frost this winter has led to everything being extremely early.  We have buds on our daffodils, bud burst on elder, and a load of catkins coming out, producing pollen and giving me hay-fever!

These photos were all taken last week.  Hazel, birch, alder and willow catkins coming out.  It really seems crazy.  We have had frost, but not a hard frost, and no frost under the trees themselves.  I hope we don’t get a hard and late frost to set everything back now they have started to come up.

First Butterflies and Dragonflies and More Bluebells…

Mating pair of orange tip butterflies

Mating pair of orange tip butterflies

Green-veined white

Green-veined white

Female orange tip

Female orange tip

Speckled wood

Speckled wood high in elder bush

With the warmer weather, we have seen the first butterflies emerging in the woods, as well as the first dragonflies and damselflies.  The first spotted on the wing were brimstones, but we now have good numbers of green-veined whites, orange-tip, speckled wood, large white and small white, as well as the rather dusty and ageing peacock, small tortoiseshell and comma which overwintered as adults.

The large red damselflies were the first to emerge, but in the last few days we have also seen azure damselflies coming out, and the first two female broad-bodied chaser dragonflies.

Large red damselfly

Large red damselfly

Azure Damselfly

Azure Damselfly (female)

Broad bodied chaser

Broad bodied chaser

We are also delighted to report a good patch of violet growing in the woods, which we hope will be food plants for the caterpillars of silver-washed fritillary – this butterfly is moving our way, and we have ideal habitat for it.  Fingers crossed!

The bluebells are also stunning at the moment – just past their peak, but still putting on a fantastic show.  They look particularly wonderful when growing together with clumps of white stitchwort.  Red campion is now in flower as well as the first ragged robin near our ponds, and the buttercups are just starting to come out.

The woods are in full leaf now, and the acid-green colours of spring are just wonderful to behold.  It all looks quite magical in the evening light.

Evening bluebells

Bluebells near our coppice

Patch of stitchwort

A lovely patch of stitchwort on our boundary

Green, blue and white

Green, blue and white

Oak glade in spring

Oak glade in spring

Evening bluebells

Evening bluebells

Violet

Violet growing in our woods

Blossom

Blackthorn blossom

Blackthorn blossom

Blackthorn and other trees of the genus Prunus are usually the first trees to come into flower.  Blackthorn blossom is so delicate and pretty, dusting the bushes and hedgerows with a light frosting that looks like sugar, or light snow.  As well as looking beautiful, it is really important as a source of nectar for pollinating insects that are becoming more active at this time of year.  It also promises a harvest of sloes later on in the year – wonderful for including in hedgerow jams and jellies and for making sloe gin and vodka.

Blackthorn blossom

Blackthorn blossom

Blackthorn

Blackthorn blossom

Blackthorn Blossom

Blackthorn Blossom

Blackthorn Blossom

Blackthorn Blossom

It isn’t just blackthorn that we find in bloom at the woods.  Our orchard also has blossom on the plum trees.  Most pleasing of all is the blossom on our cherry trees.  We planted some wild cherry in Betty’s Wood in 2011.  Not many trees were included, just a few, to provide birds with wild cherries as food in autumn.  These trees have now grown large enough that they have blossomed for the first time.  This is really exciting for us – our little trees are now producing nectar for the bees and other pollinators, and later in the year will provide fruit for birds, small mammals and insects.  It is a sign that the young woodland is developing into a resource for wildlife.

Cherry blossom

Cherry blossom

Wild Cherry

Wild Cherry

Plum Blossom

Plum Blossom

Plum Blossom

Plum Blossom

Finally, not strictly blossom but lovely to see nonetheless, last year we had just one cowslip in Betty’s Wood.  I have now given up counting – there are at least 50 of them growing on the mounds by our ponds and in the grass nearby.  They are visited by the bees, as are the ribwort plantain which are just coming into flower, and provide another good source of nectar and pollen for the hive.

Ribwort Plantain

Ribwort Plantain

Cowslip

Cowslip

White snakes head fritillary

White snakes head fritillary

Development of Spring

Snakeshead Fritillary

Snakeshead Fritillary

Snakeshead Fritillary

Snakeshead Fritillary

Spring sneaks up on you.  There are a lot of very small changes that make very little difference and then everything explodes into action.  One day you can see through the woods, the next, there are so many leaves that you can’t.  One day there is just a little bit of growth in the grass, the next there seem to be cowslips and snakes head fritillaries all around.  One day you start to notice the leaves of lesser celandine and creeping buttercup, the next they are in flower.

