The Countryside Blog of an Essex Born Lady – April/May 2017 (16)

The month of April was a combination of summer and winter all in one and within days apart of each other. 

An early heat wave was very welcome after what seemed like an eternal, bleak winter, and the warm weather enticed a sudden ‘catch up’ of hedgerow growth and colourful wild flora.

The pretty double cherry blossom petals were heavy in bloom this year and attractive to a variety of insects and bees.  The soothing hum of a gentle tree bumblebee as it slowly lingered from petal to petal, meticulously scouring the stamens of the unassuming naked flower, seemed to bring even more peace and tranquillity to the moment.

A walk through my local woodland evoked pleasant childhood memories as I immersed myself in a vivid carpet of dainty bluebells and delicate white wood anemones, starting to flower and adding a gentle spring fragrance to the air. 

Swallows had arrived at Wickham Hall after their epic journey from Africa to the rural Essex countryside; a pleasing reminder that Summer was well and truly on its way.  Coincidentally, on 14th April, I noted that Edith Holden had recorded her first swallow sighting on that very same day in her Country Diary of 1906.

But the mid-April overnight temperatures suddenly dipped;  frost and lows of -2, -3 and -4 brought nights with another bitter taste of winter.  The dawn of another day chased the chill of the night, the sunlight caught the crystal sparkles of heavy dew that formed in the place where frost had just taken hold.

Even the cuckoo, who always cheerfully announces its arrival, couldn’t have anticipated cool weather after such a recent warm spell, which had given false-sense of a summer here to stay.  Three pairs of shell ducks had arrived at the same oak trees that pairs have returned to, year on year. 

I spotted another migratory visitor, a chiffchaff, who was also very vocal in attracting my attention, competing over a symphony of skylarks, harmonising their melodies and creating nature’s own polyphony.

The view of golden yellow oilseed rape, was accentuated by a backdrop of vivid blue sky, decorated with distinct, rolling cumulus clouds.

Pink campions lined the vacant banks of the Blackwater Rail Trail, a blaze of cerise that complemented and brightened the lime-green grass headland.  Sheeps parsley continued to grow, now uncontrollably so, and soon obscured the river bank as the month rolled into May.  Wild comfry edged the waterside; a vibrant splash of purple and lilac shades dotted here and there along the way.

I spotted an elegant brown hawker dragonfly and even though an array of our native damselflies have been flitting along the water’s edge for a couple of weeks or more, I was still pleasantly surprised to see my favourite insect so early into the season.

A sharp rain shower watered the seeds of Spring and a careful watch for the Oak and the Ash tree: which would be first to predict our forthcoming wet or dry summer?  “Oak before the Ash, in for a splash – Ash before the Oak, in for a soak!”  One of many sayings, passed on from a countryman’s family; generation to generation (thanks to my dad, his dad and his grandfather!).

And the much anticipated arrival of May – flower or month?  “Ne’er cast a clout til May be out”.  The hawthorn (May) had burst into flower and coincided nicely.