The hedgerow at the bottom of our garden has in the last week unfurled its beautiful green leaves. Suddenly, almost overnight, the branches are clothed in a thick velvet fabric of such density and verdancy, just as they were those twelve (!) years ago that we bought the house. I look back at those years and that person I was then; I daresay I wouldn’t recognise her at all, in her naivete and youthful exuberance. I daresay she wouldn’t recognise me, either, though I know she’d love the life I’m trying to create for our family.
Spring is the happiest time of year. I used to like winter a lot, but now for me no other season is as wonderful or magical as spring. As lovely as autumn is, it is tinged with a sorrow at losing the lovely days of spring and summer and succumbing to the indoors for a few months. Spring on the other hand beckons you out, holds your hand, wafts sweet scents of newly cut grass and may blossom on the breeze. It has the season’s first strawberries and birds nest-building and long, long, long overdue sun.
Today was one of those dreamy spring days. It was warm, a whopping 14C and almost entirely windless. We had a late-for-us start followed by me making pancakes for everyone, with extra blueberries for Baby VP whose idea of the perfect meal is a blueberry (or twenty).
Mr VP has started the long, arduous task of DIY – painting the dining room and the bathroom amongst other things – so while he got on with that, I took Baby VP out and we went to the beach for a walk. It was so busy there that we actually struggled to find parking – something that hardly ever happens at this particular beach, so you could tell the weather was exceptionally nice. The ice-cream van had a line ten deep for oysters and 99s and Zaps. We walked and she and I and talked about the things we could see; why the water looked so blue and about the people, the birds and the sand.
Spring is a hopeful season. I love it and can’t wait to get out for some more walks and get to see some more places.
A warm Sunday morning in March, much like it was the other weekend. A new kite. Some necessary errands ticked off the list and a chance to take off for some family time. To the beach to fly our new kite. Possibly more for me than for Baby VP, though when it took off the look of awe and wonderment filled her face just as much as ours. It was possibly the easiest kite I’ve ever flown, and so much fun. It stayed in the air, without any skill from me, for over 25 minutes. And was, at one point, flying almost 80 metres in the air with only a very light breeze. Amazing and so, so magical.
Have you noticed that we’re now exiting the deepest, darkest bits of winter? Like a plant deprived of the sun, I am desperately craning myself to find some its rays again. So when the weather gets above 10C and the wind is not blowing a gale and the sun is shining? I make like a cat and luxuriate, nay revel, in its appearance. Hoo-boy, Sun, you have been away far too long!
All of the above necessary conditions were met the other day and so I set off with Mr VP and Baby VP, the Archers omnibus on in the car (to my absolute flummoxing, I’ve discovered that Mr VP is not only a closet fan of the Archers but if I miss an episode it turns out I can rely on his almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the goings on in Ambridge to set me straight! *insert wide-eyed surprise-face here*).
And so we walked. Away from others, though as it was pretty early (for a Sunday), there weren’t many takers for a brisk walk. Just myself, my girl and Mr VP. Blue skies, white clouds, oystercatchers, a huge stretch of golden sand to explore and beachcomb on and the deep blue North Sea.
On the way back we saw a couple of unfamiliar birds flitting back and forth in the hedgerow. It turns out that they were stonechats. A new one on us!
Each time we visit fulmar beach (as we’ve come to know it), it seems the fulmars have changed ledges and abandoned nests, only to occupy new positions. Unfortunately, the fulmars who were moving their egg, had either dropped the egg (unlikely) or had it predated by a larger gull species (much more likely), as the broken egg shell lay on the shore beneath the nest. It was pretty heartbreaking to see, but I suppose it is difficult to raise chicks in a cushy nest, let alone on a narrow, windy ledge facing the sea. Such are the trials and tribulations of nest-building and chick-raising. On the upside, there are still another few couples nesting, or attempting to, on that cliff. Surely one will manage to make it through?! I do hope so. I love going to see how they’re doing and watching them swoop over my head as their partner comes back with a gullet-full of fish.
Wheeling, diving, plunging and shaking – all on the wing. It is so nice to hear their sharp little barking calls to each other. I am always awed at how far these little birds travel each year from their wintering grounds in Africa, just to breed on our shores.
It never fails to amaze me how many birds it is possible to spot on a relatively short late-Spring walk along the beach. After a few seemingly difficult nesting starts where we’d see proper nests and then empty ones a week later, it seems that two pairs of fulmars have made their nests on this one little section of cliff. How do we know they’re serious? They had laid an egg (can you spot it?)! The fulmars did their egg-turning maneuouvre as we watched with baited breath, hoping that it wouldn’t fall out of the nest. The sand martins are back, too, and how glad we are that we have seen them! They are almost impossible to take photos of because they hurtle around, like all of their long-journeying, winged-insect-eating avian relatives, at break-neck speed. But when they return to their nest, you can sometimes, if you have a sensitive picture-taking finger, catch them for their brief pause! We also spotted a curlew on the wing and a cormorant too, as well as the requisite oyster catchers and pied wagtails.
When not enjoying the huge array of wildlife that just happen to wander or fly past at this time of year, I get a little too carried away in the beauty of the sea and its reflections. This time of year is officially magical and pretty wonderful too.
Whilst keeping our eyes peeled one evening for sandwich terns, Cuddy’s ducks (eider ducks) and red-breasted mergansers (check, check and check!) (not to mention the bonus shelduck! Check!), I noticed a bird flying over the shoreline that I thought looked like a bird of prey. It was the right shape in flight and had the right shaped wings, so I turned the lens towards it and took a rapid succession of pictures. It wasn’t until I looked back at them on the camera’s screen that I thought – it can’t be! – it looked awfully like… A Cuckoo! Indeed, this little fella was most likely just arriving up here from his African wintering spot (the only reason he’d be crossing over the sea, surely?).
It is exceedingly magical as it is the first cuckoo I’ve ever seen and moreover, I saw him arriving! Isn’t he splendid? Not that I agree with cuckoos in princple, given their parasitic nesting behaviour (watch out little reed warbler – if you see a giant egg, it’s not yours!) but even I coo (and think of this C13th song) whenever I hear one. Yep, signs of summer are everywhere!