For a while this month, I seemed to lose my voice, online at least. I took a break from Facebook and Twitter, preferring to watch the blackthorn bloom and fade then bud and leaf, than be bombarded by notifications and newsreels. I’ve taken to standing beside the car for a moment before heading out on the road each morning, to listen to the wren in the end of the neighbours’ garden. There should be brown hares in the meadow, but not these days. The kestrel caught a vole there a few days ago however; I saw her cross the sky-space above the garden, prize clutched in talons. The celandines are flowering at the edge of the woods. I’ll go and look for them at lunchtime.
We have passed a threshold on the turning year; St Piran’s day, March 5th is always a dateline in my assessment of the seasonal progress. The date I monitor emergences and arrivals by; how many days, weeks before or after St Piran’s were the first sightings of brimstone butterflies, queen bumblebees, chiffchaff…
February was a strange month, initiated with snow and seen off in record high temperatures; a snapshot of our topsy turvy weather and the influence of climate change. The butterflies and bumblebees weren’t concerned about the bigger picture however, they simply felt the warm sun on their backs and lifted off, filling the last week of the month with lemon flight and droning intent. The rooks have begun building too. I wonder whether, if I had taken time to study the rooks construction efforts carefully I’d have seen them reenforcing their structures as a clue to the character of the month to come.
March is said to “come in line a lion and go out like a lamb”. As we reach the middle of the month it is challenging to remember that there are days when the winds don’t buffet and howl as though enraged that winter has given in, or when rain doesn’t shoot angled and sharp, and that the tempestuousness of March won’t last forever, even if it feels like it. One such much-needed reminder came today; Sitting in bed drinking a morning cup of tea, I mentioned to my partner that I hadn’t heard a chiffchaff yet. I didn’t mention my worries; perhaps they wouldn’t make it back, perhaps the woods would fall silent this spring, and if they did return what will they find to feed their hungry chicks in our depleted countryside? In the lull after my comment, as these worries tousled and tormented my grey matter, a sound, almost a whisper, reached past the windows single glazing, breathlessly calling through the draught gap in the back door. I dashed to the door and flung it open, Cool damp air assaulted my warm skin, but it was the sound that raised hairs. A chiffchaff. Hesitant, but growing in confidence, calling in a ventriloquist metronomic song from the scrub beyond the garden boundary.
Standing there looking at the grey-damp garden, drizzle drifting in waves adding its own dreary pallor, I noted the pulmonaria (lungwort) was in full bloom, the elder well leafed. The soft fuzz of willow buds had exploded into fluffy clumps or pollen laden tufts, pale yellow against the shadowy woods behind.
The end of March will be marked by the Spring Equinox, Mothers’ Day, and the changing of the clocks to British Summer Time; this is where the year begins. And the chiffchaff arrived just in time.