March 29, 2013

In pursuit of spring

It's the Easter weekend, spring is almost nowhere to be seen and Radio 4's three-part programme about Edward Thomas started today – so we undertook our own journey in its pursuit: ours to the high ridge of Farthings Down at Coulsdon, where we've often heard skylarks, and from there down the flint-strewn chalk slopes with their hazel stools, hawthorn hedges and ancient yews to the lovely, rolling flanks of 'Happy Valley'.

We haven't had snow in Streatham in recent weeks – despite the rest of the country's near-blanketing – but traces of it in sheltered spots showed that it had come close to us, particularly on the higher ground.

The new season's young nettles were pushing through the leaf litter, and a single primrose was out – but Devilsden Wood was carpeted in bluebells' strap-like leaves, promising a good show to come:

Instead of the haze of green there usually is at this time of year, the trees were almost uniformly bare – save lichen (the sign of good air quality), a few brave buds and some lovely, pale catkins.

Unsurprisingly we heard no skylarks, but despite the chilly weather there were great tits, robins, blackbirds, magpies and woodpeckers calling (and drumming) in the canopy, a sure sign that territories are being established and nesting is not far off.

And everywhere there was evidence of life: badger latrines and setts, rabbit scrapes, the slot-like prints of roe deer in the mud, fresh mole hills, a mass of pigeon feathers signifying a kill (probably by a kestrel) and a cache of hazelnuts neatly split open and still bearing the marks of a greater spotted woodpecker's clever beak.

Spring may be later than we've become used to this year, but make no mistake: it's coming.