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The Countryside and Some Childhood Memorys.
Notes from a Lancashire Countryman
Although here in West Lancashire on the west coast of England we have had hard frosts in the mornings it is soon banished by blue skies and lovely sunny days. At this time of the year the sun yields much more heat which makes forays into the countryside a pleasanter experience than those endured over the last four months.
Early spring is one of my favourite times of the year, when many birds and plants begin to respond to the call of spring. Although some respond to the call much earlier than others. The feathered fraternity drawn by the call flit among the naked boughs singing a song of life to encourage the still closed buds. Yes we are at last climbing out of the dark days of winter.
Walking across the meadow still suffering from the dank months of winter, I listened to the "teacher teacher" call of the great tit reverberating around the near by trees.It gives one a sense of optimism. I also observed a kestrel hovering over the grassland. Suddenly two crows left the trees and headed straight for the hovering bird.The kestrel, aware of the imminent attack, moved with superior Ariel prowess to evade their clumsy assault.
Somewhere in the distance the gentle bleeting of sheep seemed to embrace this first promise of brighter, longer days ahead. In the middle distance I heard the throaty call of a startled pheasant, which carried over the quietness of this spring morning.
I was making my way to a small plantation which is situated at the southern boundary of the meadow.The plantation was created twenty years ago and I have witnessed the small saplings grow into quite large trees and shrubs during this period.The plantation consists of alder, aspen, hawthorn, various fruit trees including cherry, Guelder rose, dogwood, plum, and elder. However, the shrub that I had walked across the meadow to see was the blackthorn.
This shrub like tree is common in this locality and at this time of the year they produce a plethora of white blossom which affords a stunning display.The area is transformed into a "snowy" tangle of thorny branches an explosion of colour on leafless branches. The flowers are typical of the rose family to which the blackthorn belongs, having five petals.
Little birds of thornythickets abound in the plantation of native trees and shrubs. The bullfinch and his wife are regular visitors when the blackthorn is in bloom.The male in particular is a stunningly well coloured bird but he is a recluse, shy and elusive. They are much given to concealment and are rarely seen in the open. The male in his breeding splendour is a very handsome creature he has a black head, pinkish-red throat and breast, bluish grey back and a distinctive, whiterump. His wife has a warmish brown breast, in place of the striking pinkish red of the male, and is brownish grey above.
The white rump evident in both species is often the diagnostic feature, as one often sees them disappear into their thorny kingdom. They are more likely to be encountered when the blackthorn and the later flowering fruit trees such as plum and apple are in bloom, for they are fond of pecking at the petals and the unopened flower buds, causing great damage when numbers of bullfinches occur. They are particularly disliked by fruit growers especially commercial growers because of that fact.
These thorny thickets bring to mind the days of my childhood, crawling on all fours into the inner sanctum of this thorny kingdom. It started, I suppose, as a children's pastime, participating in the games of hide and seek, or making a "secret" den only known to a privileged few..
However, circumstances conspired at times that I was alone. On one such occasion I realised I could observe wildlife just by sitting still or by crawling quietly through these untidy shrub undergrowth. In this way I have come face to face with rabbits, hedgehogs and even on one occasion a stoat, while over head in the dome of this tangled world small birds flit from branch to branch going about their business not in the least wary of this strange presence I must have presented to them.
This position in this untidy, thorny undergrowth also taught me another lesson which has been advantageous to me even until this day when observing wildlife. That is to find a secluded spot remain still and quiet and let nature come to me. Another creature often encountered in my childhood crawlings at this time of the year is the bumble bee. I often encountered these large solitary bees searching inside the thicket beneath the low branches. The hum of their wings sounded extremely loud in the confines of the undergrowth. These solitary bees were the queens which had hibernated during the winter after mating during the summer. The rest of the colony died at the end of the season. Her only objective was to find a suitable location in which to build a nest. She is not yet interested in the pollen secreted in the plethora of blooms adorning the roof top our entangled world. In fact she seems oblivious to her surroundings in her quest for a new site and I never once felt she was perturbed by my presence.
One of the first species to emerge from hibernation, during March is the queen of Bombus terrestris should favourable weather conditions prevail. She and she alone has the responsibility of starting a new colony.
A challenging season
It is the beginning of a challenging season for the queen. Studies have revealed that only around 47% of the eggs she lays will produce adult bees. Some of these adults will become the workers which will forage throughout the summer in order to keep the colony well supplied with pollen and nectar. It is another amazing fact of nature that some of the eggs hatch into larvae are destined to become queens. These are laid later in the life of the colony when the queen, which produces them, stops secreting a certain pheromone. These larvae will be fed more frequently and for longer than larvae destined to become workers. It is these queens which will hibernate over winter leaving the rest of the colony to die off. The cycle begins again in the following spring.