Thursday, 13 April 2017

Old Wives’ Tales

On an ideal spring morning, with bright sun and temperatures more like May, I would usually expect to hear skylarks above our dunes, fields and commons, but can find only one. They will appear in the weeks ahead, but it looks as though the bad winter, and their continued steady decline over recent years may be to blame. There are no parachuting meadow pipits, or perky stonechats either; perhaps I should be more patient, but Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’, climate change and modern pesticides ring uneasily in my head.

The woodlands and alder carr at Oxwich Marsh smell of emerging water mint. In sheltered glades, wrens, robins and nonchalant blackbirds sing; blue tits on the other hand are definitely few and far between. The distant yaffle of a green woodpecker reminds me that I read recently of their unexplained demise in Pembrokeshire, but not so here. Shining new brimstone and peacock butterflies make for the sun and settle; maybe this will be a better year for them.

On such a perfect day, no swallows or martins feed over the marsh; but they come and go at this time of year. Virgin shoots of reeds break the surface in the reed bed and the brown looking marsh is gradually wakening up. Grey herons glide towards open flashes, and at least half a dozen Cetti’s warblers pump out song from deep vegetation; these new colonists from the south have survived the ravages of winter too. There’s real spring song in the Garden Lane; willow warblers, chiffchaffs, a bubbling blackcap, and an early reed warbler. Invisible in deep cover, it delivers its non-spectacular song a good week earlier than normal.

There are so many reports of ‘first cuckoos’ at this time of the year, but there was a reliable one just west of here yesterday. Cuckooflowers in the hedgerows however are not to be doubted; there’s something believable in old wives’ tales after all.

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