The ramblings of an all-round naturalist based in north Surrey
Wait awhile in early Spring
I've been spending a bit of time in the garden recently, tidying up from the neglect of winter. A bit of cutting back; raking up leaves that dropped after the autumn winds or were blown out of their hiding places by winter gusts; reducing the rampant ivy; giving the lawns their first trim of the year (although neither modest affairs would win any awards, being more moss and tree root than grass); cleaning out bird feeders and topping up the ones in use; clearing the pond of floating debris (this doesn't take long as it is very small indeed). Wherever I looked, there were signs of the season ramping up - buds where there were no buds just a few days ago, leaves unfurling, flower unveiling. A bit of sun and the attendant warmth enticed Brimstones and Small Tortoiseshells out of hibernation. If I actually switched the moth trap on (I haven't so far this year) there would no doubt be the usual suspects to greet me, the Hebrew Characters, the Clouded Drabs and the Common Quakers. The season is getting ready to progress further, and within just a matter of weeks all will be a riot of growth and colour. This time of year sees a speeding up of change, when the muted palette of winter is well and truly condemned to the memory. Treasure it, because as each day passes the changes occur faster than you can take in. Colour swapped for other colour, growth for other growth, one suite of species to make way for another. Life in a humble garden may never stop, but the freshness and newness of Spring is a special time. Sometimes it is tempting to want to fast forward to Swifts, orchids and chalk downland slopes full of buzz and perfume. But be patient. Wait awhile in early Spring. There is plenty of time for all of that.
Not taken today, but during a previous summer. All asleep at the moment, but soon to stir...
The east coast of Britain, plus a rash of Scottish Isles, is/are playing host to a stellar cast of rare vagrants - Masked Shrike, Tennessee Warbler, Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, Siberian Thrush, White’s Thrush, Eye-browed Thrush, Two-barred Greenish Warbler - I could go on... plus a mouthwatering back-up courtesy of multiple Red-flanked Bluetails, Radde’s Warblers and more Yellow-browed Warblers than it is possible to accurately count. For many birders the knee-jerk reaction is to head straight to the hot-spots where the rarity - and the action - is taking place. And who can blame them. But, things are different now. Joining the ‘to be expected’ moral conundrums that usually accompany such a birding scrum (trespass, toggers and carbon foot-print) there is a new concern in town, that of the COVID-19 virus. A rare bird = a birding crowd. When something as modest as a scarce migrant can gather 20-30 birders within minutes, what chance do we stand of conforming to health guidelines? There
I’ve recently updated you on my diminishing hearing capabilities (with grasshoppers joining the list of disappearing sounds) and not too long ago I confessed that my sight is somewhat compromised in low light. But what about a sense that I possess which still seems to be functioning as it should? Step forward smell! In fact, my sense of smell is famous throughout the family for being hyper-sensitive. I can pick up on odours (good and bad) way before anybody else, and if you give me a glass of wine or a single-malt whisky I will be dismantling the bouquet into its constituent parts - plums, liquorice, tarmac, apricots, toffee - within seconds. Needless to say from that last sentence, my accompanying taste buds are more than up to scratch as well. One of life’s pleasures is to take the time to sniff the wildflowers. There are some top smells to be had, small free hits of olfactory wonder. Never walk past Fennel without taking in the aniseed; various labiates that will sooth you with
For a change I explored the River Hogsmill between Ewell and Kingston, most of its winding length served by a good footpath. From a natural history point of view, it was very quiet, but I did come across this utterly charming mosaic. Completed last year, it has been placed underneath a railway bridge at Malden Manor. Apart from helping to brighten up a spot that had been the haunt of graffiti artists, it is also in honour of the John Everett Millais pre-Raphaelite masterpiece 'Ophelia', which was painted at the very spot. Community funded and completed by a team of artists and locals it is arresting to come across as you step out of the thistle, Himalayan Balsam and Hogweed choked footpath and into the cool underworld of the railway arches. It depicts a natural world transition from night to day, full of owls, flowers, butterflies, birds, snails and fungi. In a fitting aside, while I was admiring the work, I met a local White Witch. We fell into a long and easy con