Beneath the ground things are stirring and there is hope in the air as we begin to hear, see and feel the spring coming on. I always think February is one of the best of the months as the days are visibly longer and for the first time in ages new growth starts appearing as each day goes by. It is true that we can still experience harsh weather but there always seems to me to be light at the end of the tunnel. This year that flicker of light and hope is important as so many of us have been through a wretched time in recent months; now on the cusp of spring, we have the vaccines that our scientists have developed with astonishing brilliance, which will bring normality back to our lives and prevent the old and vulnerable living in constant dread of the virus.
On the first day of the month I could easily have stayed in bed because I was struck with a migraine. I decided the best medicine would be a walk in the country, although I supplemented this with my trusty tablets. We are lucky to live right on the edge of the Cobbler’s Brook Wood so within a couple of minutes I was listening to birds singing in the trees, as if spring was already here. I stopped to watch for a while, as I could see several birds in the coppice. Blue and Great Tits flitted from branch to branch and a Chaffinch alighted on a hazel bush: my attention was caught by a diminutive bird, darting up the trunk of an oak and then suspending itself upside down before flying off. I didn’t get the binoculars focused on it but I am sure it was a Goldcrest. The Goldcrest is resident in the British Isles but the winter population is boosted by migrants from Scandinavia and Russia. It is amazing that such a tiny bird is capable of travelling this distance, across the perils of the North Sea: this incredible feat gave rise to the quaint myth that Goldcrests hitch a ride on the back of Short-eared Owls who make a similar journey. The image of a tiny bird saddled on an owl would make a lovely cartoon for a children’s story but, alas, this story has no foundation in reality.
Cobbler’s Brook remains very high and I could hear the water rushing through the woodland from some distance; crossing the bridge towards Yard Farm it was a torrent. This point always seems an ideal spot for Kingfishers and I am ever hopeful of seeing one. I know that they have been spotted at Sayers Croft and also at Pond Head Farm, Mayes Green but whenever I visit likely sites I draw a blank.
I am keeping a weather eye on the stretch of woodland visible from the footpath; a couple of weeks ago we saw two foxes making their way along the border of the field and woodland. I think it is quite likely that they may have an earth in the woods, which would be well protected as the stream bounds it on one side and it is impossible to get to the area from the field. This could mean fox cubs soon. Foxes mate between December and February, with a gestation period of 52 days and the cubs are born from March into April.
There is also a lot of activity in the Rook community and this is likely to be a prelude to their early nesting, they usually nest at the end of February and it is then that you can see the rookeries high in the trees.
There is a lot of water about at the moment, the pond in Plough Lane, which was dry in the summer, is now brim-full. Again, it is worth keeping an eye on ponds because this is the time of year for frog spawn and this can appear in any spot where water gathers, even in puddles.
Climbing up the Hilly Field the stand of trees must have been there for centuries: it is surrounded by thick hedgerow with Blackthorn and Bramble making for an impenetrable barrier, although the occasional gap allows access into the inner wood. In the wood the under-canopy is surprisingly open, the lack of sunlight, which casts a rather gloomy atmosphere, has prevented much undergrowth. Some of the trees are evergreen and there are also more recent laurel bushes: alone under this canopy it can be a sinister, underworld sort of place.
Recently the field was the site of tobogganing, ideal because of its steep slope: now the track marks are all that remain. The ground is marshy, particularly at the bottom of the field where the water gathers and Bulrushes grow all year round. As I walked down the hill a woodpecker was doing maintenance work, his drilling clearly heard from a distance but I didn’t see him.
The hedgerow and verge along Lower Breache Road has been cut back and I noticed that the early growth of Cow Parsley has been uprooted. Further along the road the first Primroses are out on the bank. Early flowers are so important and catch our attention after the dearth of colour during winter. As I re-joined the path a Buzzard flew across the fields and made for the cover of a line of oaks bordering Plough Lane.
Although the headache had not gone the sights of the countryside and the fresh air cleared my mind and allowed me to come to terms with the pain. It is another example of how nature can offer us powerful therapy.