From a secret place looking down into the cliff face I have a perfect view of a male redstart. Each morning in early May I listen for a cuckoo and, not finding him yet, I return to sit and contemplate this handsome male redstart. I hear him singing across his territory and wait for him to return to his favoured perch. I can't work out whether he knows there are females listening to him, or sings simply in the hope of attracting them into his territory. Then he flies from his perch in display and alights again, showing his colours in a fresh perspective. It's a bravura performance.
Early purple orchids and cowslips appear in the grass. Wych elm is thick with flowers, showing against a bright blue sky on a morning calm and still. We note the tree, thinking to return in July and look high in its crown for the white-letter hairstreak. The wych elm overhangs a sheltered woodland fringe where we found silver washed fritillary last summer.
Swallows perch on a wire by Park End Farm, the sun discovering a sheen of blue on the throat and a warm flush on the breast. Light shines directly onto the swallows, bringing out colours of their fresh breeding plumage in all its loveliness.
Wear something bright, I'd requested. I wanted a cover-shot for my new book with my friend looking out toward Piel Castle. She wore a cherry-red fleece but it was so cold she kept her jacket to hand. The wind did not drown-out the cooing of eider duck returned to South Walney in their best breeding plumage. Male eider are pistachio green on the nape, a flush of pink on the breast, and black and white plumage spectacular in sunlit flight.
21st April 2022 Eider are returned to South Walney. How will weather, tide and season come together?
A year ago to the day, we discovered toothwort deep amongst the mosses cushioning the ground in Warriner's Wood. So we hope to find flowers of toothwort today.
Walking the ridge of Scout Scar I hear redpoll and see them in flight. I'm almost certain I'm hearing redstart too. It's a warm and hazy day with humidity bringing forth slugs where drops of dew are poised on blades of grass. As the morning grows warmer we might come upon a basking adder, as I did last year in mid-April.
A peaceful scene with avocet elegant and serene on their nests. So it might seem.
Open the windows of the Allen Hide and the raucous screeching of black-headed gulls hits in a wave of sound.
The closest avocet pair is constantly tending the nest, tidying fragments of vegetation with long, upturned bills. I reckon they're turning their eggs before fluffing up their plumage to sit and incubate. When they both stand I glimpse four mottled eggs in the nest and the waders place their long silver-blue legs and webbed feet with care.
An electric fence protects the site from foxes. But that nest looks dangerously close to the water's edge, if water-levels should rise.
'What are catkins?' he asked.
The best questions are often the seemingly simple ones.
Each spring, I answer with studies of tree flowers; hazel, willow, larch, bog myrtle, hornbeam and birch. They're all about us, if only we look. Finding them close to home is an opportunity to follow them through the seasons. Male catkins are usually the more striking. But the female flowers will bear fruit; hazel nuts, alder and larch cones. And samaras, the small nuts of hornbeam which hawfinch love.
Frost sparkles on the ground where petals of cherry blossom lie fallen.
From Helsington Church, we see snow cresting the distant fells.
A morning of bright sunlight and tree- flowers: blackthorn, cherry blossom, willow and maple. Bees throng about the hives in the orchard of heritage apple trees.
Veils of hail shimmer through sunlight and white pellets lie on the ground with the white petals of tree- flowers.
There’s fresh snow on distant fells and a sparkling frost on the boardwalk at Leighton Moss. Willow catkins are full of pollen and attract bees. A few weeks ago mature willow crowns were red-gold. Now they burst into leaf in a haze of fresh green.
A male bittern booms loud and clear throughout the morning. There are three on the Reserve and the habitat they favour is carefully prepared to encourage their successful breeding. Three marsh harrier fly above us. A clear blue sky is reflected in freshwater pools ruffled by the wind.
Rain struck the roof of the veranda outside Sizergh Cafe where we gathered to look for hawfinch. They come seeking hornbeam seeds, now scattered below trees adorned with catkins. Our guide Rob Pocklington told us that sometimes, if it's quiet, he can hear hawfinch cracking the seed with their heavy bills. We saw male and female hawfinch but the rain persisted so light levels were low. You need a telescope or strong sunlight for good sightings.
Subsequently, we walked to Brigsteer Park and the rain had almost stopped. How different from the warmth and bright sun of Saturday! Not a butterfly in sight.
Wild daffodils bloom in the upturned root-plate of a tree brought down in a winter storm. This is the season for the flora of the herb layer, before leaf-buds open and the canopy shadows the woodland floor. A twig of cones has snagged on a slender tree as the conifer came down. Creepers spiral round and round branches. Ivy berries give food for birds and we come upon a spectacular ivy tree, the host's bare branches peeping through a garment of ivy.
