After years of spring arriving earlier and earlier, this year a more traditional late winter pattern was restored as the Beast from the East roared in from Siberia and collided with Storm Emma sweeping in from the opposite direction to produce plummeting temperatures, blizzards, drifting snow and widespread disruption.
The natural world adjusted accordingly so that our garden frogs spawned on 21st March, two weeks later than the year before, while the first summer migrant of the year, a chiffchaff, was singing from the woods behind our house on 3rd April, fully three weeks later than expected.
The next summer arrival, a blackcap arrived on 14th April and for a week overlapped with a brambling, like a chaffinch but with black head and orange breast, which was probably heading for Scandinavia having wintered here.
Our most unusual garden visitor arrived one morning after several rainy days had left the ground soggy, a brown bird which slalomed between the trees of the wood at low level before dropping on to the path behind the kitchen and scuttling into the shelter of the hedge. It moved along, probing with its long beak at intervals, a woodcock, only the second we have seen in the garden in twenty years. It had obviously known where it was going and I wondered how many nights this usually nocturnal feeder had spent in what it presumably saw as a woodland-edge clearing.
The encounter got me thinking and during the next week I spent several evenings sitting in the garden as the light was fading, counting up to five woodcocks flying over the adjacent woods at treetop height, easily identifiable from their plump bodies, long bills held at a downward angle and their rather quiet “Chissick” calls. They were all heading down into the valley, presumably to feed in the riverside fields. I shall look for them later when they do their roding display flights on fluttering wings, making long circuits above the trees.
The spring has so far been a poor one for butterflies, our first a comma on a rare sunny afternoon in the first week of April, probably just out of winter hibernation. I saw no more for almost two weeks until a few newly awakened peacocks and brimstones, including a brilliant yellow male, flew by, then an exquisite tiny holly blue which would have passed the winter as a chrysalis rather than an adult.
I did not see the other characteristic spring butterfly, the orange-tip, until the 1st May when a male perched on the blossom of our cherry tree (pictured), its wings closed to show its beautiful chequered green and white underwing pattern.