Finally, nature explodes into colour

AFTER those dull, muddy early weeks of the year, the world suddenly seems to explode into life in March.

Suddenly – and only after long grey days of eager anticipation – the natural world is alive with activity, with something new to spot every day.

CHILLY PROSPECT: wintry skies in Chesham PICTURE: Leigh Richardson

And with many families still finding their movements limited by lockdown restrictions, perhaps more of us than ever have been aware of those daily changes in the fortunes of our local flora and fauna, and have been watching them with fascination.

First it was the daffodils and primroses replacing the snowdrops and blackthorn hedges suddenly awash with abundant small white flowers.

EARLY PROMISE: a long-tailed tit at Dorney Wetlands PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

But while the earliest hedgerow shrub to flower may herald the onset of spring, country folk warn of the so-called ‘Blackthorn Winter’, when the white blossoms can be matched in colour by frost-covered grass, icy temperatures and even late snow flurries.

EARLY RISER: a muntjac deer appears out of the mist PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Although depicted in fairy tales throughout Europe as a tree of ill omen, blackthorn is given a rather magical reputational makeover by Dutch storyteller Els Baars, who suggests the “innocent” white flowers are the Lord’s way of telling the world that the blackthorn bush was not to blame for its twigs being used to make Christ’s crown of thorns.

And it’s far from being the only colour to catch the eye. Plumes of fragrant apple and cherry blossom appear all around too, a delight to bees and other pollinators before they start to shower to the ground like pink, white and red confetti.

SPECTACULAR SHOW: March blossoms in Willow Wood, Amersham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Wonderful magnolia trees and glossy everygreen camellias and mahonias are fighting for attention in local gardens, while yellow gorse flowers have opened up across the heathland at Stoke Common and Black Park.

PRICKLY CUSTOMER: gorse flowers on Stoke Common PICTURE: Andrew Knight

The air is thick with birdsong in morning and early evening, robins, blackbirds and wrens shouting about territory while the local wood pigeons strut and coo. There’s frogspawn aplenty in local ponds and nest-building is under way in earnest.

FRIENDLY FACE: a fluffy garden favourite PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Sometimes even the most familiar local residents are worth a much closer look. Living close to a river, we tend to take for granted the birds and animals we see every day: the squirrels, pigeons and the ducks who amiably wander through the garden or quack for food at the front door.

DRESSED TO IMPRESS: the distinctive green head of a drake PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

But as Graham Parkinson’s remarkable portraits show, even the ubiquitous mallard is a remarkably handsome fellow, and while the female lacks such dramatic colours, she has a remarkable depth and subtlety to her plumage that is equally striking.

SAFETY FIRST: nesting female ducks blend into their surroundings PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

There’s an important advantage to not being so dramatically dressed, though – camouflage. Nesting alone means female ducks suffer a higher mortality rate than males, so it makes perfect sense to blend into the vegetation on their nesting areas.

UP FOR A FLUTTER: a peacock butterfly on the Thames Path PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Warmer days are encouraging the first butterflies out for a flutter, like the bright yellow brimstone, peacock, small tortoiseshell or red admiral.

Many beetles have been waking up after their winter hibernation too, most noticeably the bright red seven-spot ladybirds, glistening like little red jewels as they warm their bodies in the morning sunshine.

The warmer daytime temperatures also lure adders out of hibernation, but they can hard to spot, even when sitting motionless in the sun. 

ON THE MOVE: clouds scudding across the sky in Chesham PICTURE: Leigh Richardson

Early morning is the best time to see them while they’re still cold from the previous night and a little slower on the move – once warmed up they can wriggle with remarkable alacrity.

Those early mornings and sunny evenings are the best time for photography, as well as catching the sounds of woodland creatures stirring – the yaffle of a woodpecker, perhaps, or the agitated chittering of argumentative squirrels.

ROAD LESS TRAVELLED: on the Berkshire Loop of the Chiltern Way PICTURE: Andrew Knight

Country lanes are beginning to look a little more welcoming, with splashes of colour to offset the brown: the cowslips and coltsfoot, dandelions and winter aconites providing welcome dots of yellow against an increasingly green backcloth.

