Garden thoughts – Mark Avery

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A flip side of being able to nip down to Stanwick Lakes regularly this year (see yesterday’s blog), unlike last year, is that I spend less time tuning in to Spring in the garden. But, it has recently been so cold , it’s the wind you know, that sitting in the garden is currently less attractive. It was so warm last year – it was wasn’t it? I’m not misremembering or imagining it, am I? I’m fairly sure I’m not as people have written books about it (see my reviews of The Consolation of Nature and Skylarks with Rosie).

But chilly though this Spring is at the moment, my habit of sitting in the garden staring at the sky has persisted. The habit acquired last year of taking a tea or coffee into the garden with my binoculars, and this year more likely a hot chocolate at the moment, rather than staring at a computer screen for another 10 minutes, has lasted. Although my time spent sitting in the garden this year lags greatly behind 2020 so far, it greatly outstrips previous years. I have acquired a lasting habit and a different relationship with my own space.

Lockdown did not change me from a townie hooked on my mobile phone into a dedicated follower of nature, because that wasn’t my starting point, but it did nudge me into a slightly different relationship with nature. Much is made by nature conservation organisations of how last Spring changed us all so much, but I suspect that the truth is that the change in our relationship with nature as a society is a fairly widespread but very patchy collection of tiny steps towards a greater connection with nature. As with much societal change it wasn’t a revolution but was more of a gradual evolution with spurts and stalls.

And in any case, I haven’t heard many other than a few impressionable media types and those whose business it is to promote nature awareness saying that anything has changed. When the CBI or NFU are issuing press releases saying that the mood of the country has changed towards a greater appreciation of nature and their members must change too, or when politicians are alarmed at the massive change in voters who are now moving to vote Green and asking all candidates about what they will do for wildlife then we can celebrate a sea change.

But as I sit in my garden, wrapped up and thinking that I’ll head indoors again soon, Spring is uncoiling around me. uncoiling Spring is pretty unavoidable at this time of year – it’s ubiquitous.

We’ve been through snowdrops, aconites (I love aconites), lesser celandines, daffodils and crocuses and are now in primroses and daisies. The forsythia pictured above looks great, better than ever, and that’s because it got a proper pruning after flowering last Spring (in the warm) and has benefitted from that tough love. I spent some time slightly envying, but mostly enjoying, my neighbours’ magnolia tree which was bedecked with gorgeous flowers but, sad to say, the recent frosts and winds have done it no favours and the blooms are browned off and blown to bits now. It was a short-time extravagant flowering which was at its glorious peak for less than a week, whereas my forsythia looks as good post frost and northeast chills as it did before them. I wouldn’t have noticed those things in previous years except in the most casual and inaccurate of ways. My attention has shifted.

The wintering Blackcap (occasionally more than one) that frequented the fat balls and sunflower feeder from just before Chrismas until early March was seen on an almost daily basis but then it stopped visiting and a few days later I head a Blackcap singing nearby. Then there was no sign of Blackcaps but I have heard nearby Blackcap song a couple of times since the Blackcaps arrived and started singing at Stanwick. I’ve noted the transition from wintering birds to Spring arrivals in my garden closer than ever before.

And the Jackdaws, paired off and sitting by chimney cowels and pots along the street, are again bringing what look like discs to their perches. They did this last year, they probably do it every year, but I noticed it last year and believe I have figured it out this year. As I sit and watch the Jackdaws they fly to their perches, often the two members of a pair together, and in their beaks are very obvious discs, about the size of a plug for a washbasin – so, quite noticeable in a Jackdaw’s beak. Last Spring I spent quite a while wondering what were those deiscs. This spring, in the cold, I was watching the Jackdaws and i saw one of the pair on my own chimney pot drop its disc and I saw that the disc crumbled as it hit the sloping roof and tumbled into a gutter. It looked, as it broke up, as though it was made of grass, and fairly dry grass. So how do Jackdaws find, or make, discs of dry grass or similar? Then I saw a Jackdaw on the road, pecking at something, and all became, I believe, clear. The Jackdaw was pecking at a drying pile of horse manure deposited recently from an equine backside. Aaah. Now quite whether collecting slices of dried horse shit is for food or nesting material I’m not sure, and I’m slightly surprised by how keen my local Jackdaws are at making use of this resource, but I think that is what is happening. Phew! What a relief that is now clearer to me!

Other sightings in the garden so far this uncoiling Spring have been Brimstones, Peacocks and a Small Tortoiseshell, a couple of Beeflies, an early House Martin (first in Northants this year I’m told, on 21 March, and I haven’t seen one since, anywhere) and a Peregrine and a Merlin overhead.

I’m looking forward to warmer days.

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