Mary Tant’s Nature Blog

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The Theme is Death — Mary Tant's new classic-crime novel in the Rossington series — is published. Here, she writes about her love of wildlife and wild places.

April 2015

Wednesday 1 April 2015

Birds nest in Willows at the VyneA pair of swans gleamed against the surface of the lake at The Vyne in Hampshire. Around them were hordes of moorhens, trekking to and fro across the water, venturing ashore on the wide lawns with their stalking ungainly gait. There were a few tufted ducks too, conspicuous with their white sides.

In the weeping willow that dominates the lakeside, especially now in its bright spring growth, is a reminder of other birds that come here. A huge nest is perched high up in the topmost branches, commanding a terrific view.

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Thursday 2 April 2015

Spring has come to the canal bank. Butterbur heads thrust through the ground close to the water’s edge. Their coral-like appearance always comes before their leaves.

Butterbur head White violets by canal

But the white violets nestle among their leaves, on the landward side of the bank. There used only to be a few spots where these violets grew, and only one of those had large numbers, a whole bank of them. This year I’ve seen great clusters of them in several places in the wild, but still I get a thrill from finding them.

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Friday 3 April 2015

Primroses always seem to find such scenic spots to grow, under a cluster of lichened twigs, next to a velvety moss-covered trunk. Wood anemones at Morgaston Primroses at Morgaston At Morgaston Wood in Hampshire they mingle with bright celandines and the gleaming white of wood anemones.

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Saturday 4 April 2015

A grey wagtail flitted along the far side of the canal between the overhanging trees. The pale yellow of its rear matched the colour of the pussy willow buds that were reflected in the water.

Pussy willow budsDogwood stems reflection

The reflections were good, the colours faithfully reproduced. Further on there was a glowing patch of red, the stems of dogwood doubled by their image in the water.

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Sunday 5 April 2015

The roadside verges were bright with flowers as we reached the Gloucestershire borderland with Wales. There were bright stretches of celandines, buttery slopes of primroses and banks of cowslips. The muted purple patches of ground ivy were complimented by the brighter pink of lady’s smock, growing beside a ditch.

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Monday 6 April 2015

A line of jackdaws flew low across the common, their grey heads gleaming in the sunlight. They moved silently, with obvious purpose, but I couldn’t see where they were heading with such determination.

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Tuesday 7 April 2015

Ground Ivy Celandines

The wildflowers in Berkshire seem suddenly to have caught up with their siblings in Gloucestershire. Ranks of ground ivy flank the copse on Hungerford common and the bowl beneath the trees has grassed over and is now heavily starred with celandines.

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Wednesday 8 April 2015

A large wing flapped into sight from a ditch, then disappeared. The movement was repeated, and I had an instant to wonder what was happening. Then a pair of cock pheasants popped out, iridescent gold and ruby in their breeding plumage. They were fighting so intensely that they didn’t notice us approaching until the very last minute. As I drove past I glanced in the mirror and saw one of the pheasants running down the road behind us, with the other male in hot pursuit.

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Thursday 9 April 2015

Something has been scraping bare patches and digging small holes on Hungerford common. Either it’s a single something that is moving around the whole common with great purpose, or it’s several somethings all busy doing the same thing.

At first I thought it might be the rooks, digging for worms and larvae. Then I saw how fascinated Bryn, my young Border collie, was with the holes and wondered if some of them were from badger activity. But on one occasion Bryn stopped sniffing intently around a hole and sprang forward, thrusting his nose right into it as if there was something there for him to catch. So now I wonder if some at least of them are made by smaller creatures, shrews or voles.

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Friday 10 April 2015

Dusk on Hungerford CommonSuddenly pale bright green has touched the trees around Hungerford common. The splashes of colour touch the limes along the lanes that cross the common, while in the distance the vivid green stands out against the still pale brown of the surrounding fields.

