“Nothing is so beautiful as spring,” and the few weeks this year as April merged into May demonstrated to me the truth of Hopkins’ words. Everything seemed to be happening in a dizzying rush – flowers, birds, butterflies: it was wonderful.
I always like to wander through Middleton Woods when the bluebells reach their peak, and this year, because of the sustained dry weather, they were pristine. The colour, the perfume, the vistas through the trees, the flicker of white from a female orange tip butterfly – perfection! I also love the spots where the white stars of stitchwort and the lacy fronds of unfurling ferns mingle with the bluebells making patterns that expert gardeners would be proud of. All the while I was also enjoying the birdsong – particularly the repetitive call of chiffchaffs and the insistent whistle of nuthatches both of which species seem to do well here.
A couple of days later we visited a friend over in Airedale who lives in a lovely spot – a narrow side valley overhung with woods and topped with moorland. Walking down the lane to her house, we seemed to stop every few yards to admire the bronze buds uncurling on the oak trees, the early cow parsley under the hedge and the sweet wistful song of willow warblers. These tiny olive green birds, weight about 8 grams, had just arrived all the way from sub-Saharan Africa – one of the real miracles of migration.
Then there’s the walk downstream from Barden Bridge – my absolute favourite place to be at this time of year. The little wood just below the Tower has recently been replanted and the new growth is just right for warblers. I stood there for twenty minutes listening to the wonderfully sustained song of a garden warbler, the more fluty tones of a blackcap and the insistent crescendos of a chaffinch – a veritable concert. Further into the wood an interesting array of flowers border the path – violets, tall tassels of butterbur, primroses, anemones and celandines. And there is one special plant that I always look out for – herb Paris. It’s not a particularly showy plant but the unusual arrangement of leaves and stem catch your attention Its four rounded leaves grow in a whorl round the stem and the unassuming flower consists of a star of light green sepals surrounding a few threadlike petals and a dark centre. Modest it may be, but not common in our local woods and an important indicator of ancient woodland. It’s in as close as it gets to full glory now!
Our first record for a cuckoo was April 20th at Timble. One was heard on Ilkley Moor bang on target on April 23rd and several friends have reported hearing it there since then from the Ben Rhydding end of the Moor. Cuckoos are in serious decline so these harbingers of summer are especially precious. Lots of poems about them too!