Flowers we haven’t seen over the winter are now blooming, and birds, despite many being around over the winter, are now making themselves heard.
You may be thinking “well I’ve seen primroses since January” and yes, some flowers do appear very early, especially with our much more variable seasons. Spring flowers are mainly woodland species, and have evolved to appear before the woodland canopy comes out, receiving as much light as possible for making their own food, the process known as photosynthesis. Common species that you are probably familiar with in the garden, such as garlic mustard (white flowers) and wood avens (yellow flowers) are very frequent throughout the woodlands. Whilst violets, the mauve cuckoo flower, and a little purple flower called bugle, are restricted to certain locations only. Another infrequent species is a buttercup called goldilocks, an unusual plant that indicates old woodland, and which has the strange habit of dropping many of its petals straight away, or sometimes not producing any at all! Wild garlic also appears now, with its edible leaves and seeds and a scent that fills the air.
Some gardeners’ appetite for ‘bigger and bolder’ has made the larger Spanish bluebell very popular. While only a few introduced plants succeed in the wild, many causing no problems at all, not only does the Spanish version of the bluebell do very well in the wild, it also hybridizes with the native bluebell. This cross-breeding produces fertile offspring, so that nowadays in many urban woods only the hybrid is found and is often mistaken for the real thing. It may still be worth looking out for the native bluebell in some parts of Arnos Vale.
Some birds do sing during the winter, but there has to be a reason for using energy when food is scarce, and in the case of wrens and robins both species hold territories during this time and use song to exert some control over their food supplies. The wren is the one with a very loud burst of sound and a trill on the end. The robin’s song sounds different in the winter, some say a rather more mournful tone. Many of these winter robins are unlikely to be the same ones that watch us garden in the summer. They are visitors from the continent seeking a milder climate, and will be replaced in spring by some of ‘our’ robins when the latter return from wintering in Spain and Portugal. Birds that live here all year round (resident) such as thrushes, finches and woodpeckers will start to be heard now. They will be joined by the spring visitors (migrants) who will have travelled north, mainly all the way from southern Europe and west Africa such as chiffchaffs, blackcaps and occasionally rarer warblers who amazingly still have the energy to sing!