The descending song of a willow warbler, the years first, catches my ears as I take my first steps into the wood – a sound which, to me, evokes everything profoundly beautiful about the British springtime. Calling to mind longer days and warmer nights; the electric blooms of bluebell and the yellow radiance of celandine; and the pungent odour of blooming ramsons carried on the gradually warming breeze. A sound absent for some time now – around seven months, to be exact – whose onset I have awaited eagerly for weeks and one which, upon its resurgence, brings nought but joy.
Elsewhere, in twisted branches of a willow – the tree itself just about ready to burst into leaf – a Blackcap sings a scratchy yet pleasant song. This inaugural tune followed promptly by another, further into the wood: out of sight yet visible as the warblers tune paints a vivid picture in my mind.
Underfoot, primroses bloom a diluted, creamy yellow – flowers rising from nests of veined leaves and adorned with a whole manner of invertebrate life. A small, rust-coloured bee (of some unknown variety), a tiger-striped sun hoverfly, Helophilus pendulus, and, more exciting still, a ladybird. Seven spots highlight the individual as Coccinella septempunctata – the common ladybird, familiar to many yet now, as Spring begins and each and every sight, smell and sound appears new, just as exciting as its rarer kin. An almost alien sight after months of cold, damp and brown monotony.
On the muddy track, among the relics of man’s foot fall and the pronounced slot-marks of wandering deer, toads stand proud. Brazen in their lustful pursuits as countless individuals vie for the privilege of mating, and a few lucky males clasp fiercely to the backs of their larger lovers, victorious. Catching a ride as the females begin their arduous trek towards water – a journey which I opt to take too, keen to observe the end result of the amorous spectacle unfolding before me.
Sure enough, in the sediment-tinged depths of a nearby pool, long thin ribbons of spawn stretch serpentine across the surface: many thousands of eggs left to their own devices, set to mature and hatch as the season progresses. The trailing masses occasionally disturbed by the kick of a webbed foot from the copulating amphibians disguised beneath. The females laying as the hitchhiking males, far smaller, fertilise. A true spectacle, and one I was yet to witness, before now.
There are frogs here too; though they themselves are not visible. The only sign of their presence now being the nobbly, brain-like dollops of eggs left forlorn in the shallows. Interwoven with the eggs of the toads, and food for the Smooth Newt which watches me cautiously from the pond margins – disappearing into the taupe depths with a flick of its tail as I draw closer. You can’t win them all.
High above unfurling horse chestnuts, sparrowhawks dance: two birds, engrossed annual ceremony, swooping and rising, falling and wheeling in a most inspiring dance. I watch on, entranced, almost missing the Roe Deer watching from a thicket to my left. A raggy individual, it’s winter coat in the process of yielding to the new, which peers at me warily as I progress back the way I came. Past stands of verdant, sickly-green hawthorn and enraptured by the sweet notes of a cock Blackbird, perched high in a slumbering oak. His notes filling the air, and my ears, and serving as a sweet reminder of delights to come as the calendar moves forward.
Whereas in the cold months of Winter, I wanted nothing more than the days and weeks to pass by fast, now I wish for time to freeze. So that I may enjoy the delights of the season indefinitely.