Sunlight pours down into Brigsteer Wood where mature trees have been felled and we can see the pools at Park End Moss from high in the wood.
If you want to hear talking trees walk the Coffin Route from Rydal Church. On a sunlit winter's day they cast long and spooky shadows. On this bright March morning they still stop us in our tracks, familiar and puzzling.
Some seem to defy gravity, like this mighty oak which overhangs a bluff, high above Rydal Water. Great branches take surprising twists and turns. It's a host tree with holly leaves at its heart although the oak is still tight in bud. A low branch is hollow and filled with stones, as if ready to arm the sling of young David about to take on Goliath.
A pair of goldeneye showed from Causeway Hide, the handsome male in lively diving sequence and rarely surfacing for long.
A bittern boomed intermittently, a bass resonating call.
The bright sun lit the seeding bulrush which rose proud of the reed beds in a way that seemed unfamiliar. We couldn't understand it. Later that morning, we met a Reserve warden who told us of starling murmurations of 70,000 birds that descended into the reed beds to roost, and flattened them.
On a beautiful March morning I find the first blackthorn flowers on Helsington Barrows. The same bush flowers first each spring. Rich cream buds open to white flowers and lichens colour the twigs.
The crimson female flowers of larch appear. Male flowers are smaller, dense and soft green. Leaf buds have clusters of sharp-green needles. The fresh growth of spring shows amidst clusters of last summer’s dark cones.
The morning if full of fragrance and the urgency of spring. A pair of long-tailed tits dances through the trees, calling to each other. Frogs hasten through the grass, down to the lake to add to the clots of frogspawn amongst the water lilies. A female makes haste, slowly, burdened with a male who clutches her in amplexus, eager to mate. One female bears three males on her back. Sunlight pours down through the canopy, colouring new twigs, catkins and tree-flowers. Most leaf-buds are still tight-closed and this is the season when light penetrates to the herb layer where daffodils and celandine flourish. There's a buzz of life all around.
Aerial, he sees me photographing the tree he's felling.
'Ash die-back,' he yells down to me.
'Not if it's not ash.' I call back.
Impossible to be sure how many trees have been felled on what was an embankment, now excavated and demolished. I counted some hundred tree stumps among a debris of stone wall toppled. When I find the planning application map re development off Brigsteer Road I'm incandescent with fury. Take a look, it's SL/2020/0783
Jets roar low over Ambleside and Rydal. One flies so low over Grasmere Lake the fells rise above it. We can’t help feeling the air-force is on alert because of Putin's invasion of Ukraine. They're loud but not threatening, yet it feels ominous.
Next day, President Zelensky of Ukraine addresses a packed House of Commons, invoking Churchill's defiance of Hitler. Zelensky isn't wracked by Hamlet's indecision, 'to be or not to be.' Zelensky is for survival. So, to the theme of resilience.
In 1793 Wordsworth fled Paris, disillusioned by Revolution in France. Abandoning his lover and daughter, he was in deep depression. His visit to the Wye Valley was restorative and five years later he reflects upon the healing power of Nature in his poem Tintern Abbey. David Attenborough and Simon Schama consider how Nature helps us cope with the ‘craziness of all the world. We are part of the natural world, not divorced from it. It is our essential cure and Nature must prevail, for our own well-being.’
The scale and extent of Collateral Damage shocks us. At Brackenwood, aka The Ghyll, mature trees have been felled and a barrier erected to close off the short-cut footpath from Underwood to the Brigsteer Road, prior to work beginning on SUDS (sustainable urban drainage system). No-one told us about the tree-felling, SUDS, or footpath closures. There are no notices at footpath entry points, nothing on footpath closure, nothing to tell us what is to happen here, or why or when. So we investigate, of our own initiative.
Storm Dudley and Storm Eunice threaten to bring down trees and power lines. Weather forecasters do all they can to prepare us.
What happens here today comes with no warning. It is shocking and bewildering. We do not understand what is happening. No one tells us.
A day of floodlights sweeping the fells, followed by shadows. On the horizon, a fell of sunlit snow. A kaleidoscope of the elements.
There's a cold wind so we drop below the cairn on Cunswick Fell and sit looking toward Kentmere, trying to make out what we're seeing in all that is subtle and transitory.
Jan Wiltshire is a nature writer living in Cumbria. She also explores islands and coast and the wildlife experience. (See Home and My Books.)