Spring’s coming, but patchily! Last week – morning and evening – a song thrush shouted his song from our neighbour’s garden. It’s a wonderfully assertive song, impossible to mistake, with its repeated phrases and piercing whistles. It’s also reassuring. Song thrush numbers have declined over the past twenty years: loss of hedgerows reduced the availability of nesting sites and careless use of slug pellets against snails, an important food source, no doubt poisoned many young birds.
Birds are not the only singers welcoming the new season. My stepson in Wales reported that, on 4th February, his pond was ‘stuffed full of frogs’ all croaking their chorus hoping to call in the females. Then, last week, the first spawn was there, so some, at least, must have responded to the invitation. From the west coast of Scotland, too, where the weather has also been much milder than here, my brother-in-law tells me he found frogspawn in the ditch beside the forestry track near his house. This might seem an unlikely spot but it’s surrounded by marshy land where, no doubt, frogs live comfortably all year round. Sometimes, in their enthusiasm, they lay the spawn in puddles in the track, which often dry up before the froglets can get their legs and leave – but such quantities of eggs are laid that most are expendable and no doubt go to feed a range of other creatures, in the water and out, including some resourceful blackbirds.
After the last cold spell, my husband and I went for a walk near the Old Bridge in Ilkley, hoping to catch a glimpse of the kingfisher that some friends had seen there recently. We weren’t lucky but, under the hedgerow, we spotted the emerging funnel-shaped shoots of wild arum, or lords and ladies as I learnt to call it as a child. It used to grow along Menston Old Lane, and we always regarded it as a definite Sign of Spring!
Further along our route beside the Wharfe, there’d been a slippage of the river bank and the pathway was closed so we had to cross a field and rejoin the road. And there, tucked cosily in beside the steps up to the little gate, was a lesser celandine in full and glorious yellow flower! Just the one – it had found the perfect spot, south-facing and sheltered by the hedge – a perfect micro-climate.