Originally published June 2016
Hello everyone! If not flying, time is definitely rattling along at a rate of knots. One minute it is January, and we are battling against strong winds and driving rain, a bat of an eyelid later it is the last day of May with squally winds and rain showers! Here we are half a year down and the Glory that was Spring has moved on, albeit reluctantly, to the long days of Summer.
The gently nodding flowers of our native Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non scripta) have been replaced by thousands of green pods full of little black seeds, none of which will develop into flowering bulbs for four or five years. However, our glorious Bluebell woods have been established for many decades, if not centuries, and so many plants are at different stages of their reproduction and growth cycle that we can take comfort in the fact that our fragrant, blue carpets will appear every year, or at least for as long as we look after them. Wood Anemones (Anemone nemorosa) and Winter Aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) have also had their day for this year and the cloud-like mantles of Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum) are nothing more than memories, a faint scent on the breeze and the odd jar of Garlic Pesto in the fridge.
The last verses of the early morning Dawn Chorus have been sung and many of the Feathered Folk such as our tuneful Blackbird (Turdus merula) are busy with their second or even third brood of the season.
I am sure most people are acquainted with the rich, lilting song of this most familiar of birds, but how many can distinguish between its many, distinctive alarm calls depending on the nature of the threat to the bird’s nest? It is interesting to note the difference between the calls when, for example, a cat is in the vicinity of a nest and when some clumsy human disturbs a spot of foraging in the undergrowth; definitely worth listening out for! At this time of the year the male birds are defending their territory with vigour and will not return to their solitary, though amicable, lifestyle until the last brood has flown the nest. One interesting, though unseasonable, fact about the Blackbird is the use of its archaic name in the old English carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas. No, not Leaping Lords but rather the Calling Birds of the fourth day. Carol singers in the 18th Century would have used the term Colly Birds, meaning Black as Coal, although it could be argued that both versions describe the bird equally well.
The last few weeks have seen a magnificent display of blooms as the flowering trees have donned their late-spring plumage. The candle-like flowers of one of our favourite non-native trees, the Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), have provided breath-taking vistas of cream and red which would not have looked out of place on a Christmas tree.
Coincidentally, the very same colours have been used to stunning effect by the ubiquitous Hawthorn, Common (Crataegus monogyna) and Midland (Crataegus laevigata). We are fortunate to have a goodly number of mature hedgerows in the area where we can enjoy the creamy cascades of Hawthorn flowers as we stroll the lanes. In addition to these, it seems to be a particularly good year for the pink and red varieties of Crataegus dotted around the village.
Mayflies (Ephemeroptera) are adding flashes of iridescence to the backdrop of greenery in our little reserve. I spotted what I thought might be a Common Club Tail Dragonfly (Gomphus vulgatissimus) in the reserve whilst wrestling with tree trunks on our last working party. It was a very brief sighting and I would not presume to confirm it, but if it was this particular Dragon it would certainly be a feather in the cap for QW as the species is rarely seen in Sussex. Keep a weather eye on those colourful Hawkers and Darters (see Damsels and Dragons – October 2009), it could prove to be an interesting year! One insect I did not spot, at least until it moved, was a beautiful little Speckled Wood Butterfly (Pararge aegeria). Once it settled to enjoy the sun on the woodland floor it seemed to disappear. You can test your observational skills on the photograph posted on the Facebook QW page.
The commencement of our Summer months has an additional benefit to those of us who enjoyed our Moth spotting weekend last year. Yes, we are going to be doing it all over again! One of The Powdermill Trust’s finest, Ralph Hobbs, will be joining us in Crowhurst for the weekend of the 25-26th June. The ingenious light-trap will be opened at 10.00 on Sunday morning to the delight of the village Mothites. If you saw Lorna’s marvellous photos from last year’s event, I am convinced that you can do nothing less than yearn to come along and see for yourself!
In our part of the world, the passing of the seasons furnishes us with an annual yardstick to help judge just how quickly time flies. However, the most sobering measure of our allotted span on this mortal coil must be the loss of those around us. If I may I will take this opportunity to mention my aunt’s husband, Keith Thompsett who passed away early in May after a long battle with illness. Keith lived in Hollington as a child and often reminisced about his walks through the woodlands that covered the area seventy years ago. He loved the village of Crowhurst and entertained us with tales of the people he came across on his perambulations. Keith was kind enough to read all of my articles for the Crowhurst News and was always very complimentary. Walk freely now Keith!
Spring into Summer, suddenly,
No duffle coats in sight!
If you’re like me, you’ll wait and see,
We could get snow tonight!
Denis Martindale 2011
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Quarry Wood photography: Lorna Neville; Img 7: blackbird by Hans Slinter used under Creative Commons License 2.0; Img 8: horse chestnut flower by mksfca used under CC2.0; Img 10: Mayfly by Sarah Gadd used under CC2.0