The treasure of spring memories

img_3492It’s beautiful weather today, which is a good job as we were beginning to despair. It’s hard keeping the children’s enthusiasm for The Wildlife Trust’s 30DaysWild Challenge  when it involves going out in cagoules, leggings and wellies again. It’s such a lovely feeling to be sitting in the sun, albeit a 2m by 2m patch I have found near the Cosy Shed. The wood is in full shade now, its leaf roof complete; lush, green and greedy for light, it soaks up every last photon it can reach.

Around me, the wood is in overdrive. There are birds calling all over the place. It’s really hard to see who is who in the trees as the birds dodge through the leaves, moving rapidly from light to shade – the contrast between sun and shade is extreme, and the birds are hard to follow. Eventually, I begin to make out what I am looking at. There are families here; many of the birds are young… and so fluffy! They are unsteady too. I watch as one coal tit does the bird equivalent of a stagger through the bottom of a yew, finally fluttering to catch hold of a thin twig with its feet. It looks vaguely surprised, as almost in slow motion, it swings forwards until it is hanging upside down, still holding grimly to its twig.  Refusing to let go of its hard won perch, the coal tit flutters and flaps until it is the right way up again.

A great tit fledgling flies after its brother or sister, colliding with it as they both try to land, and a young nuthatch struggles to preen at the same time as balancing on its branch. I don’t really think of birds needing to learn to balance, but it must take practise – after all, they have been in a safe, wide bottomed nest up to now, wedged in by the rest of the brood. There are long tailed tits, chaffinches, blackbirds, all looking for food. Many of the birds I finally find with my binoculars are carrying caterpillars in their mouths. There seems to be good feeding at the moment.

We have been very lucky with the nests I have been keeping my eye on this year. Every single chick I have been recording has made it through to fledge. But these little ones still have a dangerous few months ahead of them, as evidenced by the piles of baby bird feathers I come across periodically. It seems harsh, when you see the effort the parents go through, to have a chick predated just as it leaves the nest, but that is a given if you are a bird – clutch sizes reflect the need to compensate for losses in the first year of life.

A little treecreeper comes close. I can see the chocolate and cream of its pristine feathers, the sharp claws on its dark woodpecker-like toes, its narrow beak probing into the moss round the trunk of a tree. And it’s not only the birds that are out and about. As the feeding flock begins to move off, a baby squirrel comes over. It is lovely, but I can’t help wistfully wishing it was a red, not a grey; I know this squirrel’s likely fate.

I decide to go and check on the only nest I know of where the parent is still sitting – a blackbird nest in the root mass of a fallen small-leaved lime. It will be a second or even third brood this late on in the season. As I wander, I find another badger digging with the remains of a wasp nest in the bottom of it. This is the third in so many days, but the first year I have ever seen it happening. One of badgers at least seems to have a taste for wasp larvae. This wasp nest has been pretty deep underground – the badger must have been able to smell it; it puts me in mind of truffle pigs. We need a couple of Iron Age pigs in these woods…

From a distance I look with my binoculars – the female blackbird is sitting, beady eyes fixed on me, spotted throat visible over the edge of the nest. I carry on past without disturbing her, knowing she has at least five eggs hidden under her feathers. Bird song bubbles in the background as I walk. The breeze rustles the branches making the light coming through the leaves flicker over the ground. There is the odd fungus coming through the leaf litter, or growing on the trees; they seem to be appearing with all the rain we have had. They look fresh and delicate, some translucent green, some pure white and some a rich, furry brown. There are patches of gauzy fern dotted through the wood where more light penetrates. All around, the bluebell seedpods have grown into plump, emerald green lanterns.  The ramson at the edge of the wood is dying back, still smelling vaguely of garlic; flowers gone, it now decorates the woodland floor with its seed head sprays, looking like little sputnicks hovering over the dying leaves.

It’s time to head for home. Leaves, that were damp earlier, have crisped up in the sun so I can’t repeat the mornings attempt at stealthy movement through the wood.  I begin my noisy walk back, sticking to badger paths, trying to keep my crunching to a minimum. As I pass camp, a stunning jay glides up onto a sunlit branch; the peach colour on its head shines magnificently before it decides I am trouble and silently drops from the tree and out of sight.  Basecamp is starting to look different. The coppiced stumps of the last couple of years are becoming bushes. In this space, the canopy has dropped to head height. The air is noticeably warmer, intensifying the damp, green smell. The hum of insects is louder. I wish I could stay, but time ticks on.

The contrast between the shadows of the wood and the brightness of the field is marked as I climb the wall. The dew that sprinkled my ankles and made my pumps damp when I arrived has gone, and the field is lush and hot. We are edging towards summer, but I hope the spring lasts a little longer. I enjoy the newness of it all, the freshness that gets lost in the hurly burly of July and August. I am content, just here in time, soaking up the treasure of spring memories.

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