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Saturday 11 April 2015

I wake early to the sound of birdsong, robin first, then blackbird. I work in the back garden to the sound of birdsong, the throbbing notes filling the air, underpinned occasionally with the deep cooing of the wood pigeons. And last thing in the afternoon, just as dusk starts to creep in, Bertie, the male blackbird, perches on the tip of the highest cypress, sending his song far afield.

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Monday 13 April 2015

Jersey was screened in mist when I arrived this morning. Driving across the island the greyness lifted enough for me to enjoy the lanes with their trademark avenues of trees atop high banks. The banks were patterned with wild flowers, the pink campion, the creamy narcissus trumpets, the white scilla bells. There was one field of the lovely coffee coloured Jersey cows. And several fields of yellow daffodils and more white narcissus.

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Tuesday 14 April 2015

There was a blackbird singing as I woke up in my glamping pod at Durrell Wildlife Park on Jersey. But that wasn’t what woke me. It was the chorus of screams and yells that broke out from the lemurs perched in the trees outside. They had been there last evening too, giving a vocal farewell to the day from the trees they were perched in like giant bundles of fur.

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Wednesday 15 April 2015

A blackbird female at Durrell is already feeding youngsters. I saw her in the First Impressions enclosure, perched briefly on one of the dessicated tree trunks that the bears and coatis and howler monkeys love to climb. She was quite alone as she surveyed the scene, her beak clamped tightly over a helping of worms.

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Thursday 16 April 2015

In the late afternoon a dark shape darted across the path at Durrell Wildlife Park, perfectly silhouetted against the lighter surface. It was a red squirrel, on the corner where I’ve seen them on previous visits.

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Friday 17 April 2015

I’ve seen three sets of tiny mallard ducklings since I’ve been at Durrell Wildlife Park. One of ten was high up on the lakes, another of twelve was lower down beyond the greater flamingos. The mother of the latter family had moved up over a low barrier into a higher level of the lake, and her babies were frantically trying to scramble over an obstacle that was too big for their little bodies. The mother dabbled on for some time, oblivious both to the commotion below her and the big splash beyond her as I startled a large fish when I arrived. Eventually she slipped back over the barrier and down to her babies, who clustered around her in relief.

The little family of eight ducklings on the moat around the orangutan enclosure darted in and out of cover under the grassy edges of the islands. Eventually they came out to swim down the centre of the water with their mother, where they would be vulnerable to the two giant carp who live here. These fish themselves are the only survivors of several who were put in some years ago, the others ending up as meals for herons and seagulls.

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Saturday 18 April 2015

A blackbird female at Durrell is already feeding youngsters. I saw her in the First Impressions enclosure, perched briefly on one of the dessicated tree trunks that the bears and coatis and howler monkeys love to climb. She was quite alone as she surveyed the scene, her beak clamped tightly over a helping of worms.

And overhead swooped a familiar shape, the first time I’ve seen it this year. It was a swallow, perhaps on route for England.

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Sunday 19 April 2015

A piercingly bright song greeted me when I entered the bird tunnel at Durrell. Looking around to see which of the exotic inhabitants was singing I saw the notes came from the small bird perched on a trunk nearby. Its tail feathers were spread widely, its beak was open, and out poured the sounds. It was the tiny wren who lives here, completely at home with his more colourful neighbours.

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Monday 20 April 2015

Minute tench floated just below the sunlit surface of the canal. On the water above them fluffy willow buds passed in line like a row of tiny barges. Here and there a bright green hawthorn leaf drifted towards them, like a miniature coracle caught in the current.

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Tuesday 21 April 2015

A small flock of white sheep lay in a field that was bright golden yellow with dandelions. They clustered together right in the centre of the flowers, the little lambs only just visible among the larger mounds that were their mothers.

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Wednesday 22 April 2015Hawthorn hedge

The cuckoo called today, from the overgrown thickets on the island between the river and the canal. Closer to, the hawthorn has burst into foaming waves of white flowers in the hedges planted to enclose the fields.


