After a relatively dry 2017, the first month of the new year seems to be excited to have discovered rain, and has been enthusiastically demonstrating this day after day. Few bright days have punctuated the curtains of rain, but when they have, they have been glistening gems.
We may complain about the wet weather, but on the flip side it hasn’t been cold. Mild and damp are of course the perfect conditions for most plant growth, and there are already floral signs of spring across my local patch. The hazel catkins have lengthened, hanging like yellow chandeliers on the woodland edges. At ground level, snowdrops are blooming, but they risk drowning as the drainage ditches strain at full capacity.
On the lane-side banks, out of reach of the swelling puddles, greenery is pushing through the winter brown. The twists of wild arum are unfurling, surrounded by the hearts of violets and celandines. Even a few spikes of bluebell are beginning to appear.
The birds have had a tough month; feathers are reasonably water proof if well cared for, but day after day of wet weather can take its toll. It is easier however than freezing conditions, when food, and more vitally, water is locked away in ice and snow. I am concerned about the owls; they cannot hunt or fly in wet weather as unlike the songbirds they traded waterproofing for silent flight. I wonder if they will be able to reach minimum breeding weight by the time that season really kicks off. One bird that doesn’t seem to have been phased by the weather is the song thrush. Their songs have reverberated from the woodland for the last fortnight or more, including one individual that has chosen an overhead telephone cable alongside my work’s carpark as his dusk song perch, and belts out his melody with a determined forcefulness each evening.
I am very much missing the birch tree that my neighbours had felled in their garden below our flat, back in the autumn. The absence of the house sparrows from the vicinity of our balcony is disappointing each breakfast-time, but I can still find them with my binoculars if I look hard enough. I have to pear down the street to the tangle of bramble and creeper at the end of the row of gardens across the road. I counted a dozen the other day, once the flock would have been many times the size of today but sparrow populations are struggling to maintain their presence in our towns. Whilst I am counting sparrows, other birds enter my field of view. Wood pigeons share their tree with two pairs of collared doves. A drift of gulls are startlingly white against the grey clouds. When I left for work this morning I was interrupted by a chattering and was pleased to see a trio of starlings surveying the morning from the television aerial that is mounted high on the roof.
The arrival of February can’t come soon enough. The hours of light each day are slowly, but noticeably lengthening. There are delights to come. Soon the snowdrops will be followed by an expanding list of greenery; dogs mercury, lungwort, ground ivy. Superstition says that the herons should return to their nests by valentines day or it forecasts bad fortune. Beyond the local patch the local peregrine falcons on Chichester cathedral are usually reaffirming their bonds by this date too and I hope to take a trip to watch great crested grebes dance in courtship.