Spring is always a positive time of year for wildlife enthusiasts. Somehow the fresh growth and returning birds gives a sense that all is well. Of course, the problems of climate change, global pandemics and the like are still looming large but for a while the small oases of wild flowers or the skylark singing overhead takes you away from these worries for a moment or two.
Woodlands are particularly evocative of spring. Large bobbing heads of wood anemone, mostly white but sometimes tinted with purple, carpet woodland floors. The slowly straightening heads of bluebells cover the ground under the first emerging tree leaves. These unfurling leaves are a reminder that soon the tree canopy will close over leaving the woodland floor in relative gloom. Elsewhere wild garlic springs up, leaving the air heavy with its powerful aroma and soon it will add its clusters of white flowers. On sunny banks sprays of primroses add their lemon yellows to the mix. Other more diminutive flowers are a bit more tricky to see like the tiny green cubic blooms of moschatel or the subtle yellow golden saxifrage in damper places.
Overhead a song thrush repeats its refrain a few times before trying another and great tits shout out tee-cher monotonously. Chiff-chaffs and willow warblers sing their own very different songs while by sight they are virtually indistinguishable. Many birds remain unseen yet their songs stake out their piece of real estate, few though are as shrill and loud as the tiny wren that lurks mostly out of sight. Above the trees buzzards circle, screeching their call every so often.
At the bottom of the steep sided wooded valley the burn trickles over rocks and fallen branches, casualties of the winter storms. A pair of grey wagtails patrol the water looking out for a place of refuge to make a nest. Perhaps an otter hides out of sight, holed up in a space left by a fallen tree but it doesn’t show itself, preferring dusk when the chance of meeting a person or wayward dog diminishes.
The woodland trees themselves, that cling precariously to the steep slopes, are slowly emerging from their winter rest: the ash probably the last to show its leaves and the oak only a little ahead. Tiny birch leaves are now sprouting and the hazel catkins have been replaced by tiny but growing fresh green leaves. A patch of blackthorn is a blaze of white flowers but is beginning to fade, it’s short show of blossom nearly over for another year; and yet an early orange tip butterfly finds some nectar on which to feed. The male has such striking orange ended white wings while the female lacks this splash of colour. Soon speckled woods and later more specialist woodland species will take over but for now it’s the early butterflies that reign.
So where was I to see all this variety of wildlife? Not some exotic location or secret location well out in the wilds. This was Whittle Dene at Ovingham, one of our largest remaining areas of ancient woodland; sadly a habitat that is relatively rare now in Northumberland. It was a lovely walk, and I am rather lucky that I could be here as part of my job at Northumberland Wildlife Trust, the weather isn’t always so kind and like every job sometimes I don’t leave the computer. Days like this, though, make it all seem worthwhile!