I fear that I have neglected my local patch for some weeks, having been somewhat distracted. My observations have been restricted to the jackdaws that make scavenging forays into the carpark at work, the goldcrest that has been singing from my neighbours birch tree, and the wood pigeons that are determined to nest in the rafters of our car port, despite the attentions of the local cats. One morning this week I awoke early, and suspended in the cool air that rode in through the open window on a the first rays of the sun, was a delightful mix of bird song. I recognised the blue tits that are considering nesting in the bird box on the other side of the garden fence, the squabbling sparrows that seem to never run out of things to argue over, and the laughing call of a green woodpecker. The mewling cries of three herring gulls seemed incongruous this far inland. But it was the blackbird that made me smile. For days, two males have been intent on chasing each other throughout the row of gardens, whilst the female obsessively gathers nest material, even filling her beak with mud from the guttering. It was good to hear the blackbird start to sing at last, not in the distance, but proclaiming his territory from last year's favoured perch, the topmost branch of the oak sapling next door.
This morning dawned similarly. When startled into bleary-eyed consciousness by an early morning text message alert, I could hear the bird song that had pleased me so much that other morning, but soon realised, from its quality, and from the brightness of the sunshine beaming from the east, that today was going to redeem the slow spring and was certainly one of which not a moment should be wasted.
After hurrying through a few jobs I had put off from the day before, (or was it the day before that?), whilst the rest of the population reached tentatively for the lawn mower and pottered out into the garden as though emerging from hibernation, I headed out in search of any signs that I had not been mistaken when I announced the arrival of spring so keenly just a few weeks ago.
My route took me through the housing estate and onto Pitsham Lane, past New Pond where the reflections in the still waters betrayed the presence of fishermen on the bank, and along the track through the farm, and beyond the cottages by the brickworks to where the track bends round past the manor house.
A pair of courting buzzards soared high on the thermals, chaffinches and nuthatches called and dunnocks sang loudly. Robins and blackbirds too, a song thrush, blue tits, great tits, and, at last, a chiffchaff. Once I heard the first chiffchaff it seemed every copse and woodland corner had attracted one, each unseen but unmistakable when heard. A slender greenish warbler, at the edge of the old sandpit copse by the farm yard may have been another chiffchaff, taking a break from singing to feed, but I managed to convince myself without too much difficulty, that this was one of the first of the chiffchaff's cousins to arrive from their longer migration, a willow warbler.
Whilst my ears were pinned to the tree-tops and hedgerows, my eyes were attracted by the brightest of colours as sunny banks were carpeted with lesser celandine, primrose, violets, red dead nettle, barren strawberry and dandelion.
One of my favourite insects of the spring, the bee-fly, bounced from flower to flower, performing it's pollinating duties impeccably, whilst managing to look completely unique with it's half-furry-bee, half-long-legged-fly appearance. Between the flowers was the promise of later bounty, as in various shades of green the leaves of new plants growing up hinted of what was yet to come; bluebells, stitchwort, garlic mustard and wild rose. Hazel leaves unfolded beside hawthorn leaves, and the great fat sticky buds of the horse chestnut had burst their tough skins.
And did I say I hadn't seen another brimstone butterfly since that first? I lost count after 10! the brightest of yellows, the males patrolled, never slowing, along their chosen bank, field edge or garden plot, whilst the paler greener females sought the nectar the hedgerow flowers advertised. There were other butterflies too; peacocks, red admirals, commas and small tortoiseshells. Perhaps the most exciting was the smallest, spotted as I made my way through the housing estate, its pale silver form flickering along the evergreen hedge. It was a holly blue, my first blue butterfly of the year.
Easter Monday bank-holiday, and the sun shone warmly. By the time I got home the gardeners all along the street were well into their stride, and so I followed their lead, retreating to my own garden on the pretence of tending to those tidying up jobs that needed attention, but really to sit and listen to the blackbird sing.