Sunday, 12 April 2015

Changes of season

During the Easter holiday, we have visited Taunton, Cambridge and a few places in Norfolk. Now, I have already mentioned my first chiff chaff of the year in my blog last week, but there have been substantially more changes that I've been noticing.

The first has been the crocus, one of my favourite flowers, passing its center stage position to the primrose, both wild and cultivated. They have gone from being slightly folorn, like this example in Taunton at the beginning of the two week break, to prolific blooms all over the place now. It goes to show what a significant change only two weeks have made to our plant life.

Unfortunately, these blooms came too late for one of our beehives at school. Although one is big and happy, the other hive seems to have starved, despite us providing it with food. Whilst checking the hives during the holiday, I also saw that our oystercatchers have returned, all three of them. Perhaps we will get see them breed successfully this year...

Other changes have been not only been due to the season, I feel, but perhaps to a change in food availability. Growing up in Cambridge, I can always remember the flocks of house sparrows and starlings we would have in the garden and nesting under the tiles of the house next door, along with a few blue and great tits. Now, my parents garden is host to a full range of birds, 15 species I counted on our Easter weekend visit, including a male black cap; a bird I rarely see and one neither of my parents had ever seen before. Is this due only to my suggestion of putting out sunflower hearts as a food source? Or is it due to the development of areas of previously 'un-utilised' land that has driven them into the city and gardens for food?

Our birdfeeders outside our flat in Norwich are bursting with life now too. The green finches have returned post winter; we have at least two healthy looking pairs, with squabbling males and nonchalant females, with the odd copulation on the fence. A few goldfinches have finally crept back in after the winter months, and our first ever chaffinches, who are clearly not used to using bird feeders, have arrived. I was distracted from my school work only a few days ago by a feisty long tailed tit who had decided to perch on the window frame and peck at our windows, sounding like he was asking to be let in.

I'm looking forward to the arrival of more birds as the migrants continue to arrive, but the botanical spectacle I'm now waiting for is the explosion of bluebells at Foxley Woods...

Monday, 6 April 2015

The First Chiffchaff

It's Easter and it appears spring is all around. On a visit to Pensthorpe with a dear friend a few days ago, from the moment we entered the woodland to the time we left the reserve we could hear the same familiar call of spring and summer: "chiff-chaff... chiff-chiff-chiff-chiff-chaff". This was my first of the year and, for me, it is one of the harbingers of spring.

We had fun, as per usual, feeding their captive collection of wildfowl, but the real treats were when we reached the 'wild' end of the reserve and watched from hides and walked through woodland. A small muntjac trotted past us, seemingly oblivious to our presence. Oystercatchers also seemed to feel the vibe of spring, as what appeared to be one sneaking up on another, turned out to be a more amorous encounter...

Across the several lakes and from the hides at the scrape, we spotted numerous other waterfowl; tufted ducks in good numbers, avocets preening and dabbling, shelduck sporting their shocking red bills and lapwing beginning to perform their tumbling display flights with their beautiful bubbling call. Pretty little barnacle geese were also sunning themselves on the grass, and beneath the captive white naped cranes, we spotted two mottled brown eggs. Their is something joyous about witnessing these early stages of life being 'created', and seemed especially fitting for a trip preceding Easter weekend.

Another befitting Easter symbol was the tiny baby rabbit, which could easily have fitted on the palm of my hand, who could only be betrayed by his hiding place in the fork at the base of a tree by his two hind feet jutting out. Apart from that, in colour, it was perfectly camouflaged, so I hope it escaped the beady eyes of any passing predator. This bunny was just outside the woodland hide, where we were treated to flocks of chaffinches, listening to their spinking calls, greenfinches calling "zveeeeeee", the sweet drumming of a great spotted woodpecker who also momentarily flew into view, a treecreeper who came tantalisingly close to the viewing panel and many of the other usual woodland birds hoovering up seeds.

Walking through the woodland, we played a game of hide and seek with both chiffchaff and nuthatch, both of whom would fly into sight and disappear among the shadows of branches and twigs, making us doubt our own vision, until they would appear again, just a little further along and vanish almost as instantly. A small dynasty of goldcrest played the same game with us, softly calling in their high pitch tones, they would only betray themselves occasionally by zipping from one branch to another.

At the end of our visit, we decided to enter the aviary where turtle dove and bearded tits can be found. Never having seen either of these species in the wild, I find the purring of turtle doves strangely electrifying; so familiar, yet exotic compared to our other doves. Bearded tits I adore, and are one of the species that I long to see in the wilds of Norfolk. However, I couldn't resist an 'awww' shot of this couple snuggled together in front of the nesting reeds. I may make these my 2015 challenge to see in the wild.