Saturday 3rd April – Willowbank – April has entered grey and wet. Bird song on Willowbank is muted; a lone Song Thrush sounds mournful. An Ornamental Currant is in blossom, an escape from a garden. Elder leaves are unfurling and Hawthorn leaf buds expanding. In the Hawthorn thickets, Chiffchaffs are in competition for territory and mates.
Good Friday, 9th April – Asham Wood Quarry, Somerset – A large disused quarry just outside the village of Nunney. It is huge with large areas on different levels, so it is easy to come up to a serious drop. It is a perfect Spring afternoon, bright and warm sunshine with a scattering of fluffy white clouds. Chiffchaffs are calling all, over the site. Common Buzzards soar overhead. Another sits on the branch of a dead tree high on the top of a cliff face. A Green Woodpecker yaffles from woods that cloak some areas. Wood Anemones, the Wind Flower, toss their white heads in the gentle breeze. Different willow catkins stand side by side. The track is made of limestone and calcite chippings, hardly a friendly environment for plants, but Wood Spurge is common and thriving. There are many Jackdaws and a pair of Common Ravens drifts over, one landing in a tree high above us. The dogs have been chasing around, through puddles and into the stream that flows through the quarry.
Nunney – Peter and Jo’s sheep are ready to drop their lambs. They come running over when we enter the field with a bucket of feed. It is obvious they and Jasper, the Irish Wolf Hound, German Shepherd cross, are old friends but they just give Dill the Dog a quick glance and then start hassling for food. Dill the Dog is beside herself that sheep should be so close and is whimpering and yelping as Kay holds her on the lead. However, Kay astutely reckons it is more likely to be about someone being fed when Dill the Dog is not!
Wells – Glastonbury Tor rises out of a sea of mist covering the Somerset Levels. We drop Kay off by the Cathedral and then head off to the new site for the Book Barn, the largest second hand book store in the country. For some reason, although different subject and genres have their own sections, within them, the books are not sorted in alphabetical order. This makes finding anything just a little difficult. We make a few purchases and head back to Wells. A strange steel arch stands by the roadside (the Bath road) surmounted by Romulus and Remus being suckled by the wolf. The city is heaving with shoppers, which persuades us to leave promptly.
Easter Sunday 11th April – Nunney – Off to the village square for the annual Easter Bonnet competition. Jemima has made her hat again this year, a straw boater surmounted by a toy rabbit and a bead butterfly, surrounded by fresh daffodils and tulips. And as in past years it is difficult to believe the winners made their hats by themselves as she has. The duck race is also a bit of a disappointment as the yellow plastic ducks come to a near halt half way down the course on the Nunney Brook. So we retreat to Peter and Jo’s garden so the children (and adults) can hunt Easter eggs. The “boys” also have some little model planes to play with – suddenly go back 40 years in age! Henry points out a small group of Swallows in the distance. A pair of Jackdaws sits in a big dead Elm in the fields behind the garden, watching all the chocolate on the table.
Easter Monday 12th April – Nunney – The lambs have still not dropped, although the old “Mother” looks very due. Her daughter, Spotty, has the deepest and most guttural baas as she demands breakfast. A Nuthatch is calling from the woods around the “big house”. Lesser Periwinkles hang over the wall. Skylarks sing high overhead. Common Pheasants are calling; one cock is standing with the sheep in the field beyond.
Mells – Off to the 25th Annual Daffodil Fair. Stalls line the main street selling everything from Dreamcatchers to potted plants to paintings to car parts. In the field there is terrier racing, a somewhat chaotic mass of yapping dogs who may or may not chase after the “hare”. Those that catch it hang on grimly, indeed the handler crosses the field with two hanging off of it. Dill the Dog is completely dismissive of the whole affair and lies on the grass with her back to it all. Milk Street Brewery of Frome has a beer tent with their own beer and Wilkes Farm cider – a fine and potent brew. In the church is the sword carried by Raymond Asquith when he fell in France in 1916. He was the son of the Prime Minister, those were the days when our leaders said that “we” will be resolute and sacrifices must be made, they included their own instead of other people’s sons and daughters.
Wednesday 15th April – Willowbank – A Bullfinch traverses the path, its bright pink breast shining. There is a cacophony of bird song along the large thicket running down the hill and it takes a few minutes to sort them all out – Chiffchaffs, Song Thrush, Blackbirds, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Dunnock and Blackcap. Round past the mine shaft cap and there is the first Willow Warbler of the year singing from atop a tall, spindly Birch. Oddly, the cry of Peacocks comes down from the top of the hill.
Saturday 17th April – Old Mill – Rain is threatened, the sky is dull grey. However, this does not stop the Chiffchaffs, Song Thrush and a Willow Warbler from singing joyfully. A Swallow, the first for the area for me, flies down the canal twisting from side to side. Another monstrous warehouse type store is being erected on top of the hill above the canal ruining the view.