Although many think of wild flowers like dandelions as a nuisance, Brtiain’s wild flowers are increasingly being recognised as a valuable asset, with people rediscovering their ancient medicinal properties and old recipes being dusted off for salads, wines and health tonics.

OLD FAVOURITE: the common cowslip PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Spring lambs are gambolling in the fields and local farms are a hive of activity too, with chicks hatching, vegetables to plant and spring cleaning to organise as the earth begins to warm – even if there are still plenty of frosty mornings and chill clear nights to freeze the bones.

MOTHER’S DAY: sheep at Great Missenden PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Whichever aspect of spring gives you most enjoyment – those insects emerging from hibernation, early blooms, noisy rooks or natterjacks, frosty morning walks or the antics of playful baby goats, squirrels and lambs, it’s an extraordinary time of year.

As Melissa Harrison says in her nature diary The Stubborn Light of Things: “It’s the oldest story: the earth coming back to life after its long winter sleep. Yet spring always feels like a miracle when at last it arrives.”

MORNING CALL: a barn owl hunting at dawn PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

As always, we’d like to give a very big thank you to all the keen local photographers who have allowed us to use their work this month. If you would like to contribute any pictures, favourite moments or seasonal suggestions to our calendar entry for April, contact editor@thebeyonder.co.uk on email or via our Facebook group page.

Falling leaves and mushroom magic

OCTOBER has been a spectacular month in the Chilterns – and you have been sharing some of your favourite images of local landscapes and wildlife during that time.

With Autumnwatch back on our screens and the woods ablaze with colour, families across the area have been getting outdoors at every opportunity to make the most of the seasonal spectacle.

FALLING LEAVES: a bench in Penn Wood PICTURE: Andrew Knight

And with half the country under strict lockdown restrictions, the natural world continues to provide a vital escape from the stresses and strains of mask wearing and social distancing – and for many, an absolutely essential boost to mental health.

WOODLAND WANDER: Hervines Park in Amersham PICTURE: Lucy Parks
COLOUR CONTRASTS: a footpath in Amersham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

But which sights, sounds and smells best sum up the spirit of the month for you? We asked fellow Beyonders to help us expand our selection of favourite pictorial memories of the past month for our online Chilterns calendar and the response was rapid and generous, as you can see.

LIGHT AND SHADE: Brush Hill near Princes Risborough PICTURE: Anne Rixon

This October was perhaps most memorable for its astonishing array of fungi – like these colourful but toxic fly agaric toadstools in Penn Woods (above) – prompting our appeal for help in identifying some of the less obvious local species.

TOXIC TOADSTOOL: fly agarics in Penn Wood PICTURE: Andrew Knight
MUSHROOM MAGIC: fungi flourishing at Whiteleaf Woods PICTURE: Anne Rixon

It’s been a month of ripe berries and falling fruit, of eager foraging for humans and rich pickings for birds, insects and mammals, with trees and bushes bursting with tasty treats.

In kitchens across the Chilterns, pots and pans have been bubbling with jams and jellies, crumbles and preserves. Windows have been steamed up as cooks have dusted off their recipes for rosehip syrup, sweet chestnut stuffing or crab apple jelly.

RIPE FOR THE PICKING: rosehips can make tasty syrup PICTURE: Olivia Rzadkiewicz

The rich, rapidly-changing colours and glorious textures of October make it a favourite with photographers, especially deep in the woods where the green, yellow and russet hues contrast so beautifully with the rugged outlines of ancient bark.

COUNTRY CROSSROADS: footpaths meet at Latimer PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

If the feature proves popular, it could be a regular monthly item, building into a year-round collection of shots capturing some of the natural wonders of our amazing landscape, like this stunning shot highlighted in our Picture of the Week feature.

SUNSET SILHOUETTE: stags locking horns at Grangelands PICTURE: Anne Rixon

If you have a picture or two you would like us to feature, drop us a line by email to editor@thebeyonder.co.uk, join us in our Facebook group or contact us on Twitter @TheBeyonderUK.

Let us know a little bit about where the picture was taken and make sure you include your full name for the picture credit.

FUNGI IN FOCUS: mushrooms in Whiteleaf Woods PICTURE: Anne Rixon
WATERLOGGED: the River Thame flood plain at Aylesbury PICTURE: Ron Adams