A Tentative Spring

 The Fattening of the Buds

After Easter, I ventured out in search of cheer after this long winter. It had snowed here again – a shake of powder through the trees although nothing settled. Where a few weeks earlier, the wind folded snow into the ditches, it still clung in glossy ribbons,“waiting for more”. 

A mauve smoke of blackthorn curved along the ditch and the treelines were bones against the sky.

Now we are in mid-April and the skyline silhouettes of trees are still bare. And yet…

…and yet at the end of every winter, when the trees have been thin black skeletons against a grey sky for so long, I have found signs of hope.

 Now, when I look up at the trees above the house, I can see their outlines appear thicker and along the lane, a veil of green mist brushes over the hawthorn. There is less sky left in the spaces between their branches. It is a subtle shift. I call this The Fattening of the Buds.

According to those who study the dates of spring activity (phenology), the leafing of the oak has started earlier year on year, in correlation with the average increase in temperature. But the ash stubbornly continues to leaf around the same date.

The oak is responsive to temperature and the ash to day-length. Maybe this gave rise to our country saying – ‘Oak before ash, we’ll have a splash; ash before oak, we’ll have a soak’. Each year I check our trees to see if it is an ash year or an oak year. This year, of course, I will be checking for tree diseases as well.

A few days ago, over 500 fieldfare and redwing, spent the day resting up, feeding and flirting in the back field. They signalled the change to a southerly wind and the next day they were gone. In their place a pair of swallows returned to the barn and a house martin circled in a wind-swept dalliance, checking its mud nest was still here.

There is something almost magical about the first sight of these summer visitors, hearing the musical chatter as they arrive; seeing the swallows skimming across the wheat fields. I look at them and never lose the wonder at their long journey back across the desert.

Some of our resident birds are nesting but the yellowhammers and reed buntings are still returning for seed. Signs of spring should rapidly increase now and we wait to see how many of the summer birds make it back.

And at night, our toad patrol has been busy. The first combination of a mild and a wet night, drew them from their winter hiding places. Over the last four or five nights we have collected around 700 toads as they made their way across the two roads that circumnavigate the pond. This year they were quite frisky, no doubt keen to get to the breeding pond and make up for a late start!
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