I’ve always felt that spring starts with the bluebells and ends with the dog roses. Those have begun to appear woven into the trees and shrubs by the bridge. The dawn chorus is quieter, there’s less birdsong through the day. The grass in the meadows has grown long enough to ripple like waves in the wind. The sun is higher, the light less nuanced, and the leaves have thickened and taken on a coarser, darker green hue.
It makes me sad that the youth and vigour of spring has passed, but the warmer temperatures make outdoor life easier and there’s still plenty of growth in the countryside yet. There was a cuckoo calling by the river from Assiter’s Spinney this morning. As I watched him preening himself a female let out an explosive bubbling trill from across the meadow.
It’s hard to get a clear view of the river now – the kek on the banks is a foot above my head in places and the nettles and thistles are fierce. So when I heard a kingfisher pass I couldn’t immediately see where it was going or if it landed nearby. It came back down the river a few minutes later and veered off over my right shoulder towards the cut. The speed and energy of its flight is always a thrill even if the play of light meant it appeared as a dark silhouette. Like rainbows, their coloured feathers are only at their incandescent best when the sun is coming over the observer’s shoulder.
Speaking of which, I’ve been thinking about what makes kingfishers so attractive to look at. The blue of the wings and back, and the orange of the breast are direct opposites on the colour wheel. That makes them especially pleasing from a human viewpoint – they are colours that would be thought to match in clothing and fashion. There is also a contrast between the dark beak and the white throat and collar. The shape of a perching kingfisher is pleasing too. If the neck is extended the bird looks tougher and its beak seems far too long for the rest of its body. But when it sits with its neck rested into its shoulders the shape is round and well proportioned.
There’s a good crop of buttercups in the meadows and there seem to be more damselflies than I’ve ever seen. As I’m walking I’m unconsciously scanning for little hints of blue on the far bank that might be a kingfisher. The blue of a demoiselle perched much closer on the near bank has more than once thrown up a false alarm, though a welcome one. I love the blur and fragility of their wings, the moments of repose followed by the jerky flight and the way they dance around each other.
I’m a little concerned that there are so few butterflies. There are a few Meadow Browns and the occasional Peacock or Red Admiral, but surely there should be more of them by now? Skippers too – I haven’t seen a single one. I guess it may have something to do with the cool slow spring, but the grass is growing so rapidly now that the hay may be mown before the butterflies really get going.