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Nature Notes: March 2020





The air in February was sometimes so still you feel you could almost choke for the lack of it. Stepping outside was like entering a painting - still, silent, unmoving, dry, but lit by golden glowing shades of sun-burnished, frost-bitten hues. Then there were days where it was whipped up and forced down our lungs in blasts brought by swirling storms, twirling silhouettes of buzzards and red kite overhead and flinging sheltering flocks of fieldfares out of trees and hedges like shaken, torn eiderdowns losing their feathers. It angrily hit spewing rivers with driving rain and hail and deposited brittle, angular branches, snapped at the point of budding, on sodden paths and murkey ground. Deluged rivers left islands of pea-green grass amongst reflective pools on the land, with soft, delicate lichen, blown from above, bobbing like sponges and seaweed in a rock-pool at low tide. Herons, picked their way through the briny water, much like egrets along the shore-line. Along with any animals left in the fields, the foxes and deer splashed through water and survived as best they could. February could be summarised as dry, hard and cold, followed by mild, sodden and wet. And repeat ...



The afternoon before Storm Ciari hit, I watched with awe a huge queen buff-tailed bumble bee, fresh from hibernation, taking in the warmth outside my front window, I wonder if she survived? It sounded like a bat found temporary shelter in the chimney during the worst of it. And a beautiful dusting of dusky pink long-tailed tits visited my garden feeder just before Storm Dennis, but I haven't seen them since. Another visitor left me a shiny glass pebble underneath, as if in gratitude.


I love March, the air this month is different. It's full of excitement and change, colour and promise. The sun is stronger and the moon brighter. As the toads continue to plod to their breeding ponds, animals and reptiles are being coaxed from the earth by the sunshine. Lizards are sprawling on sunny logs, whilst snakes lie coiled, under a warm rock or camouflaged in woodland bracken. Soon they will also be sloughing off their old skins so that they look their finest for mating in April/May (look around the base of trees which they use to help extricate themselves from their winter jackets). Adders, our most striking but secretive snakes are in decline, threatened by human persecution and loss of habitat - they're natural predators are also buzzards, pheasants and crows, of which we have many. They only have a brood of youngsters once every 2-3 years which might account for why the males are so territorial. If another moves in, they can engage in an amazing duel known as 'the dance of the adders' when they sway back and forth with entwined bodies, until one slithers away.



Up in the branches above, it's nest-building time. Will we see or hear our first swallow or cuckoo? Many regard this months' 'Lesser celandine' with its tiny star shaped yellow flowers, as the first real harbinger of spring. It inspired Wordsworth to write three poems including 'Ode to the Celandine', and was also admired by C S Lewis, JRR Tolkien and DH Lawrence. I wonder whether it was because 'celandine' is thought to derive from the Latin meaning 'swallow', suggesting that the flower appears at the same time as the birds return from Africa.



I will be looking amongst my feet for 4-leafed clover this month, in preparation for St Patricks day on 17th March. It is thought that only 1 in 5,000 have an extra leaf, but the wildlife author and lecturer Joyce Pope used to have a repeated knack for finding them and kindly putting them in cards to give to me! Apparently, St Patrick used the 3 leafed shamrock to explain the Holy Spirit with any 4th leaves representing luck. There are said to be more 4 leafed clovers in Ireland than anywhere else, hence the saying 'the luck of the Irish'. We're all blessed and 'lucky' to live with nature's beauty around us. May this month see you all with a new 'spring' in your step!