ONLY TWO or three weeks ago, most of the trees were still bare and, with the exception of the early flowering blackthorn bush, the hedgerows were only just stirring from their winter slumber.
Yet, walking my two dogs just last week, I became aware that everything around me had burst into life, seemingly overnight. The hedgerows and woodland are suddenly lush, verdant and the most vivid shade of green imaginable, whilst celandines, milkmaids and cowslips - trusty and cheerful harbingers of spring - now punctuate the meadow floor.
On warm spring days, I’ve spotted grass snakes basking in the sunshine on the marshland where we walk, recharging their batteries after their long winter hibernation. My German Shepherd, Wolfie, who is extremely sensitive to even the slightest rustling noise in the undergrowth, often alerts me to their presence. Her head cocked on one side, she seems most perplexed by their aggressive reaction when she gives them an inquisitive sniff.
A few weeks ago, she disturbed a particularly angry specimen, which had probably emerged from hibernation a little earlier than he should have done and seemed more than a little put out by the still chilly weather. By way of warning, he lunged forward as if to strike - a move that caused poor Wolfie to run for cover.
In the company of my brother and my three-year-old daughter, I spent a happy morning on the look-out for frogspawn in a nearby pond; a ritual observed at this very same spot by generations of local children each and every springtime. We were rewarded with a writhing mass of frogs and toads among the reeds in a shady overgrown corner of the pond, where their precious eggs would no doubt be safer from predators. Whilst frogs lay huge mounds of round eggs, toads produce long bead-like strands that they entwine around the plants, so it’s quite easy to tell which is which.
Just last week on one of our morning walks, my labrador, Bobbie, discovered a pheasant’s nest that had been destroyed by a predator during the night. All that remained was a huge pile of feathers and an empty nest. Unfortunately, the foolish pheasant had built her nest in a clump of grass on open ground that offered very little cover. It was right next to a pathway that’s well used by me and, no doubt, predators too. It’s highly likely that a roaming fox would have easily sniffed her out and literally snatched her from her nest. Nature can, of course, be cruel, but foxes also have hungry mouths to feed at this time of year.
Lighter nights mean that we’re much more likely to stumble across wildlife on our evening dog walks. Only last night, I watched a barn owl hunting along a hedgerow as I walked along the perimeter of a field. Unaware of, or perhaps unfazed by, my presence, it was heading straight towards me, hovering for a few seconds here and there as it scanned the ground for potential prey. Just as I thought we were on a collision course, it veered off over the hedgerow at the last moment; a wonderful sight.
For the second year running, the barn owls are nesting in a box that a local farmer has erected in an old ash tree, so this will hopefully be the first of many such encounters over the summer months.
One evening, just after dark, I was driving down the quiet, unlit B-road that leads to the village where I live and on a journey of little more than a mile, my headlights picked up a roe deer standing in a field at the roadside (I slowed right down in case it bolted across the road, as they so often do), two hares running parallel with the road and a barn owl - probably one of the same breeding pair - hovering above the verge.
Seeing such an abundance of wildlife on an almost daily basis is one of thing best things about living in the countryside.