I wasn’t on a birding mission today, though as always I was armed with my binoculars; instead I was on the look-out for new wildflowers coming into bloom on a short, hour-long jaunt into the sewage works and surrounding scrub and meadow. It has been a mild few days and despite heavy rain overnight and this morning, clear skies and warm sunshine prevailed just in time for me to head to my local patch.
As soon as I stepped close to the small scrub I could smell the sweet, heady scent drifting on a light breeze from the now almost completely white sewage works woods; Blackthorn being the dominant tree in the small woodland, now in full blossom swing. The air, thick with sugary citrus carried with it another smell; a smell of warmth, of fresh new growth, of rising sap and stem. It is a scent of Spring but not floral – the smell of the colour green, a lush, damp scent evaporating from the ground in warm sun and rising to the nose.
It didn’t take long to find the first new bloom as I stepped into the old farm track leading into the small scrub. A small, wild Primrose shone warmly from the track-side, almost crowded out by encroaching bramble. In the small scrub itself, young nettles have risen and covered bare earth like a great blanket; the mush of rotting stem, leaf and grass under-foot that lingered for many months, decayed into sloppy boot-worn mud has, since late February, vanished. It is welcome.
On the other side of the small scrub, near the woodland entrance, Common Chickweed is in full finite white flower, pressed low to the ground forming a neat mat on which to tread. Young Blackthorn bushes are dotted throughout the scrub, this could be their first year in flower and already they are besieged by several Honey bees and dozens of Hoverflies. The insect life is positively buzzing throughout the sewage works; the Winter Gnats so long alone have been joined by flies of all shapes and sizes, snails and slugs are awash amongst the long wet grass and between the small scrub and the large scrub (some 200 metres) I see Queen Bumblebees of three species; White-Tailed, Buff-Tailed and Early, all searching scrupulously, clumsily for the perfect hole in which to rest and nest and create new life that will buzz throughout the woods and scrubs and meadows for months of glorious sunshine to come.
In the woodland my wife and I stop below the blossom canopy for several minutes just breathing in the scent until we’re almost giddy. It’s like snow in summer; white blooms fill the eye in every direction, the trees buzz with life as the cycle of pollination begins in earnest. The Goat Willow is also in bloom, yellow catkins dangle and unfold from fluffy white buds from every branch, even those that now lay horizontal from Storm Dorris. With heads heavy of scent we leave the wood and join the beck that flows through the sewage works meadow. As always, the Hawthorns dotted here are alive with Goldcrest, Blue Tit, Great Tit,
Robin and chaffinch but there is so much to take in I’m barely making note of the birds today; until that is I trace the boundary of the brook to a huge fallen Willow on one corner and spot a new feathered sight for the edgeland. A Eurasian Treecreeper is busy building a nest in the bowels of the Willow, gutted by the storm. The beck is lined with old Willows and each one now seems to have a Treecreeper busy picking away at the insect lives buried within the crackled bark and veins of these great trees; I always assumed that Treecreepers would favour this bank, Willows after all are the perfect feeding place, especially above water where the swarms of gnats and midges dance, but I haven’t seen a single one all winter.
As I trace the beck along its bank and the canopy thickens I notice suddenly the woodland floor alive with the gold of Lesser Celandine in vast swathes as far as the eye will take. I leave the water’s edge, cut through the young woodland and back onto the meadow path. On the other side I climb the Badgers set in search of signs of fresh digging, of which there is none. It is here that my wife alerts me to the huge raptor rising from the innards of the sewage works, ascending high above the large scrub on the other side. With binoculars raised I’m impressed by the wingspan and V-shaped tail of a Red Kite. Just weeks ago I wrote of the Kite we watched above the fields of Wistow just a mile down the road; I wrote that I expected, with the edgeland in such close proximity and with Kites on the increase, to find one on the edgeland soon enough. Just weeks later and here it is, spectacular as ever and a new addition for the species list. The Kite ascends higher and higher in a spiral before heading off over the open farmland in the direction of Wistow village; it could well be the same bird. This 90 acre site is a raptors paradise with Kestrel, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Merlin and now Red Kite all sharing the space.
In the large scrub, just as in the small scrub, the nettles are beginning to take over and so it is with no surprise that I should disturb a Red Admiral butterfly from the foliage where it likes to lay its eggs. It is the first butterfly I’ve seen on the edgeland this year and a migrant, having overwintered as an adult having most likely travelled from the continent to our English shores some time last summer. Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests line the trees on the border of the sewage works and the scrub; the Chiffchaffs in full song. It will not be long until they are joined by Willow Warblers, Whitethroats and Blackcaps; a whole new chapter for the edgeland. With the clouds of gnats so visible around these works and the puddles black with their larvae (today, in early Spring, they are in my hair, my face, my eyes – in Summer they can be quite the irritant!), I’m expecting Spotted Flycatchers too. Sewage Works; they may stink to high-heaven but they supply a bounty of flies, gnats, midges and mosquitoes for the birds in unimaginable numbers. Every cloud has a silver lining.
Back out onto the farmland and towards the car, the path a mish-mash of crusted-mud tyre track, rubble and grit there is an emerging carpet of blue. Common Field Speedwell is, en masse, in bloom; coaxed out by the warm afternoon sun. The path too is lined with Red Dead-nettle all pink and purple and blue. Flora and Micro-Fauna is erupting from every corner of the edgeland in new waves. As the birds are busying themselves with nest-building and egg-laying the foodstuffs on the menu of chicks up and down the Country is too emerging. The edgeland is busy with new life and will be busier still for many months. It is nice, to have my attention drawn by something other than just the birds; the winter months have been a struggle, both to observe and to conjure new enthusiasm, new writing. Finally, the land is alive again and with it my enthusiasm.