I love this time of year. Technically it is still winter, but there are already indications that suggest spring is on its way. There is never a distinct change from season to season, an abrupt transformation that switches the seasons from one to the next. The changes are slow and gradual, which lengthens the sweet anticipation of the next season’s coming.
In recent days, the amount of daylight is noticeably lengthening, and whilst the air temperature has still been cold, there has been a greater occurrence of sunshine. The sun is beginning to gain in strength, and has a definite warmth in it, doing its best to counter-act the still chilly winds. One of the amazing things the sun does is warms up the grass and vegetation, creating a beautiful smell which can only be described as warm and spring-like. Summer is full of the smell of warm grass, but it has been such a long time since we have encountered this wonderful odour, it comes as a pleasant surprise. Another beautiful spring smell is the sweet smell of the wild garlic or ramsons – Allium ursinum. This plant forms carpets in woodlands, and is an indicator of ancient woodland. It is commonly found in verges and under hedgerows, demonstrating that the area used to be wooded.
Other subtle signs of spring that are beginning to show include an increase in bird activity, particularly song. During the winter months, most birds fall silent, having no reason to defend a territory or attract a mate. This is predominantly noticed in birds which form flocks in the winter, such as finches and tits. Some, of course, such as the warblers, migrate in the winter, and a sure sign of spring is when these birds return and once again fill the air with their delightful songs. For the moment, one or two more birds, great tits and blue tits mostly, are beginning to sing again, bringing a distinct spring-like feel to the day.
One of the only birds that will still sing in winter is the robin, as they remain solitary and defend a territory all year round. Their winter song is different to that of their spring voice, is more melancholy, and so as spring approaches the song of the robin will change into a happier tune.
Flowers are already beginning to bloom. Snowdrops flower very early, and have been in evidence for a few weeks already. Other early spring flowers such as primroses are also beginning to react to the longer days. The bluebells will be next, as the bright green basal leaves are already appearing. Soon, the meadow in front of the Lyndon Centre will be full of respendent yellow cow-slips.
Another form of excitement that this time of year brings is the return of the ospreys, which at the present moment is perhaps only three weeks away. Soon they will become restless on their wintering grounds, feeling unsettled. Something is changing in them, a deep instinct that dictates they must leave the spot they have perched in for six months, and undertake a long journey northwards. We can keep an eye on 30(05), who wears a satellite-tracker telling us her movements. When it comes to all of the others, we can only wait for them patiently, whilst enjoying the coming of spring.