Sunday 30 October 2011

A personal wildlife calendar

If you're ever stuck for an idea to kick start a post, it's amazing how inspirational one's fellow bloggers can be. You've got Katie at Nature ID to thank for the seed corn of today's offering. I can only hope that my small corner of the blogosphere is half as good at germinating the tiny shoots of a thought and nurturing it towards maturity.

A couple of months ago, our good friend JD went on holiday to California, principally to go whale-watching with a bunch of like-minded cetacean folk, but also to soak up the general wildlife flavour of the area. I am smiling as I write this, remembering his excited description of finding a rattlesnake in the road as their car rounded a bend. Not long after his return to England, one of his American acquaintances mentioned a trip to the UK, and as one of the planned destinations for the trip was Orkney, I was asked for my thoughts on travel, accommodation, wildlife hotspots etc. It was very difficult to narrow down all our favourite places in the archipelago to a Top Ten, it felt a bit disloyal to some of the spiffing archaeology and scenery that I had to leave out, but rules are rules.

Through the Comments section of a recent Nature ID post, a similar question was raised, along the lines of " When is the best time to visit the UK?" Now that shouldn't take long to answer, I mused, thinking that a swift trawl through the Imperfect and Tense back catalogue would provide the necessary information. Well, it's been several days now, and I don't even know where to start. Talk about painting oneself into a corner. I guess the bottom line is that there is not just one answer, it will be different for everyone, so I will have to use a broad brush and produced a generalised, if personal, picture.

The quick answer is "Summer!", so chronologically that's June to August. This guarantees the most daylight during the summer solstice in late June or, theoretically at least, some hot weather in August. But that is likely to be when everybody else is on holiday too.

Autumn is great for all that mellow fruitfulness (September) with hedgerows resplendent in their sweet harvest, whilst the slowly-changing leafy palette of October can be a spectacle all in itself. The light can be gorgeous first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening. November often brings the first hard frosts and huge numbers of winter migrating birds from Iceland, Scandinavia and beyond.

Thinking of Winter, I can only recall that snow is more or less guaranteed in early February (though now I've said that... ). However, the last two winters have been colder than the norm, so it is possible that the frozen fractals could settle at any time. The landscape is softened, sounds are dampened and the crump, crump, crump of footfalls in the snow always gladdens my heart. Especially if there's any chance of a glass of mulled wine.

But regular readers will know that good ol' Tense can only recommend one time to visit the UK. Need a clue? It begins with 'S...' and ends in '... pring'. Just think of all the new life that emerges from the icy remnants of February and gathers pace through March and April. It hits the ground running in May, and by careful application of chasing it north, can last until the end of June. The arrival of summer migrating birds to swell the orchestra of the dawn chorus, the precious meadows where wild flowers can still be found and the fluttering roll call of colourful winged insects [contented sigh].

Certainly in this area of England, the last week of April or the first week in May will be optimum bluebell time (at least, that's what my posts reveal). Again, the beginning of May is when the dawn chorus is at its peak, especially those prima donnas the Nightingales! Through the month, the green hue of the landscape is at its best and I have to send for sedatives if I wander into a beech wood and experience dappled shade. Towards the end of May, the first broods of Great Spotted Woodpeckers are noisily emerging from their nest holes and in the glades and fields, the orchid season is well under way. June sees an increase in the numbers of dragonflies on the wing and the heartache of watching that agile falcon, the Hobby, as it swoops and turns above a lake in the evening light, feeding upon their bounty. I do have a very strong Spring-centric bias, I'm afraid.

Honourable mentions must go to February and March for boxing Hares and dancing Great Crested Grebes. And to November, for huge flocks of Starlings performing amazing aerial displays before roosting for the night.

I am sure that these wonders are not limited to the UK, but as my time abroad has not had a wildlife focus, I cannot say. Best come and check for yourself!


holdingmoments said...

Interesting read Graeme. I think this island can offer so much, whatever time of the year.

Imperfect and Tense said...

Thankfully, we do seem to pack a lot of wildlife into a small space!

Katie (Nature ID) said...

Thanks for the mention and this post, Graeme. It's been 5 years this November since we stayed near Heathrow for a full 23 hour layover on our way to India. I found Windsor to be quite charming. Since bluebells would be my goal if I were to travel to the UK, late April and early May seem to be the prime time: I'll have to look through your posts for bluebells. Now I just need to pull out a map to figure out where exactly to go for ancient woodlands.

Imperfect and Tense said...

Spooky, JD's just been showing us his California photos, Pinnacles and all. With reference to your list, our spare room is free, if that helps. Our top two bluebell sites for this area are Everdon Stubbs and Coton Manor Garden.

Katie (Nature ID) said...

Does JD have a blog? I love Pinnacles, but it's best to go when it's not blazing hot, i.e., over 100°F.

Better watch out, Graeme, you may have a couple of visitors come some spring. Andy is now a certified, paid teacher (K-8 technology at a private school - weird how he got out of the online biz only to end up teaching typing to 2nd graders and website design to 7th graders - and he loves it). So, we'll have to wait for spring break, but I don't think Easter ever hits in May. Depending on the year, late April might be iffy for full bluebell glory. Hmph!

Imperfect and Tense said...

Sadly, JD doesn't have the time to blog directly, but he did used to post via his work a while back. I'll look out a few links.

Congrats to Andy! Paid and happy, a great combination.

I suppose that the "school holidays" might be a bit of a problem for bluebells, but at the rate that Spring is moving forward each year, it soon won't be.

I am now going to make the difficult decision as to whether to comment on your crab blogpost :o)

Katie (Nature ID) said...

Ooop, meant to say something about spring visitors not being the avian migrating kind, but I got into a bit of reverie over how little children know their way around a computer better than most adults.

This past January would have been a good time to visit here for spring wildflowers. I think it hit over 70°F a couple days. Then, it snowed in April. It was wild weather.

Did my gutter humor scare you off the crab post?

Spadger said...

Hi, Katie. Thanks to a tip off from Mr T T, I see I have been blogged in despatches! As Graeme says, no I don't have time for blogging, not even for work. However, recently a relative questioned that with me being so busy at work - the proverbial 'headless chicken', then I ought to be given more public recognition. I did point out that I'm scared of being famous but am reasonable well known in my sphere of work. He didn't quite believe me until I showed him by putting 'John Day, RSPB' into Google. Most of the references relate to me and just a few to my namesake who also works at RSPB. The difference I'm not brainy enough to be a Doctor

Imperfect and Tense said...

Katie, I must admit to being confused about your seasons over there. Some of your Pacific coast nature seems sync'd with ours, some not. Mind you, our seasons aren't exactly what they're supposed to be, so what the heck. Just converted 70F into European currency. 21C! Wow, that is a warm January.

JD, surely all that habitat nous and playing blues guitar trumps a PhD?