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Thursday 23 April 2015

The duck and her eight tiny ducklings were barely visible on the canal. They were all brown, almost exactly the colour of the water, and I only noticed them because of the sunlit movement of water around their bodies.

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Friday 24 April 2015

The first herd of cows was out on Hungerford common at the beginning of the week. At first they seemed to huddle around the car park, but they’ve gradually begun to explore the open space, leaving their telltale pats to mark their presence. Often they lie in the dandelion-spattered grass, chewing rhythmically and watching us as we pass at a distance.

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Saturday 25 April 2015

I have avian visitors as soon as I appear in my garden. The blackbird pair arrives separately, often breezing past my face and perching directly in front of me to glare into my eyes. Bella is usually first and chases Bertie away when he appears, although she does permit him to feed at a distance.

Robbie, the robin, is more discreet. There’s a flutter of wings and there he is, a rounded shape in one of the bushes, his breast bright red, his big eyes staring at me. At first he often seems to move around from one bush to another with surprising speed. Then I realised he is bringing his mate, and now she too comes quite close to me, so that I often see them together, feeding on mealworms.

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Sunday 26 April 2015

There are lambs everywhere, tiny creatures wobbling on matchstick-thin legs. Most often I see them as tiny patches of white in the grass. But recently I saw a small flock below the downs, lying comfortably in the shade of a hawthorn, in the centre of their own green field. It was a bucolic scene that could have come from centuries ago.

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Monday 27 April 2015

Bella the female blackbird turned her head quickly as I came onto the back garden terrace. For an instant she froze, her beak full of chopped-up mealworms. Then she relaxed and crammed in a few more before flying off.

Her alertness is essential now that one of the resident magpies has taken to coming down to sit on the shed roof and even occasionally to feed himself on the mealworms.

Bella will have to be careful to keep her babies concealed, both in the nest and once they emerge from it. I think there will be no more sunbathing in the open for this year’s fledglings.

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Tuesday 28 April 2015

The gorse has opened its flowers to cover the old airfield on Janesmoor in the New Forest in a blanket of bright gleaming yellow.

Gorse flowering, Janesmoor Plain Gorse flowering, Janesmoor Plain 2

The bushes are often trimmed into topiary shapes by ponies, who were all further afield towards Bramshaw today, leaving the flat plain abandoned to the birds, whose song filled the air.

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Wednesday 29 April 2015

I was keeping Bryn close to heel as we picked our way up the surprisingly muddy New Forest ride, dodging trees that have fallen across the route since my days here with Tirn. Beyond is a lawn that spreads out around a small stream, mainly hidden from sight by copses of beech and oak, already green with spring growth. Ahead, through the trunks, I caught sight of white shapes on the lawn, as if sheep had come unexpectedly into the forest.

New Forest woodland path Deer sunbathing in glade

Surprised, I put Bryn on the lead and kept our approach slow and cautious. And then I saw new patches of twiggy branches among the shapes and realised that there was a herd of perhaps thirty sunbathing deer, the light shining brightly on their flanks. They were obviously enjoying the warmth, but weren’t too somnolent to miss our presence. Heads came up, turning towards us, the ‘twiggy branches’ morphing instantly into fine sets of antlers. One deer sprang up, another did too, stepping a few paces away. The whole herd was ready to flee, but we walked steadily and slowly past them, aware of their stares drilling through the trees until we left them behind us, hopefully able to go back to their brief spring idyll.

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Thursday 30 April 2015

Across the open plain around Bramshaw Telegraph in the New Forest there were bands of bright new green where the oaks and beeches had burst into spring growth. Apple tree blossom lit up occasional glades, where once old cores had fallen after long-past lunches, their pips sprouting into new life.

Yellow pimpernel dotted the open turf, violets grew in sheltered patches and bluebells were a haze of blue in some parts of the distant woodland.

All through the day, whether we were out on the plains or in amongst the trees, the call of the cuckoo rang out, loud, insistent, distinctive.

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