We’ve ‘done’ Christmas, packed it and it’s trimmings away and put it to bed; we’ve reflected over the last year, and welcomed in the new one. But, whilst we’ve been feasting and celebrating, our local wildlife has been continuing with its daily struggle for survival: squabbling over territories and top nesting sites; foraging under leaf debris, drilling holes in tree barks; and finding a tasty tidbit on the bird table.
I’m always amazed at the amount of wildlife action there is at the beginning of the year. It’s especially early here in the South Hams as the climate tends to be milder than most of the UK. I can’t say we’ve been really cold at any time – the windy, damp days have been mixed with some beautiful clear, bright spells of sunshine when the temperatures have soared, all perfect conditions for many plants and animals to thrive in.
We have many delicate lichens which love the clean air that comes off the sea, and so continue to grow and spread on the tree barks and branches during Winter. Teasles and Greater Reedmace are still standing tall and are offering up what remains of their seeds to the Goldfinches. Early clusters of Catkins are dangling and dancing, ready to be pollinated by the first Bumble Bees; the Witch Hazel’s spidery flowers, in zesty yellows and oranges, shine brightly on a sunny day; and the Hart’s tongue ferns (their leaves looks like the tongue of a deer) are a deep shiny green, and have become centre-stage on the woodland floor.
I’m enjoying the seasonal confusion that’s going on in our gardens. Flowering Flag Lilies and Violas are giving a slightly skewed idea that we’ve returned to Autumn, but early Snowdrops and Camellias are out with the coconut-scented Gorse too! So our cottage gardens have delightful patches of colour enhanced by a backdrop of silvery Birch bark, deep purple Blackthorn hedges, and light green meadows.
Always a precursor to Spring is the song of the Thrush. One has started singing already, not quite the full repertoire yet, just little practice melodies ready for the live concerts we all enjoy from February onward. The Robins have been out gardening with us, pouncing on the wriggling worms and woodlice we unearth from weeding borders, with a bit of territorial flexing of the muscles too. And the Jackdaws have been entertaining us with their flight displays interspersed with local chit-chat.
With increased rainfall our ponds are full and this brings some new but temporary visitors; the Heron drops by early in the morning for a morsel of newt; and a pair of Tufted Ducks have joined us, maybe just for a few precious weeks, leaving such perfect reflections in our clear pond water, and luckily in my camera too!
We will have those bad Winter weather days to come: a day of horizontal salty rain and a face full of wind; or a mizzly, drizzly day with no air at all. But it’s exciting to think that there is no going back now – we are moving on, caught up in Nature’s pursuit and flow towards Spring. We’ll just watch it and enjoy it with hope and wonder.
If you would like to enjoy some mild days and early garden colours, come for a Short Break for Valentine’s Day or February Half Term at Dittiscombe Holiday Cottages in South Devon. You’ll be able to enjoy some bracing walks on the beach and return to your cottage with a woodburner and a view of the valley. For more information about Short Breaks visit our website dittiscombe.co.uk: you’ll find more information about our area and the cottages, with an online booking facility. Or ring Ruth and Jon on 01548 521272. [ssba]