Nature spotting on the farm trail in March

Nature spotting on the farm trail in March

Brian Fereday’s Nature notes were written on his monthly walks around our farm trail, which is a popular family walk near Kendal. As we are now into Spring and brighter days are on the horizon, this month’s entry seems all the more magical. Brian lived and worked in this landscape and knew it intimately. We are lucky to have his records of the changing seasons and the comings and goings of the flora and fauna throughout the years.

After a few days of warm Spring sunshine, I happened to choose a misty, still morning for this month’s footpath walk.

I stopped for a while near the hen sheds. The mist was so thick now that on looking back towards the farm the buildings there were only dim shapes in the low light. However, in front of the buildings, arising in the farm orchard was a glow from the damson blossom on the orchard’s perimeter. These damsons are a variety called Shropshire Prune and were planted in the 1990s in the traditional way around the orchard’s edge. The idea being to give some protection to the more demanding fruit varieties in the centre. They are very similar to the local Westmorland Damson but are ready earlier in the season. The few sunny days should have helped at pollination time but there is still a long way to go before damson picking time and this far north nothing is certain – especially with damsons.

As I turned to walk on, in one of the nearby ash trees, a group of Carrion Crows were displaying and celebrating the Spring by bowing and posturing to each other. They were producing that distinctive “honking” sound that Carrion Crows make at such times. As I walked under the tree, their ritual had made them very bold. Eventually, only a few feet above my head the six birds made off with elaborate wing gestures eventually disappearing into the mist. They were heading towards Low Park Wood where some of the older oak trees offer high, safe nesting sites.

As I approached the pond, two Mallard ducks flew up from the water’s edge. The female leading the way and the drake madly following and desperately trying to keep up with her changes of course. Mallard always seem to have a frantic air about them in Spring. Not at all like the relaxed, assured courting exhibitions of the Carrion Crows. I noticed there was a large conglomeration of frog spawn in the pond to the left of the viewing platform but no frogs to be seen.

The small rookery in Low Park Wood along the riverside could be heard from the pond, almost two fields away. This rookery has been there ever since anyone can remember but new rookeries appear from time to time as is the case in two large sycamore trees in Levens Village where Rooks are nesting for the first time ever. The sounds became more raucous as I neared the gate into the wood. They aren’t as secretive as their cousins the Carrion Crows who build their nest high in a mature tree well away from other crows. The Rooks seem to relish community living putting up with noise, coming and going, squabbling and stealing. This year they should do well after the wet weather. In dry Springs they suffer when searching for food. The ground, where they mainly feed can be baked hard by drying Spring winds and sometimes beaks can’t penetrate the soil. Even worse when young come along.

Walking up the woodland path the usual assemblage of plants were emerging. Dog’s Mercury, Bluebell and Wild Garlic providing a green carpet on the woodland floor. There were also some rosettes of dark spotted leaves that had appeared since last month. These were Early Purple Orchid just showing, to join the ranks of the new plant arrivals, look on the right hand side of the path where they seem to favour.

On coming to the made up track I soon saw clumps of pale yellow Primroses on the north bank of the beck, just upstream of the culvert, mixed with Wild Strawberry flowers, so much smaller than those of cultivated strawberries. Further up the track an area of Wild Daffodils, their simplicity making them much more appealing than the many cultivated varieties. The felling of beech trees here as part of the ongoing plan for this plantation has brought these flowers back. Beech cast heavy shade and their leaf litter can acidify the soil thus discouraging the native ground flora species. It’s good to know that the plan to increase diversity is working.

There were more Primroses near to the top of the wood and by now the light was increasing and the mist clearing a little. It prompted cock Chaffinch to begin singing to announce to others that he had claimed this patch of woodland. As I walked along the field over the wall from the wood and towards the farm a wren had been caught up in the Spring frolics as he burst into song from behind the wall. I crossed the beck below the car park and admired the pinhead sized blossom buds on the Blackthorn just upstream of the little bridge. Soon they will be fully out.

By now the birds from the rookery in the Sycamore trees behind the car park had become the dominating presence, apart from the traffic of course. These birds have moved in recently compared to the Low Park ones. The trees were only planted in the 1960s. However, because of the real life dramas going on up in the trees and the fact that life was in the process of being renewed up there in the branches, to my relief the dual carriageway for once seemed less intrusive.

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