Spring is picking up speed now, and changes are happening. The pond is hosting frog and toad spawn currently. The frogspawn is easy to spot as it is in great clumps, but the toadspawn is connected in long strings and is in the water amongst the reeds so is fairly well hidden.
Ready to bloom
Flowers are getting ready to burst out. The marsh marigold, which looks like a giant buttercup, is already out here and there. The knife-shaped green leaves of the flag irises are present in lots of the wet areas beside the paths. They will soon be sporting their lovely yellow flower heads. A lot of the paths are covered with catkins from the alder trees, looking like rusty caterpillars underfoot. Most of the trees on the nature reserve are either alder or willow. There are a few different types of willow here, for instance, crack willow (so named because the trunk and branches are prone to cracking). Some of these trees are already covered in a mist of tiny green leaves. Another common one is goat willow or pussy willow. Brambles, very dense along the path to the pond, are bursting with new leaves.
Tweet of the day
The birds, of course, are also getting excited. The moorhens, small black water birds with red beaks, are being very vocal and territorial. If you listen carefully you can sometimes hear what sounds like a pig in the reeds. This squeal/grunt sound actually comes from a water rail. It is a small brown and grey wading bird that is superbly camouflaged, so don’t be surprised if you can’t find it. Green woodpeckers and great spotted woodpeckers can be easily heard. The first makes a loud laughing sound, known as a ‘yaffle’ and the second makes a rapid drumming sound as it pecks a tree trunk. At last the first of the warblers from Africa have arrived. They are the chiffchaffs - small brown birds that handily sing their name. As the season progresses so we will receive more warblers. Perhaps by April, we will be able to hear willow warblers, whitethroats, sedge warblers and reed warblers. More about them next month!
You will have noticed that there are piles of cut wood in various places by the footpaths. These are ash trees that have become unsafe due to ash dieback disease and had to be felled, and willow trees that have either fallen in the winter winds across the waterways or have been pollarded (cut back to the trunk) to stop them from growing too large. These piles have been stacked and covered with bramble cuttings to provide a safe habitat for a variety of living things, from hibernating mammals to bees, birds and fungi. Over the summer the tall grasses and rushes will grow up around them to complete their disguise.
Do try to look at as many different branches and patches of earth as you can at this time. Fresh green growth is everywhere after such a long winter. In a flash, the trees will be in full leaf and it will soon seem as if it’s always been summer. Notice this very special brief time of change.