By mid-April I had counted 14 different wild flowers blooming, including some early stems of Cow Parsley, Stitchwort and Jack-by-the-Hedge. I suppose I shouldn’t have
been surprised ‒ after all, Bluebells were out a good fortnight early and near and
distant views were already dominated by the garish yellow of Oil Seed Rape. One warm
day in early April, five different species of butterfly flew round the garden ‒ Large
White, Orange Tip, Brimstone, Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral. They paused for a brief
inspection, found nothing of interest and flew off again.
I had news of the first swallow in the village on 12 April. I’m always glad when they
arrive and one warm day around the same time, a slow worm emerged from its hole in
the stone wall and hung lazily basking across some ivy stems. These creatures, which
are not worms, neither are they slow nor snakes, but legless lizards, can live up to 30
years in the wild and 54 in captivity. We have known this particular one since we
arrived here and I always recognise it because there is something slightly odd about its
|Now here’s an interesting thing. We have had a small, round hole in our front lawn for
some time, presumably the home of a vole or small field mouse, though it seems an
odd place for it. Recently, all round the edge of this hole is being neatly cropped almost
to the roots of the grass, as though whatever lives there is dissatisfied with the level
that the lawn mower is cutting it. I keep watching for other signs of the occupant but I
think I’m going to have to sit by it all night before I’m lucky.
|I am slightly immobile at the moment so much of my nature watching has to be done
from the car or in the garden, but drives round here are so full of interest that I seldom
come home disappointed.
|There is quite often a hare that seems to choose its time carefully to meet us as we
drop down into Goat Hill. It takes a quick glance over its shoulder, ambles out of one
field, hops over the lane in front of us, then disappears through a gate on the opposite
side of the lane at a slightly quicker pace when it catches sight of us. He’s so big that
just for a moment I’ve almost thought he was a small deer.
|The hare was first introduced into Britain some 2000 years ago by the Romans (who
else?) and is our fastest mammal, its long back legs enabling it to run at speeds in
excess of 40 mph. Because it is only rarely seen in some areas, it gained a mystique
that has led to all sorts of strange folklore, with pagan, sacred and mystic associations.
As with much of British wildlife, they are threatened by changing agricultural practices ‒
larger fields with single cereal crops per year curtailing its round-the-year food supply
and giving diminishing amounts of cover. We’re lucky to have them round here.
Now, some sad news ‒ well, sad for us. One day recently when the breeze was just
enough to blow the hedge around and the sparrows were making a commotion in it, a
carcass of a blackbird fell out of it just beyond the French window. It was too far gone
to see whether the claw on its right foot was damaged but I’m sure it was Mr Bocelli.
Would any other blackbird have been so near to the window where he so frequently
came for sultanas and company? We didn’t give him a special burial, but as he had
given us so much pleasure in life, we put him amongst the compost so that in a way
he’ll still be giving us pleasure after death. So who’s going to be next, I wonder?
There are lots of blackbirds around but it will be interesting to see whether any of them
attach themselves to us as he did.
|A friend recently made an interesting observation. They have a large garden that,
without obvious boundaries, melds into the Dorset countryside. Consequently a variety
of wild life passes through. He was saying that in the past years he had seen no
pheasant chicks and he was suggesting that this could be due to the number of
pheasants that have been reared for shoots and have escaped. Such birds probably
have no inbred maternal instinct and hence do not breed in the same way, or, if they
do, don’t make good mothers. Makes you think, doesn’t it?