28 March 2013

A Murmur of Spring

As we slowly trudge on through the coldest March since the early 60’s, with the collars of our thick coats turned up against the biting easterly winds - the promise of spring and summer still seems distant -  despite the passing of the spring equinox and changing the clocks this coming weekend.

The meadows appear much as they did in November, quiet and still against grey leaden skies.

But stand still, watch and listen for a while and all is ‘a-chatter’ with a murmur of spring.
Flocks of fieldfares run in fits and starts foraging in the grass, well camouflaged and hard to see until they are disturbed and noisily rise into a nearby tree. 

Photo by Darin Smith

Starlings too, busily feed, searching for grubs, with their sharp beaks - ‘aerating’ the meadow as they go. Their flocks almost seem to roll like waves as they work across the meadow – gently all rising and then settling again to feed in another area.  Like the fieldfares, when startled, they head to a hedgerow tree  and remain silhouetted in the branches whistling and chattering until it is safe to return. 

Photo by Darin Smith

All this 'conversation' in the trees, must I’m sure include at least a mention of the hope  that spring will soon arrive - after all when does a conversation in this country not include the weather!

14 March 2013

The benefits of insulation

We are all aware of the benefits of insulation to help keep out the winter cold. This week’s late snow and cruel easterly winds were a stark reminder to try and shut out the draughts from our homes and only venture out in lots of layers! 

Up at Winks Meadow, high up on the Claylands of Suffolk, the easterly winds cut across the former Metfield airfield and there is seemingly very little shelter. 

However, on a day of sub-zero temperatures, fleeting sunny spells and with much of the meadow covered in snow, I was amazed to see grassland spiders running about amongst the tussocks of grass. 

Snow does of course act as an insulating blanket, creating slightly warmer conditions beneath - but I think the secret of this early activity of the spiders was the undulating micro-landscape of the grassland. A series of miniature hills and valleys created by the tussocks and rosettes of the grasses and broad leaved herbs – forming a sheltered network of lee-sides, tunnels and cavities where the spiders could carry on despite the freezing conditions above. Definitely a case for keeping their heads well below the snowy parapet!
Seeing the spiders in the meadow on a day like this really highlighted the importance of micro-topography and structure of grassland, the benefits of extensive grazing and always leaving some ‘raggety’ bits as refuge and shelter to enable wildlife to get through the winter.