March and April certainly produced some contrasting weather, from bitter cold to almost summer sunshine with rain and hail in between. The strong winds that accompanied the earlier snow saw the sheep in the field at the end of Mickley Lane huddled together behind the remains of a bonfire to find a bit of shelter. Temperatures were down to -70C at one point but a week later, on the 7th March, I spotted a peacock butterfly on the wing. It was not until the 25th March that another butterfly, a comma, was seen. Usually the first butterflies seen are the brimstone and orange tip but these were not seen until the 5th April for the brimstone and the 20th April for the orange tip. Very few butterflies have been seen as the wet weather has kept them off the wing.Throughout March, in the late evening, the trees at the back of the house echoed with the lonely keewick of the female tawny owl. With no returning call from the male I feared that she would not be able to find a mate. Finally, right at end of March, at last an
answering hoo hoo. It looks as if there will another brood of owlets this year. There have been two reported sightings of the barn owl along Ashwell Road. Both Albert Burdett and Anthony Wright reported seeing it at close range flying along the hedgerow. I have heard it calling but have yet to see it this year. After the frost had gone out of the ground I was expecting the buzzard to return but I did not see him until late March. He even came within a few yards of the window before returning to his favourite post. I think he must have moulted as his breast was a brilliant white, flecked with brown. Perched there he looked like a lord with an ermine cape around his shoulders. I finally heard the great spotted woodpecker drumming after reports of it being heard in other parts of the village. After a particularly heavy amount of rain a "lake" appeared in the field and a pair of mallard adopted it as a temporary home for a few days. The crows also took advantage of it to have a good bath. It has been interesting watching the pecking order of the various birds. The crows are generally top of the pile and, now they are nesting, have recently driven the buzzard away. As soon as he is seen flying in this direction they fly up and protect the area. (The afternoon I wrote this I hadn't seen the buzzard for some time then, that very evening, at around 9 o'clock he appeared in the field. He must be waiting till dusk when the crows are not active). A pair of magpies are next in line are usually coexist with crows without any trouble. The only problem occurred when a third magpie appeared and then they were squabbling amongst themselves. Jackdaws are next, but only if there are a few of them. They seem to send for reinforcements and arrive mob handed to get the upper hand over both crows and magpies. The wood pigeons are ignored by everybody and wander around oblivious to what is happening around them. The males spend most of their time displaying to the females which involves walking behind them, a couple of hops and then bowing down and raising their tails. The females just carry on and walk away. Sometimes another male will try his luck by shooing off the first male and going through the same routine. They soon get sidetracked if they spot some food. A pair of pied wagtails sometimes arrive, they run across the grass flicking their tails and occasionally jumping into the air to grab an insect that has taken flight. The first swallows were seen on the 20th April. Hopefully more pairs will breed this year. There are also plenty of young rabbits which are amusing to watch as they race around and bowl each other over.My daily walks have been curtailed recently as I had to have Ronnie, my little dog, put to sleep and it doesn't seem the same going out without him. However I have taken a few trips around Munday's Close. The snowdrops have now finished flowering and been replaced by the daffodils, primroses, celandines and cowslips. By the middle of April, the first chiff chaff was heard calling. One day I could hear a constant tapping noise and tracked it down to one of the nest boxes. After a while a blue tit emerged. I don't know if inspecting the box as a possible nest sight or simply pecking at insects that had already made it home. Great tits were also seen trying to enlarge the entrance to another box. Along Mickley Lane the white form of snake's-head fritillaria was seen in flower along with triangular stemmed garlic.In the garden the camellias seem to be one plant that has benefited from the cold weather. The buds have been held back, opened later than usual and the bushes have been a covered in flowers. Other plants were not so lucky. My Amelanchier tree looked a picture the day the blossom opened, one mass of white. The next day we had a hail storm that stripped every single petal in a matter of minutes. The shrubs that I ruthlessly massacred all seem to be shooting. It is amazing how plants can come back after such harsh treatment. Some of them do too well. I now have a battle to remove hellebore seedlings, spanish bluebells and speedwell. A reminder to dog walkers that ground nesting birds are vulnerable at this time of year. I have already had a report of a sitting pheasant abandoning her eggs after unwelcome attention from a dog,I am always interested in other peoples sightings and comments so don't forget to email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.