The Joys of Spring

With Woodlore’s 2012 course season now well underway, Aspirant Instructor Sarah Day shares her thoughts on working and living in the outdoors at this time of year:

Woodlore Aspirant Instructor Sarah Day

Sarah Day

I started working at Woodlore in 2006. But since then I’ve not been able to work courses during the early part of the season due to other commitments. I think I’d forgotten just how much I love spring.

Watching summer mellow into autumn is a different affair, the last flush of colour before you wake up one morning and know the summer is over. The day when it seems the birch leaves have turned yellow and started to drop almost overnight; it always makes me feel a little sad. I love winter, and I love autumn but the end of the summer means the end of the course season and a few months until I’ll be back outdoors properly again.

Spring is a season of firsts – the first Woodlore course, the first butterflies and bluebells, the first bumblebees. The woods are so alive with the hustle and bustle of life that it’s impossible to ignore. The changes are so much more tangible than in other seasons too. For two weeks I watched buds on the beech tree near the store tent swelling almost imperceptibly, then burst into a riot of vivid green in the space of three days. The leaves start thin and crinkled, like a butterfly that’s just emerged from its chrysalis, but quickly spread into a beautiful emerald canopy, until the whole wood is dusted with a delicate sprinkling of green. It looks good enough to eat – and some of it is – nettles, hawthorn, dog rose shoots, ramsons and beech leaves are all spring delicacies.

The sun setting over one of Woodlore's bivi sites

The sun setting over one of Woodlore's bivi sites

Have you ever noticed how the birds sing a different song just before it rains, and another just after it stops? Or the sudden stillness followed by a darkening sky and a strengthening wind that presages the onset of another shower, the smell of rain on the way? It’s like being let in on a secret when you start to notice these things. It makes the woods seem more friendly, more reasonable  than when the weather appears to be  nothing but a random succession of rain and hail and sun – weather tantrums.

April has been just as it should be weather-wise – fickle and wet. We’ve had days that went from a freezing cold night with a hard ground frost, to T-shirts and shorts for a few hours followed by a black sky with thunder and some of the biggest hailstones I’ve ever seen. The inky sky makes an incredible contrast with the acid green of spring growth, it’s a scene I always try and photograph, but one that seems reluctant to be committed to something as permanent as a memory card. Everything about spring is fleeting and hurried – it’s so easy to miss things, to suddenly notice a tree nearby is in full leaf amid a carpet of flowering bluebells and think “when did that happen?!”

A calm, early morning view through the woods

A calm, early morning view through the woods

It’s hard to believe that by tradition it’s summer already – May 1st has been and gone. “Mayflower” or simply “May” is another name for Hawthorn – it was used to make garlands at Mayday celebrations. The blackthorn is in blossom, as is the Crabbe Apple and the Bird Cherry, but maybe there’s time for one more first before summer gets underway properly – the first Mayflower.

– Sarah Day

10 thoughts on “The Joys of Spring

  1. Kieran Garland

    I’ve just ordered Jon Young’s new book on bird song, “What The Robin Knows,” which is a tracker’s perspective on what birds can tell us when we’re out and about observing nature (http://www.amazon.co.uk/What-Robin-Knows-Secrets-Natural/dp/0547451253/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1337030874&sr=8-1). I suspect you might be familiar with his work already, his (and Tiffany Morgan’s) “Animal Tracking Basics” having become something of a ‘good read’ for trackers the world over.

    It’s so easy to forget how dependant animals are on shifts in the weather, and climate, and how it affects their behaviour in a way that it may not affect ours on a day-to-day basis.

    This post is very interesting for me – it’s combined all of my passions and past-times at once: science, natural history, and tracking, and bushcraft.

    I see the last two subjects as a practical exploration of the first two.

    Thanks again.

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  2. Catherine Day

    From the family member in question, as an aside, “acoustics” does not have an ‘n’ in it! 🙂

    Another factor could be temperature gradients in the air – layers of air at different temperatures will affect how sound transmits. Temperature gradients are particularly obvious over a still lake – under certain conditions sound can be ‘trapped’ in the layer of cooler air over the water, and will travel further instead of spreading out and dissipating, so you might hear a conversation clearly over surprising distances.
    ‘Wind shear’ is (yet) another possible factor, where sound is ‘bent’ by differences in wind speed in different layers of air.
    I shall think differently about birdsong next time I am out on a survey! Thanks Sarah.

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  3. Kieran Garland

    @Sarah Day

    Ah, I see, very interesting… Bird vocalisations, as they relate to tracking, have been one of the most eye-opening (ear-opening?) insights into nature I’ve had the pleasure of finding out about. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. sarah day

    Its hard to put a finger on it but before the rain, the background sound of birds becomes thinner and tinny, a much less rich sound than normal. Its as though half the birds have stopped singing temporarily and the ones that are left are poor singers. Once the rain has stopped its as though all the birds are singing at once and you can hear every bird for miles, it makes a really rich melodic chorus. Some birds ( e.g. blackbirds) are more active after rain because it brings their food of worms closer to the surface and may actually be singing more.

    However, talking about it with a family member who works as an acounstics consultant, there are a lot of odd effects caused by atmospheric conditions- especially humidity and temperature which could account for some of the difference.

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  5. sarah day

    @Kieran Garland-Maybe its just that the air transmits sound very differently in different atmospheric conditions or that birdsong sounds differnt in the calm pre-rain in compared to in the damp air after the squall, but I’m sure birds have a ‘its about to rain’ song, and another for when its finished.

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  6. Kieran Garland

    Another delightful post, bravo. Can you say more about the differences between birdsong before and after rain…? Am intrigued…

    Looking forward to more posts.

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