The sun warm on our backs.
The soft notes of a blackbird float gently on the air. Sometimes joined by the scratchy song of newly arrived redstarts.
Brilliant yellow brimstone butterflies flash by on patrol.
Maybe, just maybe spring is here at last.
Mark Ash Woods: wood sorrel, fifteen plus brimstone, bee-fly, two treecreeper nests, willow warbler, cuckoo, seven redstart....
I've been enjoying sketching with Rexel Cumberland, Derwent Studio coloured pencils of late. Sadly my burnt umber is now down to a stub, so if any Rexel reps are out there and like the plug I've given them....................
well you never know!
A meeting with the RSPB at the Hayling Island Oysterbeds to look at future interpretation for the site could only mean one thing. Fish n' chips at the seaside!
We duly arrived a couple of hours before the meet-up and sat like 'Howard and Hilda' munching away, paper bags full of scrummy lunch sat in our laps - if only we had brought a Thermos of tea and a rug, then life would have been an ever decreasing circle!
Scram scoffed, we wandered off for a reconnoitre. The Oysterbeds have long stopped producing oysters commercially, but in recent times they have been preserved as saline lagoons and managed for wildlife by the RSPB and Havant & Hampshire councils among others. And a pretty fine site for birds it is too. During the winter months it acts as a roosting area for many thousands of wader, along with ducks and geese. In the summer the islands are home to nesting little terns, black-headed gulls and of late Mediterranean gulls.
Oddly though, it seems that no matter what time of year you visit, it's always blinkin' freezin'. Temperature aside, it was also clear from the birds we noted that winter was ever clinging on. Brent geese, wigeon and small flocks of
dunlin, grey plover and oystercatcher all vied for roosting space among the gulls, who were noisily setting up home for the summer on the islands.
But all was not ills and chills, a tiny, yet certain sign that spring is finally beginning to reign came in the form of a
steady and most welcome trickle of swallows sweeping Northwards over the meadows. Returning to the carpark along the old Hayling Billy Line, more clues to sunnier times to come revealed themselves. A splash of purple from the flowers of ground ivy, bumble bees motoring indiscreetly around the grassland and three whimbrel passing overhead. Just enough to bring further warmth to our cockles or should that be oysters.
With a shake of the head, dressed fit for a Tudor ball, the dance commences. Another shake, a bow, followed by a mock preen - all mirrored by his partner. He leads her through this routine for several minutes, repeating the pattern of moves. Until at the appointed moment they both disappear under the water, only to appear again yards apart, bills spilling over with quite unattractive black leaves. They swim towards each other, necks lowered like a knight's lance. Just at the point of impact, they raise out of the water on furiously paddling legs, heads flicking they present their treasures to each other. A final flick of the head to disguard the weeds denotes the end of the dance, the bond formed. Bloomin' lovely.
And where did this ancient ritual unfold? A remote bog in Mudfordshire? Not at all, a local country park - Lakeside, Eastleigh. Acted out within a few feet of families playing and fishermen, well err... fishing. Wildlife on your doorstep.
To consider that great crested grebes were virtually wiped out in Britain by vain ladies of 19th century, thinking that they would look better with feathers on, beggars belief. Thank goodness these sort of practises don't go on today. MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!
Thanks to JD for the totally well good tip.
The same thought was going through our heads, but neither wanted to give it the oxygen of life. I blinked first, 'Ikea Saturday', blurted out with immediate regret. 'Ok'. Came an equally fearful response.
Operational plans were made; clinical and sensible. If I wrote them out in full this page would be covered in MI5 black marks. I am allowed to mention a few key phrases to paint the picture - 'sparrowfart', 'darkside of the Hamble', 'disgusting coffee' and an agent called 'Billy Case'. We can never return. Bridges burnt. Enough said and all that.
In my mind, Spring is fully underway and I'm skipping gayly through the woods. In reality, it is snowing outside and I'm seated shivering behind my desk. I prefer the scenario being played in my head, and thoughts lend themselves to all the changing detail in the countryside at this time of year.
A favourite is the arrival of redstarts in the New Forest. A quivering orange tail, a flash of brilliant white forehead a snatch of distinctive song, all point to their return from their African wintering grounds. Quite often my first view is of males. Finding them in holly, perched on the shadowy branches exposed by pony or deer browsing. Soon they sing from the highest branch of the highest tree and the bustle of summer's rhythm commences.
I would like to share a painting made this very morning, but for now I'm bound by work and colds, to painting birdy activities (!) from the window. So one from last year will have to surfice for now. (Apparently not as it happens, the upload won't work.
For Mike W. Who has been missing my blogs of late.
If you're expecting words of wisdom from Dan and Rosemary you may be sadly disappointed. However, if you want to keep up to date with our current projects then pick up the feed at the top of this column.