Mary Tant’s Nature Blog

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April 2016

Sunday 3 April 2016

There’s been a sudden arrival of lambs, their little white figures gleaming brightly in their fields, where they totter on long wobbly legs or spring delightedly in the air as their legs grow stronger.

I was startled to pass a field of sheep where the frail new lambs all seemed to be blotched a bloody red. As I looked more closely I saw that each lamb had a red plastic coat, protecting its bodies from cold and damp. As I’d just walked through a sudden hailstorm I could see how essential these improvised coats would be for the lambs’ survival.

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Monday 4 April 2016

The first mound of frogspawn had been laid in my garden pond overnight. I spotted it at once when I opened the back door. It isn’t a large quantity, but one frog, the mother I suspect, was lurking nearby, popping up to glare at me when I went to check it.

Less obvious on the other side of the spawn was the heap of three frogs, tightly clasped together. The middle one was a bright orange colour, her long back legs dangling limply downwards. Only a single eye showed the existence of the third, gleaming beneath the bodies of the upper two.

Loud croaking came from behind the rocks of the waterfall. Heavy splashing and the waving of an arm revealed the hidden presence of another pair of frogs, who eventually fell silent and still.

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Tuesday 5 April 2016

Another heap of frogspawn lay near the first one this morning. A pair of frogs squatted in a tight tangle next to it, the lower one a bright tangerine orange colour.

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Wednesday 6 April 2016

Expanding frogspawn

The frogspawn heaps continue to expand. A smaller mound was added to an existing one, and a new separate one was laid too. The far, shallower, end of my garden pond looks as though volcanic activity has taken place, and newly created islands have risen out of the level surface of water.

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Thursday 7 April 2016

I opened the back door in the late afternoon, and saw a sparrow scurry away on the ground as Bryn, my young Border collie, shot out into the garden. Bryn went to sniff at the bird, and it fluttered frantically. Bryn backed away and I saw at once that the sparrow had damaged her wing. From the smear on the garden room window it looked as though she had flown into it, perhaps very recently as she crouched still for some time on the brick path after we’d left her alone.

I watched her closely, and was relieved to see her begin to hop about, cocking her head slightly in typical sparrow fashion. Another sparrow came down to check her out, and as he flew away I saw the injured bird brace herself for flight and then stop.

I slipped out to put water in a shallow bowl, and sprinkle a few mealworms on the ground nearby, but she showed no interest in these. I didn’t want to lay too many, in case they attracted predators, as I know at least one hedgehog and probably a fox visit the garden under cover of darkness.

As dusk fell she disappeared underneath the bushes and I could only hope she would survive the night.

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Friday 8 April 2016

The injured sparrow was standing quite still in the flowerbed at the foot of the garden steps. Her feathers were fluffed up, showing some of the downy lower fluff, so she looked unkempt as well as very cold.

After the sun came round to warm her up I was relieved to see her sipping water from the edge of the pond.

By the afternoon she had was balancing awkwardly on one of the bird feeders, perhaps having scrambled up the viburnam that grows beneath it. The effort to get there seemed to have exhausted her, for she crouched on her perch without feeding until a group of sparrows came down. One of the newcomers dived at her, pushing her off her perch and I was glad to see her fly across to sit on top of the fence.

Later she was back under the branches of the viburnam, pecking up scraps that had been dropped by other birds from the feeder. She ventured out after a while to sit in the sun and nearly met her end when a magpie arrowed down towards her. Her saviour was a collared dove, who entered into battle with the magpie, driving it away.

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Saturday 9 April 2016

The sparrow was out in the garden again both morning and evening, still on the ground, but looking more alert. Once again I saw the collared dove drive the magpie away when it ventured down.

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Sunday 10 April 2016

There was no sign of the sparrow this morning when I looked out of the garden room window. But a little later a single sparrow sat on shed roof for a while before flying away. I hoped this was the injured bird, demonstrating a full recovery.

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Monday 11 April 2016

The birds swooped down and back up in swift curving movements over the newly cut grass of the Dartmoor field. They were first swallows I’ve seen this year.

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Tuesday 12 April 2016

There was sudden flurry of movement on the stream that tumbled and fell under the branches of the overhanging trees in the Dartmoor wood.

I peered down from where I stood, screened on the slope of the valley, and to my surprise saw the gleaming white head of a large diver-type bird as it landed on the surface of the stream. The bird was surging up the narrow channel, when a second, female, landed on the water beyond him, almost blending in colour with the stream that flowed over the pebbles, shades of slate and bronze.

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Wednesday 13 April 2016

The ants are seething over the tops of the sunlit nests in the Dartmoor woodland. The air is full of birdsong, and a couple of flycatchers hop up the branches ahead of us. As I stand a little later on a bridge over a tumbling stream I’m surrounded by a cloud of midges, tiny biting creatures, and feel sure the flycatchers will feed well here.

