Catkins form, the lion roars and crows take flight

Hello everyone! I am writing this with the wind howling down the chimney and the lights flickering alarmingly as raw, elemental energy rips across our countryside. Despite feeling a tad vulnerable in the teeth of a gale, I take a certain pleasure in experiencing the roaring lion of March, there is a sense of the Universe behaving as it should!

The Ancient Greeks believed that the March winds followed the first sighting of our glorious Wood Anemone (see Wind flowers, Swiss butter & sleeping Greeks – June 2010). Given the weather conditions over the last few weeks, their descendants may well be considering the age-old adage quod erat demonstrandum! Being so low to the ground, the Anenomes (Anemone nemerosa), are relatively safe from the adverse conditions. Fortunately, most of the trees in our little reserve have not yet acquired their photosynthetic spinnakers and are therefore  not receiving the full force of the wind. However, some of our conifers and domestic, flowering trees such as the striking Magnolias dotted around the village are having quite the rough ride.

The trees may be leafless as yet, but many species are adorned with striking golden-brown catkins. Hay fever sufferers are well aware of their significance as their first bout of the annual misery starts. It is estimated that a single Birch catkin produces about five million pollen grains and there can be thousands of catkins on one tree. The March winds are instrumental in spreading unseen clouds of pollen vast distances as Alder (Alnus glutinosa), Goat Willow (Salix caprea) and Hazel (Corylus avellana), to name a few, release their ‘tree sperm’ into the air.

The official Nesting Season is well under way now (dogs on leads please!) and the Feathered Folk are out in force. Thus far, the stars of the Avian proms have been a Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) giving us daily evening concerts from the highest points of the surrounding trees and a Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) serenading everyone with a glorious fluting song.

I am delighted to see that our annual pair of Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) are making themselves at home on the Quarry Wood pond and we live in hope of seeing some ducklings this year. No doubt the ducks will be keeping a wary eye on another visitor to the reserve, the rather haughty-looking Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) that is loitering with intent in the shallow water. If birds ever feel smug then our courting waterfowl may well allow themselves a moment in the knowledge that their nest is in a less precarious position than the gravity-defying heronry exposed to the seasonal gales.

Those of us who enjoy a bracing stroll in the wind-swept countryside or along the wave-battered shoreline cannot have failed to notice how different birds cope with the blustery conditions. Admittedly, you would have some difficulty seeing many species as most, quite sensibly, sit out extreme weather for as long as possible deep inside hedgerows, hollows in trees or just about any shelter they can find.

The North wind doth blow and we shall have snow,
And what will poor robin do then, poor thing?
He’ll sit in a barn and keep himself warm
and hide his head under his wing, poor thing.

Traditional Nursery Rhyme

However, while many small birds conserve their energy others can be observed battling, or perhaps playing, in the strong gusts. For me, the bird that appears to take most delight in flying in the face of the lion is our sociable Jackdaw (Corvus monedula). As mentioned last month these vociferous Corvids sweep across the skies over Crowhurst morning and evening, the stronger the wind, the faster they glide and wheel through the air.

But even their squally skill cannot match the graceful majesty of the Family Laridae, the Gulls. Considered by many as the most unpopular birds in the UK for doing what comes naturally, these spectacular flyers are a joy to watch on a windy day as they soar and bank, reading the thermals with precision accuracy.

I often wonder if, like Humans, other species think that the universe revolves around them and, if so, where they place Homo sapiens on the popularity chart!

For most gulls it was not flying that matters, but eating. For this gull, though, it was not eating that mattered, but flight.

Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1970)

Enjoy the spring, take delight in all other species and sympathise with those of us who are unfortunate enough to suffer during those essential bouts of arboreal fertility!

Put me right at

Paul Johnson

In Quarry Wood in March: sudden bold splashes of Lesser Cellandine, the first two Bluebells, a welcome carpet of Primrose by the gate, an amazing patch of Townhall Clock in the Viking Camp and a strip of fragrant Wild Garlic under the Cave.

Image credits:
Original Quarry Wood photography: Lorna Neville; img 3: Catkins by Mark Robinson used under Creative Commons License 2.0; img 4: Blackcap by Hann Knutssom used under CC2.0; img 6: Mallards by hedera.baltica used under CC2.0; img 7: Gull by Mandia used under CC2.0.


Old Nog and Goistering Daws

One visitor, already seen in the reserve, would not be welcomed by any of these denizens of the pond. An elegant Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) would use that dagger-like beak to make short work of any amphibians or chicks unlucky enough to come under its steely gaze.

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Crowhurst Nature Reserve is a four and a half acre community-owned woodland in Crowhurst, East Sussex, known locally as Quarry Wood. It was bought by the village for the village in 1999 to protect and preserve it.

Paul Johnson is the warden and has been writing a series of articles called Tales from Quarry Wood for the village magazine since 2008. Our little reserve is the central thread and star turn, but his themes often range further, taking in ecology, botany, mycology, history, mythology, Latin and literature. All with a healthy dose of irreverence and the odd bit of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Click here for more about Paul and Crowhurst Nature Reserve; the most recent article is below  and you can explore all the previous articles through the chronological year tabs above or take a more meandering approach using the tags.