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Nature's overture to Suffolk's spring masterpiece

PUBLISHED: 11:43 25 March 2010 | UPDATED: 16:42 20 February 2013

Or rather, listen out for the song of the woodlark

Or rather, listen out for the song of the woodlark

Seeking out the signs of spring is both rewarding and uplifting during these grey winter months, says John Grant

Seeking out the signs of spring is both rewarding and uplifting during these grey winter months, says John Grant


Whisper it softly. Very softly. Spring is just around the corner. The seasons may be blurred these days as our climate changes and the worlds surface temperatures increase, but Planet Earth keeps on spinning and in our at-least-for-the-moment temperate latitude, the annual cycle of nature is still joyously perceptible.
The rhythm may be altered as a result of global warming, and some of the players may be, well, slightly out of time these days, but the symphony of spring in Suffolks glorious countryside remains an uplifting, complex and ultimately inspiring orchestral epic.
Given that the winters of recent times have, in the main, been mild, bland and uneventful weatherwise, the change into spring in years to come is likely to be less marked than it was before. Seemingly gone are the days when Suffolk in February was still an icy, wind-blown landscape with winters grip carrying on from Januarys equal chill.
The long wait for spring to be sprung often used to continue on right through until May. Now, increasingly, there are signs of winters deep slumber or should that be cat-nap? being cast off ever earlier.
A stroll in the Suffolk countryside in February can now often be enlivened by overtures to the full-blown spring masterpiece that awaits us in the months ahead, especially on days when the watery sun illuminates our gentle landscape.
Enter virtually any deciduous woodland, even our tiniest copse, and you are likely to be welcomed by a dramatic drum roll. Look up and you may see the drummer among the branches the great spotted woodpecker tap-tap-tapping out his territorial signal that also serves to remind us that the sap is rising, metaphorically and literally.
The strident, far-carrying song of the mistle thrush will probably be belted out from the treetops and the great tits simple teacher-teacher-teacher song will almost certainly be a backdrop to the woodpeckers rendition. The first chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff notes of, yes, youve guessed it, the chiffchaff, may also fill the woodland air. Actually, this little songster is increasingly likely to have overwintered locally, making the most of Suffolks new-found winter balminess and just not bothering to undertake long, risky migrations.
But it is out on the heaths the Sandling heaths in east Suffolk and the Breckland heaths in the west and in the clear-fell areas of our huge commercial conifer forests of Rendlesham, Tunstall and Dunwich in the east and Thetford in the west, where the best, most uplifting harbinger of spring can he heard. Heard? Make that experienced. For the song of the woodlark is not something simply to hear. It is something the feel. To savour.
Pouring out of this small, unobtrusive lark in songflight or from a songpost is the most magical cascade that it is possible to encounter in Suffolk. In Britain. Maybe the world, for that matter. Its a subtle mix of sheer joy tinged with just a hint of melancholy. Utterly indescribable in written word. The woodlark is, without doubt, the diva whose voice soars over the Suffolk spring symphony. For many people in the know it outsings even the nightingale, which will arrive a little later in the year, and experiencing it is truly life-affirming.
So the signs of spring are there above us in the tree canopy and in Suffolk skies, but look down at our feet and they abound there too. With a hint of sunshine out comes the celandines just briefly opening when prompted by the rays but soon closing when the sun goes in you kind of know how that plant feels!
The naturalised heliotriope, with its flowers smelling of almonds, can often be seen in churchyards along with aconites and the familiar snowdrops and even on less-than-promising wasteland there can be another indicator of springs arrival, the distinctive yellow-dandelion flower of the coltsfoot.
There used to be a tourism slogan for Lowestoft that declared Be the first to see the sunrise. It acknowledged that towns position at the eastern edge of Britain.
Well, to paraphrase that somewhat, you can be the first to see the spring arrive, but you dont have to be in Lowesoft, fine as that town may be. No. Just get out into Suffolks countryside this month.
On a fine February day, with careful observation and a little luck, spring will be springing up all around you.


NOW'S THE TIME TO SEE...


Woodlark: Hopefully, you will have been encouraged to experience this species by my reference to its song. Rather like the nightingale, it is not much to look at but boy can it sing! Unobtrusive until it bursts into its delightful delivery, it is a little like a skylark but with obvious white eyestripes that meet at the nape. This is a species of heathland, woodland edges and clear-fell areas in commercial coniferous forests. Thetford Forests clearings and the heaths around Blaxhall, Tunstall, Aldringham, Minsmere and Dunwich are likely spots. Choose a still morning, get out there early and be enthralled as a male pours forth in perhaps a songflight, when the broad-based wings and stubby tail give a bat-like appearance, or perhaps gives a performance from a songpost. Enjoy!


Catkins: February is a great time to search our woodlands for catkins and one of the very best is hazel. These emerge early and give a positive explosion of yellow pollen that for many is a surefire sign that spring is astirring!

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