Wow, what a busy week for nature this week. First of all the most obvious signs of Summer appeared this week with my first swallow on Tuesday and my first swift on Saturday. I saw a single swallow whilst driving back through the Northamptonshire countryside, but the swift was one of several in the sky above Daventry town centre.
Whilst out photographing architecture on Tuesday I noticed that there were a lot more flowers in the hedgerows and churchyards. One of the most delicate of these is the Cuckoo Flower or Lady’s Smock, Cardamine Pratensis. This flower (a member of the brassica family) has delicate pale pink flowers on a spike. It grows best close to water, but can be found in churchyards and in ditches. The plant is edible and is widespread through the UK. It is also one of the flowers that is recorded as part of the Nature’s Calendar phenology study. Cuckoo flowers are food for the larvae of orange-tip butterflies, of which I saw a number on Tuesday, but they were more interested in the nettle flowers than the cuckoo flowers.
Other flowers that are out, although thought to be a little late this year are the bluebells. I went to photograph some on Tuesday at Everdon Stubbs and they were just starting to come out. There were also a few wood anenomes still flowering along with celandines and stitchwort. Also on the wing were brimstones, but I am still waiting to see my first speckled wood butterfly of the year – I did have a look along the old railway track on Friday, but there were none to be seen.
A trip to Badby Woods on Saturday was a different matter, the bluebells were much more in evidence, starting to give that hazy look when there are so many it is not possible to focus properly. The bluebells, as expected were attracting a large number of bees and hoverflies. I was hoping to hear a cuckoo in the woods, but was disappointed, perhaps it was drowned out by the racket made by chiffchaffs and great tits.
However, a very welcome sound heard as we were walking towards the woods was the wheezy song of a yellowhammer. I used to regularly hear these in the fields around Daventry, but since Lang Farm has been built I have to travel further into the countryside to hear their call.
In the UK a bank holiday weekend is approaching and who knows, maybe the weather will be warm and sunny. So, a nation will get into its cars and head to the coast or the national parks, spend a few hours in traffic jams, looking for somwhere to park, looking for somewhere to eat etc etc. But, what are you missing closer to home? This weekend is the perfect opportunity to go out and look closely at what nature has to show you (for free and without needing to sit in a metal box on a long, boring stretch of concrete).
I have a few suggestions to make, these are for those in the Daventry area, but I am sure there are similar things to be found wherever you live in the UK.
Firstly, at this time of the year the bluebells are a must. In Badby and Everdon there are cream teas available this weekend for those going to see one of nature’s most beautiful spectacles. I went to visit the bluebells in Badby Woods for the first time last year. Apart from the spectacle of a sea of blue in all directions, the scent is astonishing as is the constant drone of the bees. I went to Everdon Stubbs this week which is stunning at the moment, but I was later told is also somewhere to hear a cuckoo, something I think of as the quintessential rural England.
If you don’t want to go that far, how about a walk around the country park. At the moment the hobbies have returned and are swooping about at the far end of the dam, just in front of the trees, chasing larger insects and smaller birds. The swallows, house martins and swifts are also there, screaming about the water (being chased by hobbies!) as are the common terns, preparing to nest on the tern rafts and patrolling along the shallower waters looking for their lunch.
The hedgerows are starting to get their second coat of white – the hawthorn is coming into blossom. Along the ground around the edges of the housing estate, industrial estates and country park are an array of wild flowers. Cowslips are still in bloom, along with the more delicate Cuckoo Flower (also known as Ladies Smock) and, if you look closely you may notice the small purple blooms of the Ground Ivy. As always, darting above the flowers are the butterflies; Orange Tips, Large Whites and Speckled Woods are all there, waiting for you.
So, instead of trying to get away from it all, why not stay home in the midst of it all and relax!