A Year in the Woods: March 2021

This the month when I start to feel human again after the long grey of winter. The life in the soil is bubbling up everywhere, pushing at my feet, opening me up in much the same way it unfurls the petals of newly opening wildflowers. The air is redolent with the early pollen of the willows and there is so much green it feels like standing in a room made of stained glass, all the shades from emerald to sage and everything in-between glinting around me in the bright dawn light.

The heron is now visible most mornings as he patrols the banks of the stream and mill pond, putting me in mind of a fastidious Victorian gentleman picking his way carefully so as not to get dirt on his shoes. The new growth on the banks, although going fast enough to seem exponential, has not yet spread enough to obscure the streamlets and pools surrounding the pond, so the attempts by the various waterfowl living in them to make more waterfowl remain on full and unselfconscious display to all who venture past. I did notice, however, when I splashed my way into the stream to take the video below, that the water level is far lower than is normal for this point in the year.

Dawn at (well, in) the stream

The dawn chorus has picked up in both volume and number of participants, especially in the last week. It’s a joy to be in the woods at dawn and hear the trees, hedges and shrubs come alive with song which seems made to celebrate the return of the sun and the blooming of the wildflowers in the wood. You could hear them in the video above but they only really got going when I reached the highest point of the wood:

“Just after dawn” chorus at the highest point of the wood

One of my favourite parts of spring is watching the various wildflowers and other buds start to open. Sadly this wood doesn’t seem to have any snowdrops, so I wait instead for the white specks of the wood anemones, which are usually the first to appear. They were indeed the first this year but were soon followed by the violets, primroses and celandine and, much to my disquiet, some bluebells which are almost a month earlier than they were last year. The trees are also bursting into life, with buds and catkins and, just at the end of the month, the first white blossom in the wood.

  • Ground covered by wood anemones (single white flowers with a pinkish tinge to them).
  • A closed wood anemone showing how pink the underside of their petals are.
  • A rather early bluebell next to some wood anemones
  • Two violets are flowering.
  • Yellow primrose flowers surrounded by their yellow green leaves.
  • Small leaved plant with a mix of green and yellow leaves.
  • A vivid yellow flower that looks like a very large buttercup but is growing in a pool of water.
  • Bright yellow Celandine just starting to open
  • A branch full of white cherry blossom against the background of leafless trees.
  • Yellow green hornbeam catkins in the morning sunlight.
  • Tiny buds of the pussy willow just visible on the tree branches.
  • Pussy Willow in bud
  • Willow buds fully open and sharing their pollen with everyone!
  • Hundreds of open willow buds, covering in yellow pollen, glow against a pale blue sky.

I am greatly pleased that, as well as hearing the dawn chorus, the set of bushes the wrens colonised last year have started shouting at me as I walk past them, confirming that the tiny feathered delinquents have once again taken up residence. Plus today I heard, for the first time this year, the drumming of a greater spotted woodpecker which makes me feel that spring has properly arrived.

Thanks to a bout of insomnia I have found myself starting my walks in the gloom before dawn. This habit has seen me be repeatedly startled by what I believe to be (based on the calls I hear from the woods at night) a tawny owl. It seems to take great pleasure in dropping out of the trees in various parts of the wood and swooping swiftly and silently past me just before daybreak. I imagine it sniggering to itself as I leap off the path and muffle a squeak of protest. The crows and magpies appear, as usual, just after the sun has rise, along with the wood pigeons and the pheasants, but their chatter has upped a level in the last few weeks and they are now positively dancing around the tree-line of the field on the edge of the wood; spring seems to have seeped into their feathers and sent them into a flutter.

The greenery is growing apace in the woods proper but, as with the edges of the stream, is not yet thick enough or tall enough to obscure the bones of the wood winter laid bare. That said, the hazel trees are now covered in brilliant green shoots and shooting up like teenagers on a growth spurt and I suspect the rest of the trees will not be far behind.

  • A stream, with green growth down each bank, ripples away through the trees.
  • A "plug" of roots from a fallen tree continues to support life with ivy, violets and bluebells growing from it.
  • A tree stump, wound round with ivy, with wood anemones and violets in front of it.
  • A hazel twig with new shoots just emerging.
  • A worn earth path leads upwards and through some trees, every inch of ground either side of the path is covered in the vivid green leaves of wild garlic plants.
  • A worn earth path leads under a two bar wooden fence. To either side are brambles and trees starting to bud. Beyond is green grass and more trees and pale blue sky.

And the rabbits are once again enjoying the resurgence of the wild garlic in the grove on the eastern edge of the woods. I seem to be in daily danger of stepping on one of them, they are so reluctant to relinquish the juicy leaves they are munching on as I approach. Judging by the few fleeting glimpses I’ve had of an orange brush whisking away through the tress on the edge of the grove, the vixen who calls these woods her home has also noticed the rabbits preoccupation and is looking to turn it to her advantage.

And on that thought I shall leave you with a video of the wild garlic grove with more beautiful birdsong to brighten your day.

The gloriousness that is the wild garlic grove. Unfortunately no rabbits or foxes are visible.

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