The latest update from Michael Walter:

Nature’s cycles are largely bound up with daylength, so come late January or February life that has been on hold in the fastness of winter begins to stir, even if conditions remain Arctic.  However, temperature is very definitely a facilitator in this process of preparing for another growing or breeding season, and the warm weather in the second half of March (I recorded 21.8° on 23rd) certainly kick-started spring;  almost overnight, a shimmer of bright green appeared in the wood, as birch, hawthorn and hornbeam buds all began to burst.  Oak comes later, and bringing up the rear as usual will be the chestnut coppice, which still looks as though it is in thrall to the ice season, the spell broken occasionally where a greening birch has managed to insinuate itself into a lighter gap in the oppressive shade cast by the chestnut.  As the season progresses so we see a succession of flowers:  wood anemones seem to be particularly prominent this year, gladdening the heart when seen en masse, their white, or occasionally pink-tinged, flowers shivering in the breeze – the name comes from the Greek word anemos, meaning wind, giving rise to the plant’s country name of windflower, though whether it was named on account of the battering it can take from the wind or simply in recognition of the fact that the flowers appear early in the year when wind is more prevalent, is a matter of conjecture.  A few days ago I was inordinately lucky to stumble upon a breathtaking display of the rare pasque flower in Hertfordshire;  its Linnean name, now changed, used to be Anemone pulsatilla, the second part of the name deriving from the Latin pulsatus, meaning agitated, so it is literally a “wind-agitated” plant, which was certainly my experience when trying to take some photos.  I can therefore easily believe that our much commoner wood anemone was also named in recognition of the ease with which its flower can be shaken by the raw winds of an untamed spring.  One other plant that is easy to spot now, though not growing in drifts, is the common dog violet.  A remarkably similar plant, the early dog violet, also occurs in Kent, and a more careful examination might reveal its presence in Blean Woods, though its preference for chalk makes this rather less likely.  Most easily distinguished by the bluey-mauve spur that projects out of the back of the flower (in the common dog violet it is pale cream), the early species rejoices in the Latin name of Viola reichenbachiana, which immediately calls to mind the Reichenbach Falls in Germany where Sherlock Holmes is supposed to have met his end when confronting his nemesis, Moriarity.  There is a whole other world of plant names to explore!


I heard my first four nightingales this morning (14th April), but as I haven’t been able to pay so many visits to the wood recently, it is quite possible that the first ones slipped in a few days before then, although my 40-year average is 13th April, so they have arrived on time.  My first blackcap was on 7th April, spot on the long-term mean, but I invariably hear them before then in less wooded habitats away from the reserve, and this year was greeted by a bird just outside my garden on 16th March.  While you could argue that this may have been an overwintering blackcap, why then don’t I also record out-of-season birds in the wood?  It all adds to the feeling that extensive woodland is not the blackcap’s prime habitat, adding another brick to the edifice of the idea now gaining traction that primeval Britain wasn’t wall-to-wall woodland but a much more varied landscape of wood, scrub, grassland, heath and marsh that was maintained as a mosaic by large herbivores, such as the bison that are about to be allowed to roam through much of West Blean Wood.