It seems as if spring has come early, and I’m certainly not complaining. For the past few days I’ve been stuck indoors trying (and mostly failing) to write through an infuriating case of The Block. Multiple times I’ve caught myself gazing outside at the gorgeous sunshine, listening to the spring sounds of birds and bees that come drifting through the open window. I decided that it was time for a break, so I arranged to meet my friend Chloé for a walk. Chloé is an artist and writer with a deep love for wildlife like me. She recommended a local patch of woodland that I hadn’t even heard of before. I love discovering new wild places, especially ones I’ve driven or walked past without realising they’re there!
Heading away from the noise of the road and nearby school, we set off into the park. Chloé pointed out the numerous trees that could be found here, and I was surprised to see such a variety of species in a relatively small area. I’ve always struggled to identify trees, especially during winter when there are no leaves to study, but Chloé said that leaves can actually be a distraction. She showed me the large clumps of hanging seeds that can be found on ash trees, the dark bobbles along the boughs of larches and the vivid red branches of dogwood. There is another delightful clue with dogwood – the buds have two tiny prongs that look a little like Viking helmets. I had no idea that looking at the buds of a tree could help so much when trying to identify it. Hopefully I’ll start to notice these clues more often when I’m out and finally begin to recognise some British trees.
We headed into the open and followed a path that threaded up a hill, giving us a great vantage point over the countryside. A skylark swept across the sky, flying in large undulating dips before settling on the grass. I saw my first cherry blossom of the year: a stunning spray of white blooms that had attracted the attention of dozens of bees. We stood quietly and listened to the steady, buzzing drone as the bees threaded their way between the flowers in search for pollen – an indisputable sound of spring.
Further down the hill we were just inspecting what we thought was a beech tree when I glanced up and saw a red kite wheeling overhead. We took it in turns watching through the binoculars. It was fascinating to observe the bird’s flight pattern – it moved across the sky in gentle loop-the-loops, following the shape of a tightly coiled telephone cord, all while barely flapping its wings. Its red feathers looked magnificent in the sun, its forked tail silhouetted against the sky.
After the kite had drifted out of sight, we heard a soft clicking noise coming from a nearby evergreen. I started scanning the branches for birds, but Chloé told me that the noise was in fact the pinecones cracking open. It was a surreal sound that I couldn’t quite believe at first. Having always assumed that pinecones opened gradually like flower petals, it was incredible to actually hear them popping as they dispersed their seeds. Apparently, the scales of seed-bearing pinecones flex in response to changes in humidity. When it is warm and dry like it was yesterday, they pop open. In cool, damp conditions, they close up. I found this absolutely fascinating.
Further on through the park we came across my first butterfly of the year: a stunning comma basking in the sun. With unusual, scalloped edges to its wings, the comma is a master of camouflage, using its mottled colouring to blend seamlessly into dead leaf litter. Its larvae are equally well disguised, with brown and white flecked markings that give them the appearance of bird droppings. This individual was lounging on a leaf with barely a twitch of its wings, allowing us to get lots of photos and observe its beautiful markings up close. Its furry body almost looked iridescent in the sun. After a while it turned round, positioned its rear end over the edge of its perch and released a small black blob before settling again. This was another first, not just of the year but also of my life: watching a butterfly poo!
Eventually the comma took to the air and fluttered up into the sky. The shadows were lengthening and the warmth was slowly ebbing from the afternoon, so we began to loop back through the park towards Chloé’s house. It was so refreshing to be able to exchange wildlife knowledge with someone. I pointed out birdsong while Chloé helped me with trees. It really is true that walking outside is a form of natural therapy. When I returned home I was inspired to write and reflect on the day. I’ve also been motivated to start up painting again, after seeing some of Chloé’s work. I dug out my watercolours and acrylics and can’t wait to get back outside while spring is here in full force.