Lockdown Nature Notes 6

Despite the cooler, greyer and, sometimes, wetter weather of last week, spring marched on. Subtle changes are being made to the overall picture – Cow Parsley has come to the fore and is frothing generously along many roadsides, Ox-eye Daisies have started to appear as have wild Lupins, Changing Forget-me-not, Lesser Stitchwort, Hedge Cranesbill and the delightful, lemon yellow, Mouse-ear Hawkweed. In the woodland, the first delicate flowers and leaves of Pignut have emerged. There is still a lot of Greater Celandine to be seen but Lesser Celandine has all but disappeared now as have Wood Anemones and Moschatel.  Here and there you can find some of the spring fungi. Right on cue (23rd April) St George’s Mushrooms arrived; the most noticeable feature of this species is the strong, mealy, smell.

On one of the wetter days last week I found a single Welsh Poppy flower. It must have been a garden escape but what interested me was that it was growing between the pavement and a railway bridge where there wasn’t any apparent sustenance for it and this got me thinking about plants that push their way determinedly through tarmac or grow in other inhospitable places like walls.  Yes, of course there is earth somewhere, but think of the tenacity needed for those plants to grow and flower in such difficult places. Start looking at walls and you will find many unexpected plants – in my garden there was a Sweet Violet growing about 3 metres up in the bricks. Dandelions, Yellow Corydalis, Ivy-leaved Toadflax, Ferns, Brambles, Liverworts, Mosses and Lichens, even tree saplings, all seem to be able to thrive in what, to us, look like impossible conditions.

At Witley, the Nightingales (possibly 3 or 4) are singing well and the Garden Warblers have arrived. So, now begins the perennial problem of distinguishing their song from that of the Blackcap. Currently the differences are quite marked, but later in the season, both species seem to relax and to take on parts of each other’s tunes, which totally confuses those of us who thought we’d at last cracked the problem. At the moment the Blackcaps have loud, confident voices, their notes are clipped and their vowels are rounded, rather like the newscasters of the 1940s and ‘50s only more melodic. The Garden Warblers on the other hand, have some exquisite gossip to share and it’s so exciting that they are falling over themselves to tell you the details. Their words run into each other, they don’t pause for breath, and even if you put the phone down and went to make a cup of tea, they’d carry on without bothering to find out if you were still listening. Some people liken the song to a babbling brook or continuously rushing water but to me it sounds like scurrilous prattle. Listen carefully though, and by the end of summer the Blackcap will be slurring its words and the Garden Warbler will be slowing down, more cautious in what it says, maybe becoming aware of the possibility of being sued for slander. On Sunday I heard and saw a lone Swift wheeling above the garden – at last! But it was only one and I was beginning to fear that they might have been affected by the storms in early April which hit Greece just as the migration was in full swing. However, today there were four screeching overhead so, thankfully, numbers are building up!

Sunshine and warmth is promised for this week – until the weekend when it sounds as though we’re in for a couple of very cold days but at least it will remain dry – well, that’s what they’re saying at the moment…

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