What to look for in spring

Primroses are one of the earliest flowers to open 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.

Ferns lend a touch of delicate elegance to the woodland floor
Newly emerging fern fronds
Ferns lend a touch of delicate elegance to the woodland floor

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.

Wild garlic creates a pungent carpet of green leaves and a stunning display of white flowers in May
Wild garlic carpets much of Calfhall Wood in late spring
Wild garlic creates a pungent carpet of green leaves and a stunning display of white flowers in May

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.

Bluebells are patchy at Hudswell Woods but their vibrant blue flowers carpet parts of Billy Bank and Hag Wood
Bluebells make the most of a woodland glade in Hag Wood
Bluebells are patchy at Hudswell Woods but their vibrant blue flowers carpet parts of Billy Bank and Hag Wood

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.

Chiffchaff, the first migrant to arrive back in the UK in spring this little olive green warbler fills the woodland with it’s “chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff,” song
Returning chiffchaffs mark the arrival of spring
Chiffchaff, the first migrant to arrive back in the UK in spring this little olive green warbler fills the woodland with it’s “chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff,” song

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.

Drifts of wood anemone flowers can be found on old hedgerow banks and under old hazel coppice
Wood anemone can be found on old woodland banks
Drifts of wood anemone flowers can be found on old hedgerow banks and under old hazel coppice