Country Diary: Awakening from winter’s deep sleep

Male catkins of Hazel dangle on bare leafless twigs.
Male catkins of Hazel dangle on bare leafless twigs.

The hazel blooms in threads of crimson hue,

Peep through the swelling buds and look for spring,

Ere yet a white-thorn leaf appear in view,

Or March finds throstles pleased enough to sing.

The first deciduous shrub we watched awakening from winter’s sleep was the hazel. From bare, leafless twigs dangled brown and yellow male catkins many call lambs’ tails. These emit a cloud of dusty yellow pollen in spring. Where are the females? You must seek these later near the tips of twigs. They’re tiny oval ‘buds’ from which red, starry flowers appear. February breezes carry the male’s pollen onto the scarlet flowers. From this union, a hazel nut develops.

Winter heliotrope, our first flower of the year, now blooms in profusion beside becks and ditches. Then, on January 21 we discovered many snowdrops in flower beside St Laurence’s church walling in Scalby. To complete our day, a throstle, or song thrush was delivering his superb song in the vicinity of our garden. Each song phrase of two or three syllables is repeated two to four times. This bird has declined considerably. Once more numerous than the blackbird, the situation has now been reversed.

A flock of starlings alighted in a tree. Some settled to enjoy a last minute feed before going to roost. This helps them through cold winter nights. We enjoyed watching five partaking in a thorough wash, splashing around in a muddy little pool alongside the grassy verge.

One misty morning I took Tigga a good walk down Woodland Ravine and Peasholm glenn, returning by way of North Bay and Royal Albert Drive. What was most impressive was the silence, broken only by natural sounds.

Following the beck down the glenn and over stone bridges, the splashing of waterfalls, rippling and gurgling of streams, and the rustle of grey squirrels were the sole companions. About 10 squirrels scampered through the undergrowth. One – suddenly startled by Tigga – leapt up a tree, then took a long jump across the beck. It almost landed in the water, but luckily just hit the opposite bank.

Peasholm lake was a different scene of sights and sounds. The trumpeting of Canada geese; plopping and splashing of up-ending mallard, and dabbling tufted ducks.

After the ubiquitous mallard, the tufted is the most widespread and best known. On park lakes it can become very tame. Tufted ducks are sociable and often associate with pochard. The male is quite handsome, strikingly black and white, with a long, drooping crest. A party of a dozen were admired.

Returning from Scarborough’s Sandside to Albert Road, the scene changed yet again to roaring seas and crashing waves. Exhilarating! Freddie Gilroy, silhouetted against the sky, sat gazing eastwards – a sentinel of North Bay. Get outdoors, and enjoy the return of springtime once more!