I will take a risk and say that spring has arrived! The easterly breezes are very welcome here in North Devon, as it means dry and warm weather, and has been over a week since the last rain fall. Although wall to wall sunshine is predicted for the next ten days, winter never seems to give up that easily, and each morning the frosts are just enough to keep shrub and tree growth in check.
Other than the rooks, I have seen no sign of birds nesting as yet, but that can only be days away. However, one of my free range hens has just come off a nest with 5 chicks. Escaping the normal nightly shutting-in procedure (used to protect against foxes) by nesting under a stack of fencing stakes propped against the barn, she and her brood were extremely lucky, to avoid the local roaming fox population.
With daylight now at 6.00 am, the first noises of the day are distinctly spring-like, and at the moment are usually a pair Canada geese prospecting the Mole Valley for a nest site. And any day now, the Mute Swans should return as they have done for many a year, with the whistle of their wing beat giving away their graceful site. Often both geese and swans drop into the Golf Course during the spring, although the swans have never attempted to nest on our ponds. The mallard ducks are all paired up and seen flying morning and evening, up and down the valley.
Though there is little sign of buds bursting on trees or in the hedges, the primroses and wild daffodils are out and at their best now, with dog’s mercury and wild garlic pushing up quickly in the base of the hedges. The honeysuckle has burst into leaf, the catkins on the hazel are expanding rapidly and, any day now, the pussy willow should be out. Anyone walking in deciduous woodland here in Devon, won’t fail to see the Bluebell leaves pushing up through the leaf litter. Give it four weeks or so, and they will be in full bloom.
The best place to see the wild daffodils is on the banks of the Mole where myself and a friend, were excited to fish at the beginning of the week as our first foray to the river since the season started on March 1st. We fished in the warmest part of the day and conditions were near perfect as the colour and height of the water allowed good visibility. It was warm and you could wish for little more at the beginning of spring. Although as the sun fell, and the river was left in shade, the temperature dropped like a stone and our fishing abruptly stopped due to being frozen from the waist down. The water temperature is so important at this time of year for both fish taking the fly, and the fisherman, while Julian did get a salmon take briefly, wading in such chilled waters dampens one’s enthusiasm very quickly. It’s important to remember that it’s not about the number or size of fish caught, but just being on the river! I saw several dippers, and also saw two crows mobbing the first Red Kite of the season as it flew directly overhead. Red Kites are not a common site in Devon as they aren’t established here as in parts of south eastern England.
For anyone interested in birds, this wooded and pastoral part of Devon is as good as you can get. On a walk here, you will see many species, especially now before all the leaves are out. This last week we have spotted Bullfinches, Yellowhammers, Siskins, Long tailed tits, Marsh or Willow tits, Nuthatches, Tree Creepers, Goldcrests, Greater Spotted Woodpeckers to name but a handful of the sightings. Keen to log the first swallow or martin I will be keeping my eyes peeled for their arrival, which can be anytime from mid-March, with largest numbers arriving in mid-April. To make to most of a visit to Highbullen always bring the binoculars and walking boots.
The Golf Course is the driest it has been for 5 months and our team under the leadership of our new head greenkeeper, Mathew Coles, is flat out catching up on months when little could be done.
Long may this weather last, give it a few days and all will be very different out in the countryside.