10 March and 18 March 2015
Two-in-one this time – aren’t you lucky;) It’s an incredibly frustrating time at the moment. The buds are bursting – or are they? A surprisingly subtle process. I keep pointing my binoculars up at the top branches time and time again and second guessing myself. Unless it’s sunny enough to see the subtle budding greens against the sky, it’s virtually impossible to tell if the buds are cracking to show the leaf tips. I try to time the visits in the afternoons, when the sun is lower at the horizon, and provides better illumination of the branches instead of silhouetting them picturesquely, black-on-sky. To add to the confusion, each species bud morphology is different, so even with the trees which have lower branches it is hard to tell if I am looking at expanding bud scales or the emerging leaf tips. Sycamore has been particularly frustrating here – its expanding bud scales virtually indistinguishable from the smooth leaf tips. Hazel’s fuzzy leaves on the other hand are low enough and obvious enough to immediately give away their secrets. Perhaps the sycamore will be more forthcoming next week…
Last week’s census day felt like an outburst of spring after the week-long wintry grumpiness. Clear skies and lively bird chatter welcomed me at both sites. At Magus my birch’s branches were lit porcelain white against the blue. Birds seemed to be settling into their territories, with songs echoing to and fro from their selected perches. But there were exceptions. I spotted a group of great tits seemingly engaging in a ritual of some kind. Their ‘leader’ would start with a rapid fire of the croaky call, fidgeting on the branch to present its puffed out chest in all directions. Others followed, at a cautious distance, and with what seemed to be feebler voices (you can hear them here). Having ‘done’ one branch, the leader would move off along the path to another at the same level a couple of meters away, his troupe behind him. Several moves later, they would turn around and come back the same way. Were they marking their territories or simply showing off in front of the girls?
My usual Tuesday this week was full of dim overcast air, so I waited till Wednesday’s sunshine started to poke through. The light was not quite right to see the upper birch branches, so I double checked myself against other trees with lower hanging buds. A couple might have been cracking slightly but still a no-show for now, I decided. A rather dull visit, with nothing new to photograph and birds being samey and quiet…so I was traipsing back to the car in a hurry. But then a little delight – a couple of tiny wrens were inspecting the undergrowth, diving in and out from under the tents of dead fern fronds. Rather then their usual melodious song, they too sounded rather alarmed and squawkey (recording here). Was it a predator or was it just me?
Last weeks’ sunshine brought out a greater diversity of birds here – it was not just the loud-beaked tits anymore, but other, gentler small voices. Even managed to catch a faint blackbird song from among the tops of the trees at the edge of the gully, rudely interrupted by the pheasant’s harsh exclamation (listen here). I was farewelled by a silent bird of prey, hunched over with bloodthirsty focus on his electric pole perch near the carpark. And there was also – fanfare please – the FIRST BUDBURST on my hazel!
This week, the indignant bird song mixed with screeches of a group of 2 year olds ‘exploring’ the wood by scrambling up a steep gully slope on all fours and sliding back, together with any ground cover they managed to mush up in the process (listen here). Calmly supervised and encouraged by their carers. I do keep wondering how such a scrap of a wood withstands the relentless daily human, dog and horse assaults… All this while the hazel was budbursting all over the place and the sycamore hurrying on at its heels.