Lesser Celandine

Lesser Celandine

Snakeshead Fritillary

Snakeshead Fritillary in bud

Comma on Willow

Comma butterfly feeding on willow catkins

Spring came alive this weekend.  Great spotted woodpeckers were calling and drumming.  We seem to have four chiffchaffs singing in the woods this year.  The yellowhammer are in song.  Buzzards are swooping over the clearings and meadows.  The tall grass is shaking and waving as the field voles dispute their rights to use the runs under the thatch.  Other butterflies are joining the brimstones on the wing – small tortoiseshell, peacock and comma.  The bees are coming alive in their hives and nests, returning home with little pollen sacs stuffed full.  The woods start to smell of wild garlic.  The skylark is in song all day – the song gets into your head, so much that when you return home, it remains with you, like an echo.

Cowslip

Cowslip

The First Buttercup

The First Buttercup

The coming of spring seems like a miracle every year, for all that now understand its genesis in the travel and alignment of the Earth around the Sun.  It is so very exciting.

Primrose in Monochrome

Primrose in Monochrome

Daffodils all in a row

Daffodils all in a row

Early Flowers

Lesser Celandine

Lesser Celandine

Spring is really happening now at the woods, and the buds are bursting and the first wildflowers are emerging.  We have a wonderful display of feral daffodils at the woods.  Some of them are more like wild daffodils, others are all manner of different varieties.  They were planted about 50 years ago, and have naturalised and form a wonderful display in the spring, as well as acting as a source of nectar for the early insects.

Daffodils

Daffodils

Daffodil

Daffodil backlit by the evening sun

We have always had one patch of cowslips at the woods.  Last year we noticed that a few had spread to other areas in the main clearing, which was good news.  This year we have noticed at least 12 self-seeded plants in Betty’s Wood as well – about half a mile from the original clump – near the ponds in the damp and clay soil.  It is really exciting to see these spreading.

Cowslip

One of the cowslips in Betty’s Wood

There are wild primrose growing in our orchard, and they are also spreading – in fact they may meet the cowslip and produce the oxlip hybrids, but this hasn’t happened yet.  They catch the evening light in an amazingly beautiful way.

Primrose

Primrose

Yellow is also the colour of the lesser celandine, a plant of the shade, which is growing and spreading on our paths and under the elder scrub.  This has just started to flower and I have managed to capture it in both colour and black and white – which I think looks more spectacular (photo at the top of this post)

Lesser Celandine

Lesser Celandine

Finally, we have the blue speedwell coming into flower in our meadows.  Such a wonderful and delicate flower, and so difficult to photograph – it is very tiny, and very delicate so it moves in the slightest breeze, and is very easy to over-expose the image too.

Speedwell

Speedwell

The trees, too, are starting to flower – we have the first buds on the wild cherry and crab apple that we planted in Betty’s Wood in 2011, but which haven’t flowered until now.  There are also buds on our domestic apples in our orchard, and on the rowan trees. The woods are truly coming to life!

Cherry Blossom Buds

Cherry Blossom Buds

Bud burst on Rowan

Bud burst on Rowan – leaves and flowers

Crocus

Crocus by the roadside

Evening Light

Betty's Wood on Misty Evening

Betty’s Wood on Misty Evening

Betty's Wood on Misty Evening

Betty’s Wood on Misty Evening

Another great thing about spring is the light changes both direction and quality in the evening.  The watery winter light is giving way to a much warmer spring light, and the angle is changing, which means that the light on our paths, across Betty’s Wood, and out of the woods is also changing, giving a new perspective on the landscape.  In particular, the woods are now illuminated from the north west at dusk, and that makes it possible to take some lovely pictures in the glade and along our main path.

Evening Light

Trees and fields across the road from the woods

Evening light

Trees and fields across the road from the woods

Reedmace

Reedmace

Fence

Barbed wire fence in evening light

Ditch at Dusk

Ditch at Dusk

More Little Birds

Scruffy Blue Tit

Scruffy Blue Tit

Spring is definitely upon us.  This weekend, I noticed that we could no longer see through the woods, as the elder leaves are coming out and blocking the view.  The catkins are almost finished and the leaves on hawthorn and hazel are also starting to come out.  It will not be long before the oak leaves are out too.

Of course this makes it harder to photograph the little birds, as they become progressively obscured by foliage.

I haven’t spotted the willow tit for a week or so, but we do have a good collection of reed buntings, including at least three males and one female, and these have been coming to the feeders as well as settling down into the reeds on our small ponds in the clearing.  I hope they are nesting.

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting

Long-tailed tits are difficult to photograph, but I finally managed some shots this weekend.  The little birds have been seen collecting feathers and moss, so are clearly nest-building at the moment.