Sunday 18th April – Home – April showers must be expected, but every day? However, there was a long enough dry period in the week to get some work done in the garden. Five rows of potatoes went in (Nadine, Desiree, Colleen and the new Hungarian variety Sárpo Axona). A row of radish and half a row of lettuce were sown. The former is a heritage species, Crimson Giant, whilst the lettuce is an old favourite, Marvel of Four Seasons. The heritage species lettuce, Bunyards Matchless is doing well having been grown from seed saved from last year. A row of calabrese, Marathon, was planted out. Some more tomatoes and cabbages have been sown in trays, but the weather prevents me getting carrots and beetroot in. Broad Beans are flowering and the second, spring sown batch are just emerging, as are the late sown peas. The rhubarb patch is a mass of huge green leaves. We have had a small crop of forced rhubarb which made a fine crumble, but the main cropping will start soon.
Monday 19th April – Fleets Dam – Rain threatens again. Three Common Terns are fishing – successfully. Their dancing and buoyant flight is a joy. Chiffchaffs are calling, Magpies chattering. Elder and Hawthorn leaves are now unfurled splashing the trees with a brilliant green.
Friday 23rd April – Barnsley Canal – The sun shines on St Georges Day. In fact it is downright warm! The canal tow-path has dried nicely making it passable again. Insects have emerged in time for the incoming summer visitors and early nesting birds. Mosquitoes swarm along the edge of the canal. Bumble Bees fly over the Hawthorns. Orange Tip Butterflies are mating in the old brown bracken from last year. Chiffchaffs call persistently.
Saturday 24th April – Old Mill – Another beautifully sunny morning. Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers are singing from both sides of the canal. Down by the old lock, there is a jerky song coming from up ahead. I home in on a small bird on top of a sapling, but it is a Willow Warbler, confirming its identity by singing. There is a pale spot in a bush on the wide open area down from Oakwell. This turns out to be a Sedge Warbler, which also obliges by scratching out its song. Eventually, the singer of the first song appears, a Whitethroat. Lilacs are coming into bloom.
Sunday 25th April – Barnsley Canal – The hot weather continues. The bird song along the canal is almost overwhelming. Behind it is the reeling drone of grasshoppers. A double take up Willowbank, four Guinea Fowl wandering across the hillside. A female Kestrel sits on the wires. There are no Mute Swans on the Loop, maybe the morons with their airguns have finally made them give up. However, the steady whistling beat of one passes overhead as I reach the car park again.
Monday 26th April – Barnsley Canal – There is a hazy sun warming the back of my neck. But minutes later an April shower hits. Dill the Dog and I shelter under an Ash and Hawthorn soothed the gentle sound of rain on the canal with the occasional louder plop of a drop splashing down off an overhanging limb. Some bird song continues despite the downpour, but it picks up considerably when the skies dry. Several Bullfinches fly up from the small grassy bank between the tow-path and the water. A male Blackcap is by the footbridge; there are several more singing down the valley. There is a constant background sound of grasshoppers. A Song Thrush sings from a Willow, and higher up still, a Chaffinch is at the top of the tallest Ash. Splashing indicates a Moorhen, white tail flashes bobbing angrily, scurrying away under a Willow branch that lies across the water. Thousands of mosquitoes hover over the path. Some pass close to my ear with a loud buzzing. A pair of noisy Canada Geese fly along the hillside. They land in the Loop and continue to honk. The field over the River Dearne is turning yellow as the rape crop flowers. In the afternoon, there is a prolonged thunder storm which causes a short electricity failure and upsets Dill the Dog. Just before midnight, I take Dill the Dog over to the green across the road. It is a long bowl shape – once a reservoir. In the dark towards the end I can see a couple of white objects which move and disappear – the tails of a pair of Foxes.
Tuesday 27th April – Fleets Dam – It is grey and raining. Water pours over the weir. Spring progresses however with Hedge Mustard and Ransoms both in flower – pristine white blooms against fresh green foliage. There are four Grey Herons in the south-west corner and two Great Crested Grebes swimming serenely around the lake. Later Peter telephones to tell me Spotty has dropped twin lambs.
Wednesday 28th April – Barnsley Canal – The grey and damp weather continues. Chiffchaffs are loud beside the canal. A pair of grunting Tufted Duck alight on the water but do not like the look of Dill the Dog (who, of course, does not notice them) and they fly off.
Friday 30th April – The Fleets – April departs grey, damp and rather miserably. The River Dearne is still high and a muddy brown. Four Arctic Terns are fishing over the lake, with some success. A Great Crested Grebe preens. Beside the path is a rather sorry looking Stinkhorn, small and a little shrivelled.