A Countryside Calendar



January

"In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy"

William Blake

Early morning frosts leave pearls of ice on spiders' webs. Last year's leaves get a frosting and lawns are silvered with ice.

Flocks of wintering Waxwings have arrived from Scandinavia. These beautiful pinkish birds get their name from the waxy tips to some of their feathers. They work their way through the country feeding on berry-laden rowan trees, starting in the north east then moving on to the south west.

February

"If February give much snow, a fine Summer it doth foreshow"

English Proverb

The freezing easterly winds bring the snow. It is the core of Winter but still there is much warmth as this is the month for lovers!

It is now that the beautiful Great Crested Grebes begin their courtship dance. This love story comprises a series of synchronised "excuse me"s. It starts with the advertising - the come and get me, then comes the discovery ceremony which includes the cat and penguin display, there is a bit of head shaking (presumably the female!), the penguin dance again, a retreat, the offering of a fish and finally the invite (at this point you may wish to avert your eyes!).

March

"It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light and winter in the shade"

Charles Dickens

Although there may be warm days, March can often remain in the tight grip of winter. However, it is impossible not to feel a renewed sense of optimism that spring is just around the corner.

"As Mad as a March Hare." This famous saying is in fact referable to the female hare as she does her level best to resist the optimistic advances from the amorous male! With arable crops in short supply this is the best time of year to spot these charismatic creatures.

April

"An April Sunday brings the snow Making the blossom on the plum trees green, not white. An hour or two, and it will go"

Philip Larkin "An April Sunday brings the snow"

A fabulous month for wildlife. Vibrant green foliage abounds as trees and shrubs burst into leaf. Some of our common resident birds have their first broods in April.

One such bird, the beautifully coloured Blue Tit, can now be seen more frequently in gardens as they search for insects, seeds and nuts to feed their young.

May

"As full of spirit as the month of May"

William Shakespeare

The air is alive with the sound of birdsong! Our summer migrants are here and their songs, when mixed with those of resident birds, create an avian orchestra to savour.

It is during May that the short-lived adult Mayfly emerges to mate and then die twenty four hours later! It is not without good reason that their Latin name comes from the word ephemeral. The nymph stage lasts for one year, unless of course it becomes part of the staple diet of our many freshwater fish.

June

"Summer afternoon - summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language"

Henry James

Summer is now in full swing and midsummer is celebrated this month. The countryside is lush with hedgrows, meadows and woodlands all bursting at the seams with life.

Farmland hedgerows are buzzing with finches and buntings. The canary-like Yellowhammer is often seen perched on top of a hedge or bush singing its well-known song "a-little-bit-of-bread-and-cheese".

July

"Literature and butterflies are the two sweetest passions known to man"

Vladimir Nabakov

There is a rich scent in the air of cut grass and insects are numerous. The countryside has taken on a vibrant green hue punctuated by contrasting golden squares where hay is cut and barley ripens.

Amongst the meadows the Common Blue butterfly can be found. Common Blues feed on the flowers of the pea species. The adult butterfly has only a three week lifespan but there are usually up to three generations in one year.

August

"The English Winter - ending in July, to recommence in August"

Lord Byron

It is late summer. If the weather is hot the countryside begins to look parched and perhaps a little tired, as grasses brown and tree leaves wilt.

Wading birds are returning to the estuaries having bred on highland pastures and wetlands. Lapwings can now be seen feeding on mud flats, their enchanting "pee-wit" call accompanied by a relaxing, tumbling aerobatic display.

September

"Up from the meadows rich with corn, clear in the cool September morn"

John Greeenleaf Whittier

Summer turns to Autumn, but September's weather can still be delightful. The meadows and valleys are shrouded in the stillness of the deep morning mists.

Hedgehogs are starting to build up body reserves for their winter hibernation. Earthworms, beetles, slugs and snails are all pursued with increased vigour.

October

"There is a harmony in autumn, and a luster in its sky, which through the summer is not heard or seen, as if it could not be, as if it had not been"

Persy Bysshe Shelley

The month of the equinox, Autumn is now in residence. There may still be warm days but the early morning cold hints at the approaching winter.

It is the start of the rut and during the summer the male Red Deer have been preparing for this time by growing a new set of antlers. The majority of deer manage to avoid a tussle and instead emphasise their superiority by bellowing and parading their new shaggy mane.

November

"When chill November's surly blast make fields and forests bare"

Robert Burns

Bitterly cold nights and hard frosts arrive. The mornings are often atmospheric with mist and fog covering the countryside, sometimes so dense that it refuses to clear.

In rivers the adult Atlantic Salmon migrate back to the place of their birth where they will breed. During their journey upstream to the gravelly shallows they can be seen leaping out of the water to navigate the weirs and low waterfalls.

December

"We are nearer to spring than we were in September, I heard a bird sing In the dark of December"

Oliver Herford "I Heard a Bird Sing"

Winter is finally upon us, as frost covers the ground and the trees are laid bare. Now that the leaves are fallen the mistletoe is in full view.

This plant is linked to the Mistle Thrush which feeds off the plant's sticky white berries. This striking bird spreads the plant from tree to tree by exuding the excess seeds and berries from its beak.