Long-tailed tit

Long-tailed tit

This weekend I also noticed an absence of cackling redwings, although no sign yet of spring migrants.  I will be listening for chiffchaff and blackcap (they overwinter in the garden, but not at the woods) in the next week or so.

Another really excellent piece of news is that the lesser-spotted woodpecker is around.  Not seen, but the high-frequency drumming and song have been heard and this points to its presence again this year.  The song/call and drumming are quite distinct from the greater-spotted and it is fortunate we have both as it allows us to compare.  The buzzards are also thinking about setting up home in our woods after a year off – we think this may be the chick from two years ago.

There are at least three skylarks singing from the set-aside strips in the adjacent fields, which is brilliant news.  The mallard are also taking a keen interest in our ponds as a slightly quieter option when compared to the adjacent nature reserve and canal.

These are a few shots of the little birds around our feeder and around the woods taken in the last couple of weeks.  Soon it will be in leaf, and it will be time to swap the long bird lens for the macro lens when the butterflies emerge – a few brimstones are already on the wing.

Robin

Robin

Blue Tit

Blue Tit

Buzzard

Buzzard

Blue Tit

Blue Tit

Great Tit

Great Tit

Signs of spring

Willow Catkins

Willow Catkins

Willow Catkins

Willow Catkins

Willow Catkins

Willow Catkins

Willow Catkins

Willow Catkins

Wild Daffodils

Wild Daffodils

After a long and very wet winter, there are at last some signs of spring around the woods.  In particular, there are catkins.  Lots and lots of catkins – hazel, birch, alder and willow – and my hay fever tells me they are producing a lot of pollen.  This is wonderful for the honey bees and bumblebees that I see around the woods, waking up from their hibernation.

The wild daffodils have also started to come out, although the naturalised domestic daffs are a little behind their wild cousins.  The bluebells are also showing their shoots through the ground.

The little birds are singing their territorial songs:  dunnock, robin, wren, great tit and blue tit are in full song, as well as willow tit and yellowhammer, and the great spotted woodpecker is drumming away.  A pair of buzzards are calling as they circle over the woods.  The skylarks are up as well and that is truly a sound of summer.  And in our meadows, the grass is rising and the speedwell is in flower in places.

Blue Tit

Blue Tit

Buzzard

Buzzard

The light, too, is getting that lovely light and watery quality of spring as the sun creeps higher and higher, and sets later and later in the day.  The sunshine and showers weather is a big improvement over the wet winter storms.

Hazel Flower

Hazel Flower

Spring is such an exciting time and always welcome, whether the winter has been cold and snowy or mild, wet and windy.  It represents a time when the winter work in the woods is finally done and we can sit back, enjoy the fruit of our labours, cease worrying about the dwindling supply of firewood logs and concentrate on the beauty, tranquility and peace of the woods again.  And maybe even turn our hands to a little bit of green woodworking again with the fresh supply of coppice wood…but that is a post for another day!

Spore Heads on Moss

Spore Heads on Moss

Untimely Signs of Spring

Salix caprea catkins starting to emerge - very early!

Salix caprea catkins starting to emerge – very early!

The winter has been extremely mild with very little sign of frost, and because of this, we are getting very early signs of spring at the woods.  On today’s walk, with temperatures in double figures (about 10 Celsius), I saw a lot of evidence that an early spring is happening – worrying evidence, in that we could still have a harsh winter come upon us!  First of all, I found willow catkins Salix caprea starting to emerge on some of the young trees in Betty’s Wood.  Not yet generating pollen, but not far off, and there are similarly advanced catkins on alder and birch as well.

These daffodils near our entrance are emerging early too

These daffodils near our entrance are emerging early too

Near the entrance to the woods we have a lot of naturalised daffodils and these are emerging rapidly too.  This is not the only clump – most of the daffodils are well advanced and looking good to flower early.

These hazel catkins are mature and releasing pollen

These hazel catkins are mature and releasing pollen

Finally, the hazel catkins, which have been around since December, are now mature and starting to shed pollen.  These are in the main woodland, but Betty’s Wood also has mature hazel catkins.  And I have hay fever already!

Last year spring was very late thanks to the harsh winter, this year it is very early.  There are other signs of spring all around – leaf buds looking ready to burst on our cherry and rowan trees, great-spotted woodpeckers drumming, great tits and blue tits singing their territorial songs.  We haven’t had enough frost to kill off the brambles, which have continued to grow all winter – worrying for the bluebells that rely on the bramble dying back in the frost to emerge into the light in spring.

But it is still winter, and the large flocks of fieldfare and smaller flocks of linnet and siskin are still feeding in our meadows and the adjoining fields.  Winter may still hit hard – last year it snowed in early May – so we will be interested to see how these early signs of spring develop.