As spring blows in with warm, wet, fragrant winds, kissing the rich brown soil, gently buffeting the seedlings and buds as they grow and unfurl - and teasing the pollen from inside the lips of flowers, I'm thankful the cold, damaging gales from the beginning of March are just a memory. How amazing though to have seen a Mistle Thrush in the midst of a swirling storm, standing his ground (perch) as he heralded in the spring from a high swinging branch, singing out his little heart, whilst justifying his country name of 'the storm cock.'
Many creatures are on the wing as the joy of new abundance energizes the air. In amongst the new green fuzz of leaves and icing coloured blossom, butterflies flit. Holly Blue, Orange Tip and Speckled Wood are emerging from their chrysalises. I saw an early Green-veined White butterfly on a blackthorn flower and what initially appeared to be the levitating head of a dancing daffodil as a male Brimstone made merry over the head of a pheasant - so vibrant and colourful. Moving quickly along the side of a ditch in the sunshine, the russet tinge of a bank vole caught my eye. They will be producing their first litters of the season around about now, from grass-lined nests beneath tree roots.
But my greatest excitement is the return of a couple of the beautiful black, white and dusk pink long-tailed tits to my feeder - and my subsequent spying of the makings of one of their nests in the hedge of a nearby field! These stunning, gregarious birds often travel and sleep huddled together in extended family groups in the winter, as they're vulnerable to loss of life in the cold, however in the spring flocks break up to form pairs, whilst still staying in touch.
'Lottie's' as they're sometimes affectionately termed these days, have many old country names, from 'Hedge Mumruffins' to 'Bumbarrels', 'Jack in a bottle' to 'Poke Pudding' many of which refer to the shape of their nests which are shaped rather like a bottle but with a roof and an entrance hole near the top. Did you know that each one of these amazing nests, which take 3-4 weeks to build (by both the male and female) are made of interwoven cobwebs, camouflaged with up to 4,000 flakes of lichen and lined with up to 1,500 feathers? This construction also allows them to stretch so that they can accommodate as many as 15 smooth, white glossy eggs with purple-red spots and then the subsequent fledglings. But if you see an adult with a bent tail, it's probably a female leaving the nest to straighten it! These little birds are also incredibly helpful and caring. One of my neighbour's dogs once sniffed out a fallen nest in a nearby lane. They were lucky as she picked it up, complete with fledgelings and found a safe nearby branch, from which they came and went until they fully learnt to fly. But those birds whose nests are destroyed, whose eggs don't hatch or whose chicks are killed by predators, go and help other 'Lotties' to rear their young, stepping in like an Auntie or Uncle, helping with feeding and flying, nursing and nurturing, protecting and mentoring.
I love the message for us all that these little birds send out in the importance of family and community - particularly during the current anxieties of Coronavirus and in the context of the events surrounding the Easter story. I marvel at the self-sacrifice they all go through in trying to create an accommodating home and successfully raise a family and for those whose own hard work has come to nothing and who are grieving who just move unquestioningly onwards and go and help their friends. Scripture makes it clear that God loves all of his creation and there is great comfort in the thought that our Father who knows and loves the sparrows (and long-tailed tits) does all he can to ensure our own survival and happiness. I wonder if this year we may view our chocolate eggs in a new light? And as the late actor Robin Williams once said, "Spring is nature's way of saying, 'Let's party'!", may you and your families have happy and healthy celebrations this Easter.