Nature Journal - Winter becomes Spring

It’s a bright, cold day.

The heavy rain has passed now, leaving deep puddles and squelchy mud.  Some of the paths are almost impassable, blocked with ankle deep pools of water. Sturdy walking boots, plus the ability to jump, are what’s needed today. I manage to hop and scramble, taking the Dragonfly Path, to find out what’s happening on the marsh. 

Clear blue sky is dotted with a few large, fluffy clouds, in shades of pale cream and ochre. The air, filled with birdsong, smells sharp and clean.   Brambles, heavily cut back last year haven’t yet begun to grow, so the path is easy to follow, but I slip and slide, dodging the water filled ruts in track. 

Exposed branches are laden with treasure; golden scales and cups of the Sunburst lichen, Xanthoria parientina. Bud break is almost here and soon this beauty will be hidden, as the delicate tracery of new leaves covers the hedgerow.

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Bunches of dried ‘keys’ hang from many of the ash trees which line this route. The seedpods rattle slightly in the slight breeze. I notice the flat, silvery bark is home to more varieties of lichen, which I need to identify.

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Approaching the rhine, my presence surprises a moorhen, who scurries for cover. Last year’s dried and hollow reed stems stand still and upright like sentinels, but, in the water below, weed and algae are coming to life.

The watercourse was dredged in December, and silt and detritus piled up on the banks. It’s a surprise to find wild mustard a very early riser this year, making the most of the rich soil from the ditch. I spot some plants which have already put out leaves tinted with maroon red - a sight I wouldn’t expect to see for several months.

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Following the old tarmac road alongside the rhine, I keep a watchful eye for water voles, and become aware that small drifts of autumn leaves have gathered in pockets along the bank. Closer inspection shows them to be from the black poplar. They have skeletonised over the winter, and look like scraps of tattered lace, scattered….

Turning for home, I find the first celandine bud of the year, on a roadside verge. A sure sign that spring is emerging in the West Country!