Church of England Diocese of Sheffield Fishlake

Countryside File

Countryside File - May 2020

It's here - the much valued Countryside File formerly included in the Parish Magazine.

Here below is Jane's latest update which covers the month of May. If you wish to download the complete file as a pdf, which also contains some of Jane's line drawings, please click on the 'Download' button below.

1st May                                                                                                                                                                                     It’s May Day in ‘lockdown’ – a particularly strange time, and strange weather too. We’re really needing some rain now, but none seems forthcoming. An interesting sight near Copley Springs Wood – an oak tree with 20-30 fresh oak apples on one branch. I can really see why they’re called oak apples now as when they’ve just developed they’re pale yellowy-green with a pink blush, just like small apples and most unlike the brown dried out versions we normally see, full of little holes when the insects inside escape and they fall off the tree.

3rd May                                                                                                                                                                      Apparently, it’s International Dawn Chorus Day as we found out later, but we were up at 3.45am and out by 4am to listen to the dawn chorus anyway. There’s a beautiful stillness before dawn. Blackbirds are the first to start as usual. The sky is just light enough to see silhouettes when a large, round headed bird appears on top of the telegraph pole – it’s clearly a tawny owl. We sit quietly and eventually it flies silently in front of us and down the lane. At 4.20am we spot a very bright point of light travelling steadily from the South West towards the Eastern sky. We watch it for about 5mins. It’s much brighter than a satellite, so looking it up on Google later it turns out to be the International Space Station, its position exactly matching its course and timing for the 3rd of May.

8th May                                                                                                                                                                                        A run of fabulously warm sunny days more like July than early May but we’re desperate for some rain now. Our wildflower patch began to germinate but the scorching heat and dryness has probably killed all but the hardiest seedlings. I water the raspberries, gooseberries and blackcurrants in the hope that they’ll manage to fill out – there are plenty of flower buds. There’s been a wonderful show of cowslips in the field this year, but they’re becoming dried out and brown in the heat. Over at the ponds everything is flourishing with a ready supply of water. Hawthorn blossom is dense and highly scented, taking over from the bluebells now dying back. As I walk round the track, I hear at least 4 reed warblers singing their scratchy, jerky songs and a cuckoo a very long way off. After spotting 35 I’ve lost count of the number of goslings now cruising round with their parents. Greylags have led the way this year and there are still 4 Canada geese sitting on nests. There’s an occasional swallow but not many yet. Back home we decide to put the wildlife trail camera up somewhere near the barn owl box in the oak tree. As Paul tries to position the ladder, which incidentally is not long enough to reach, a tawny owl flies out of the box. We decide to retreat and find another way of setting it up, while there’s a chorus of black bird alarm calls from the field, presumably because they have chicks and they’re worried about the owl being out and about in daylight.

10th May                                                                                                                                                                                  The first swifts today - 4 flying over the garden with their usual acrobatics. We get the trail camera set up and get several great shots of the tawny owl peering out of the box and sitting on a branch at 6am.

18th May                                                                                                                                                                                      After several dull days of bitterly cold North Easterly winds and overnight frosts which blackened the tips of Paul’s potato plants, we’re now starting a milder phase, with the promise of another heat wave mid-week. However STILL NO RAIN. We need a good thunder storm! With the bedroom window slightly open at 6.30am there’s the very welcome call of a cuckoo. He’s very enthusiastic and very nearby. Paul goes down to let Lily out and finds he’s in our willow tree, calling continuously and very loudly, before flying across to the wood. I wonder if the cuckoo I saw fly in front of the house on 22 April was a female as we never heard a call. A few nights ago Paul was waiting for Lily in the garden at 11pm and was surprised to hear a cuckoo calling in the dark. According to the rhyme, that does happen in May – ‘In April the cuckoo sings her lay, in May she sings both night and day, in June she changes her tune and in July away she’ll fly’ – all very true, only it’s the male cuckoo that sings ‘cuckoo’. Except for our barren patch of top soil in the field which should have been full of wild flowers, the rest of the paddock looks a picture today. Paul has cut our usual pathway round and once through the middle so we can appreciate it without trampling anything down. This paddock has never been ploughed or had any chemicals on it, but did benefit from having half a dozen sheep grazing it late last year. There are buttercups, ox eye daisies, cow parsley, pretty blue speedwell, red clover and common vetch beginning to flower, plus the grass seed heads of Timothy are covered in tiny dusky purple flowers. The other noticeable feature everywhere this year is how pink the hawthorn blossom is becoming. There’s a big hawthorn growing up through an oak in the hedge and the cream flowers are flushed with deep pink, very like tiny apple blossom flowers. I believe it’s due to weather conditions and the late frosts might have been responsible this year.

20th May                                                                                                                                                                              More swallows and swifts around now and the air in the early morning and evening seems fuller than normal with insects for them to catch. Could it really be that the significant reduction in air pollution due to the ‘lockdown’ has already made a difference? When the trains, planes and cars start up again we’ll certainly miss this wonderful period of calm. Barn owls are regularly out hunting in the daylight now – a good sign they have chicks to feed. As I take Lily for a walk at 4pm the sun is still bright and, in the distance, I see the familiar fluttering flight of a barn owl. I stop for a while to watch as it lands on a fence post, although the heat haze makes it difficult to get an accurate picture through the binoculars. It comes nearer and nearer – a particularly pale owl, pristine white with a delicate pale golden, almost lemon back and wings – probably a male. It comes quite close and there’s a most marvellous ‘snapshot’ moment as it flies in front of a particularly pink hawthorn bush, just at the moment a cuckoo starts singing nearby – one to remember!

27th May                                                                                                                                                                            We’ve had 4 days of gale force winds that have been so destructive in the garden, but now we’re back to baking heat, more reminiscent of July that May. The long-range weather forecast still has no rain, but everyone is saying that once it does start raining, it probably won’t stop till after harvest. This is turning out to be a truly strange year.

Jane Mawson [email protected]

© Jane Mawson 05/2020

Please e-mail me if you see anything interesting, and pass on the word to others who’re missing the Parish Magazine that I could e-mail them the Countryside File.

Jane Mawson: [email protected]

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