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March Ramblings

2nd April 2024 – by Henbury Webteam
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Occasional Notes from a Dog Walker

March 2024

St David's Day dawned cold and wet. It was supposed to be the first day of "meteorological spring". As Dot the Dog and I approached the cottages on our morning walk we discussed whether or not it was cold enough to snow. Bang on cue it started to sleet. By late afternoon (dusk really) things had dried up a little thanks to a cold breeze, but it was light enough for us to see that there was snow on Shutlingsloe, Macclesfield Forest and Shining Tor. DtD found and followed a scent dragging me along behind – it led to a rabbit kill, almost certainly by a fox. DtD was rapidly pulled away despite her reluctance. As we walked on in gathering gloom a tawny owl flew low over the field and swooped up into the trees by the school. We usually hear the hoots at this time of year in the evenings, but not yet this spring.

A few lovely sunny days followed. We could see that the last vestige of snow had disappeared from the lee of the wall that encircles the summit of Shutlingsloe. The hawthorn hedges began to show green, and on the Millennium Green the blackthorn blossom appeared as bright, pure white – stock of gin must be laid in ready for the ripe sloes in autumn! The sunshine had a definite hint of heat and DtD made the most of it, sunbathing on our patio – her black furry areas were quite warm when she finally came inside for her tea.

Morning and evening birdsong increased. The kestrel quartered and hovered over the fields, using the breeze to minimise its effort, and the resident wren that lives by the cottages flew across the path ahead of Dot the Dog and me. A buzzard mewed – out of my imperfect sight but DtD was clearly watching it over Whirley way. Meanwhile Mrs Sparrow-Hawk sat atop our bird feeders for a few minutes – but no small birds dared venture out of the hedge so she flew off. The little'uns rapidly came back to feed!

Two lots of frogspawn appeared as ever in our little garden pool. I must clear the debris and replant the water plants before the tadpoles appear! Unfortunately the wind became icy again, with driven rain, so the project had to be postponed – there is a limit to my devotion to wildlife...

Tractor tracks appeared around the edges of the fields – checking the hedges and fences ready for the arrival of this year's steers in a few weeks, perhaps.

Waking at 6 o'clock on a mid-month morning there was the first full-blown dawn chorus of the year that I had heard as daylight appeared. It wasn't raining then – but it did soon afterwards! The garden birds began to pair up (male blackbirds becoming quite competitive).

Into the second half of the month. The weather was "soft" as the Irish might say, as we approached St Patrick's Day. Even so, Spring had taken control. In the garden and on the Millennium Green the marsh orchids were up (admittedly the first foliage only an inch or so high as yet). A queen buff-tailed bumblebee explored the garden looking for a nesting site – unlike honey bees they don't store honey in nests (or hives) so only the queens survive winter hibernation and are responsible for producing the next year's generation. S saw a brimstone butterfly crossing in front of the kitchen window. All in all the spirits lifted – a bit.

Dot the Dog and I watched the kestrel pursuing a rabbit, the bird flying low and fast over the field – the rabbit was lucky, managing to get under a hedge bottom just before the talons seized it. The kestrel flew up into the top of a hedgerow tree with a sort of shrug – "next time, maybe".

There came a sort of sunny, warmish day. A ladybird came out of hibernation and sat sunning itself on our garden bench as we tidied up Dot the Dog after a walk over the fields. The warmer days and brisk breeze had dried up the wet and mud enough for her to need a mere few strokes with a towel over the paws rather than a full wash down. As a complete aside, on the same day S and I had visited the Concorde exhibition at Manchester airport – on leaving the hangar we heard a skylark singing its heart out somewhere above us. Spring had truly sprung whatever the Clerk of the Weather may have thought! The following day the rains returned and the mud and puddles ("muddles" perhaps) had reappeared. DtD was filthy on our return from the morning walk – but Mrs Wood-Pecker came to feed on the feeders and again our spirits were lifted – a bit.

Self-sown wild violets appeared in the garden and annoyingly in containers where they had no right to be – once they get a hold you can't get rid of them!

Another few sunny days – and now the sun had a definite hint of warmth (if you could escape a rather chilly breeze).

S thought she saw a blackcap on the bird feeders. As a summer visitor it seemed a bit too early, she looked it up in the bird book and she was sure when she had looked at the pictures. I was a bit sceptical but lo! – it reappeared the following day and there could be no doubt.

Dot the Dog was elated by the combination of warm sun on her black coat and a cool breeze under her tail. One afternoon she set off at a cracking pace and although she wasn't pulling on the lead I felt I had no choice but to keep up (good for the heart and lungs!). The 6/8 time of my footfall was perfect for Strauss's Radetzky March (da-da-da – da-da-da – da-da-da-da) so I started humming the tune. We passed another, unfamiliar, dog-walker who looked at me as though I ought to be locked up in some kind of secure institution – we encountered her again the following morning so out of devilment as she approached I urged DtD on and started humming again; I think she felt her opinion was fully justified...

Since the sun was shining and the mud on my walking boots had dried I went into the garden to bash the soles together in order to get rid of the worst of it. "Bang, bang". A jackdaw sitting in a garden tree came back "jack, jack" but I thought nothing of it until I went "bang, bang, bang" – the response came "jack, jack, jack". I decided to try an experiment so I went "bang, bang – pause – bang, bang, bang". Sure enough the reply came – ""jack, jack – pause – jack, jack, jack". Remarkable birds.

That afternoon we saw a buzzard seeking a thermal updraft as we crossed the fields – it finally found one and wheeled up, wings outstretched.

The good weather ended, of course – with heavy rain and hailstones and back to the hose for a muddy DtD!

Even so, Spring moved on. Wood anemones flowered in the wild (a bit neglected) bottom end of the garden, along with wild-type primroses. A male bullfinch pecked at the buds on the amelanchia tree – fortunately thus ignoring the just-opening flower buds on the damson that presaged a good display and crop.

As Easter came closer, typical Easter weather arrived – one afternoon Dot the Dog and I had bright sunshine, rain, hail, snow and sleet all in the space of 45 minutes! Then a sunny Good Friday (rain again later on). A queen wasp appeared on the landing window (inside – how on earth did she get in?) and was swiftly ushered out.

Easter weekend continued sunny and almost warm instead of cold and wet on the national forecast – and the clocks went forward (I hope yours did – DtD had to adjust her daily routine just like us!). The collared doves seemed to have paired; for some time we have seen only a single one in the garden and they mate for life. They were quick to take tree-shelter – I understood soon after as Mrs Sparrow-Hawk made her regular patrol. Next day Mrs S-H sat in the damson tree, watching the feeders "like a hawk". Eventually a hapless goldfinch came for lunch – in a flash Mrs S-H had it and disappeared with it behind a large rhododendron bush. I suspect she thinks the feeders are a buffet-bar that we have set up for her benefit!

As ever

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