What to look for in spring
Hudswell Woods in the spring is rich with the promise of new life; buds burst with fresh green leaves and flowers poke their heads through the old leaf litter looking for the sun. New shoots and buds emerge in rough pasture and hay meadow, offering promise of what is to come. A soundtrack of spring bird song accompanies this transformation, kingfishers busily inspect the riverbank for a nest site, buzzards wheel and call overhead, and migrant warblers noisily announce their arrival back at their preferred breeding grounds.
A walk in the woods in May is a very special thing; signs of new life are everywhere. With more hours of daylight a walk in early morning or late evening can be rewarded with sunshine flooding the north facing slopes which have remained in shadow for much of the winter. The woodland is alive with activity, take time to stop and listen, or even sit for a while, spend 5 or 10 minutes soaking up the wonders of nature.
Ramsons (Allium ursinum) also known as wild garlic, carpets much of the woodland floor in Calfhall Wood. On a warm spring morning the garlic fragrance is unmistakable. The leaves are edible and can be used in salad, soup, or mixed into a homemade pesto instead of basil. In the past leaves were also used for animal fodder.
Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) are particularly associated with ancient woodlands. Patches of bluebell can be found all over Hudswell Woods, including the grassland areas; an indication perhaps that these were also once covered in woodland.
Migrant birds The last week of March usually heralds the arrival of the first chiffchaffs, small olive green warblers returning from their wintering grounds in southern Europe and North Africa. Their repetitive ‘chiff–chaff’ song is easy to pick out from the other woodland birdsong. Willow warblers arrive several weeks later and sand martins can also be seen at this time over the Swale, returning to their riverbank nest sites. By early May blackcaps, garden warblers and spotted flycatchers will also have returned to this site.
Understory and canopy Walking through the woods in spring it is possible to see that the understory (the herb and shrub layer, including young trees) in deciduous woodland comes into leaf several weeks before the tall canopy trees. Tree saplings, bulbs and perennial plants that cover the woodland floor have to make the most of this brief window of sunlight before the large canopy trees come into leaf and shade everything below.