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Thursday 14 April 2016

A bearded face stared down at me from the corner of the hedge on the high bank. Narrow eyes were bright and fixed, more curious than startled. It was I who was startled to see the long curling white beard and pointed face of a brown and white billy goat in a Dartmoor lane.

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Friday 15 April 2016

A pair of long-tailed tits clung to the feeder at the foot of the Dartmoor garden, their pale pink and beige plumage as distinctive as their shape. Beyond, fritillaries clustered in the corner of the field, their mauve heads patterned like snakeskin.

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Saturday 16 April 2016

Bird watchers prowled the Dartmoor woodland, binoculars and long-lensed cameras hanging round their necks, as they searched for the early pied flycatchers and redstarts that have already been spotted here.

Deeper among the trees, the dark form of a wood buzzard flew silently away, weaving among the bare upper branches until it found a high perch from which to survey me. Further along, four quiet ponies clustered in the dark shade of a holly copse, only noticeable because the brightness of the grey among them gleamed in the gloom. They too watched me pass, turning their heads slowly to watch my progress.

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Sunday 17 April 2016

Banks of primroses were patterning the banks of Dartmoor lanes as we left. We arrived in Hampshire to the shimmer of indigo in the shade of lime green canopies. Bluebells are already flowering strongly under the emerging cover of beech leaves.

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Monday 18 April 2016

Eggshells are scattered across the garden. A white pigeon’s egg lay open on the brick terrace. Further down, under the bare branches of the guilder rose, were the sky blue remnants of a song thrush’s egg.

The first of this year’s fledglings have hatched, and the adult birds have removed the empty shells some distance from their nests.

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Tuesday 19 April 2016

As we approached a bridge over the Kennet and Avon canal the first cuckoo could be heard, calling faintly over the Berkshire water meadows.

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Wednesday 20 April 2016

A goldcrest flitted through the juniper in my back garden, the bright blaze on its tiny head making its small form conspicuous.

And later in the morning there was another small visitor, moving swiftly up the branches of the willow that overhangs the pond beside the juniper. I haven’t seen the drab greenish yellow of a female siskin in my garden for some time.

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Thursday 21 April 2016


Celandines are staring the canal bank, the brightness of their yellow reflected in the pollen tipped catkins on pussy willow branches that stretch across the water.

Pussy willow catkins

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Friday 22 April 2016

Blue under the canopy

A profusion of tiny blue ground ivy flowers pattern the foot of a tree in the Hampshire woodland. The colour is reflected in the violets that are clustered in ribbons through the bushes, and in the early bluebells appearing under the beech canopy.

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Saturday 23 April 2016

Female deer in wood

It looked like a woodland sculpture, the same colour as the beech tree trunks that stood beyond the ride. It stood quite still on the edge of the track ahead of us, a living female deer, watching us as intently as we watched her.

A little later, we passed the copse where she stood as if posed between two beeches, following our progress away from her.

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Sunday 24 April 2016

Bluebells 1

Bluebells are out in profusion in the Hampshire woodland. Framed by brambles and beech trunks, they form a variety of views that could be labelled Bluebells in Woodland.

Bluebells 2 Bluebells 3

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Monday 25 April 2016

The roadside banks of the Jersey lanes are patterned here and there with the occasional white scilla, bluebells and a few narcissi.

Some of the fields beyond the banks are thick with lush green grass. Herds of creamy brown Jersey graze in a few of these, slow moving creatures who lift their heads, their large dark eyes following our passing.

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Tuesday 26 April 2016

The reed bed shivered with sudden movement on the far side of Durrell’s valley lake. A couple of mallards emerged silently into the open water, and still the reeds shivered. At last a single tiny duckling popped out to join the adults.

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Wednesday 27 April 2016

One of the Jersey red squirrels comes to feed in the evenings at a feeder in the grounds of Durrell. Seeing one of these beautiful creatures gives as much a pleasure as seeing any of the others here.

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Thursday 28 April 2016

A sky-blue eggshell lay prettily on the brick terrace of my back garden. And there was another, further along by the shed. It was as if the parent song thrushes want me to know there are extra mouths to feed.

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Friday 29 April 2016

The tadpoles have emerged from their jellied mounds. The tiny black creatures, like specks of twig in the pond, congregate on the remains of the jelly. They look like a mass of tiny black twigs as they cluster together, basking in the sunshine, wriggling slightly, the only sign that they are alive.

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Saturday 30 April 2016

For a few brief hours a couple of holly blue butterflies dance around my gardens, front and back, like flakes of sunny sky that are drifting slowly down to earth.

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