We went away for the weekend (more of this later), so today was my first walk around the patch since Thursday, and while the sun still shone today the temperature had really fallen. I didn't expect to find much difference from when I left it on Thursday, as the winds had not really changed and there hadn't been the badly needed rain. Still as I have found this year so far, if you don't look then you will never know.
In the garden, I have two Amelanchier trees, that at this time of year go into a showy white blossom, and depending on the weather they can give a very lovely show. Quickly after the blossom falls like snow all over the lawn, and blood red berries develop that the Blackbirds and Thrushes devour in June. The blossom is just developing now, and I hope the cold weather and possible snow does not ruin the show.
I set off along the usual track towards Old Down Wood, along Brislands I noticed that small pink flowers were out. These are Herb Robert, and have pretty reddish stems that spread. The flowers are very small, with 5 petals. They normally flower from late April, so these were quite early, and can be found along hedges and banks.
Old Down Wood was quiet compared to previous days, there was no birdsong along the entrance, and the only bird I could find was this confiding Long-tailed Tit.
The tail appeared to be a little frayed which is probably a result of nesting. Their nests are a ball of moss, feathers, and spider's web, and are small. They have to fold the tail over them as they sit in the nest, which has probably resulted in the frayed edges to the tail.
The bird life in general was quiet, even the Chiffchaffs were conspicuous by their absence. One bird that was active though was the Blackbird. They could be seen everywhere, on the open grass, and foraging in the leaf mould. This activity was probably due to the fact that the Blackbirds have nestlings that need feeding. The problem though is that the ground is so hard due to the lack of rain, posing the Blackbirds difficulties in getting their preferred food.
Another plant to catch the eye in Old Down Wood was a Wood Spurge. It had already grown quite tall. Identification is easy as this is the only spurge found commonly in woods. The large yellow flower heads are arranged in groups of 5 to 10, but the actual flowers are very tiny. The stems ad leaves contain a milky poisonous juice.
I came out of Old Down, and once again walked up Andrew Lane, I was hopeful of seeing the Raven's again, but was unlucky. The views from here are wonderful,and I couldn't resist again taking some panoramic views of the hills and fields to the west of the patch. The trees are still developing their leaves and this adds to the dramatic impact the view has. Over the coming weeks the flowering rape will enhance the view I am sure.
More flowers continued to catch the eye, and was definitely the theme for today. it would seem that despite the cooler weather the warmth of last week had accelerated the flowering of some plants a head of the normal flowering periods.
Having reached the top of the bridleway, I walked alongside the rape field, and found this white flower in the bank. It is a Field Mouse Ear, and is usually found on dry grassy banks, which was precisely where this one was.
A little further along I came across a clump of White Dead Nettle. This plant holds a special place for me, until recently I really didn't have time for flowers, and this was even more so during biology lessons at school. I was only really interested in animals, and found botany rather tedious. However the one flower I always remember from then was the White Dead Nettle. I recall having to draw the flower, and to describe the lip of the petal, and and configuration of petals and sepals. The lip provides a platform for the pollinators, and I was fascinated by how the petals would form a hood over the lip. I can still see in my mind the diagram I drew in my exercise book.
I think I also liked the fact that I could distinguish the difference between a nettle that would sting and one that wouldn't. I found them today in several places, and they are flowering early as normally they wouldn't be seen until May.
Walking down the newly treated road surface on Lyeway, the Yellowhammers were calling from the hedgerow. In keeping with all the birds today there was no "cheese" song just the "zeet" call as they tried to get out of my way. While we were away this weekend the room we stayed in had a beautiful watercolour of a yellowhammer and sparrows, and this composition reminded me of the painting, minus of course the sparrows.
In the verge by the side of the road were little white flowers, coming off a spreading leaf that looked very much like a strawberry. I had to look these up when I got back and found that these are known as Barren Strawberry. It looks like a wild strawberry, but the flowers are smaller, and the leaves lack the hairs that are found on a wild strawberry, also it does not have fruit which is the reason for the name. The flowers are also distinctive as they have gaps between the petals. The Barren Strawberry is one of the earliest flowering woodland species, and can be seen from February, this though was the first time I had seen them and not in a wood.
The lords and ladies are to be found all along the roadside, and in the woods. Only a few are showing signs of flowering though, and last Thursday I photographed one that was just beginning. It would appear that over the weekend it did flower, and also became a victim of the cold nights as the spathe (hood) and the spadix (the central purple rod) have become burnt by the frost. I am sure that over the coming weeks there will be plenty of specimens to photograph, but for now this is the earliest.
Along the road side leading down to the school the verge is now covered in Sweet Violets. The Violets especially like chalky soil which is probably whey there are so many around the patch.
It had definitely been a flower day, but as usual with my experiences over the last few weeks, there was a special moment as I walked along Lymington Bottom home. A call from the trees above me caught my attention, and I looked up to find a male Bullfinch in the evening sunshine. Quite a way off it was a challenge to photograph, but it didn't come out to badly.
After the Bullfinch a Coal tit then proceeded to feed amongst the catkins. It seemed completely unconcerned with me and went about working its way through the branches and seeds.
After all the flowers it was nice to end with a couple of surprise close encounters.