Country Diary: '˜Fair Maids of February' are welcome sight
O'erjoyed to see the flowers that truly bring
The welcome news of sweet returning spring.
Usually one associates snowdrops as being ‘snow-piercers’. They have a protective sheath covering the tip of the stem which enables these, ‘Fair Maids of February’ to penetrate through a blanket of snow. No such conditions this winter!
What a welcome sight snowdrops and golden aconites provide. Aconites have glossy, buttercup-like flowers, but each bloom is encircled by a decorative frill or ruff of three deeply-cut leaves known as bracts. They are sensitive to temperature, and require at least 10°C (ie 50°F) before unfolding their petals.
A large crab apple tree, illuminated by winter sunshine, reminded us of autumn, with its tempting fruits hanging in all shades of green, yellow and red, like Christmas globes. Not only is the wild apple a variable species in its own right, but many domestic apples have seeded in the wild and crossed with others. There are thousands of varieties in cultivation now. Crab apples make one of the best jellies of all wild fruits. Allowed to ferment they make cider, or that precursor of vinegar, verjuice – a very sharp cider.
Visiting Seamer Road Mere, we were pleased to observe the immature cormorant previously recorded, along with a mate. At a distance, the cormorant, with bill held at an upward angle, may be confused with divers, which are always very white underneath in winter. The pair were swimming and diving for fish, or favourite eels found at the bottom of the mere. They usually bring fish to the surface to shake or toss before swallowing, but long, slippery eels may present quite a problem!
At the far end of Mere Lane, close to the mere is a car park. Parking in the fenced corner near bushes, we observed a bird feeder suspended from a branch. After a while, tits of several species arrived, and hastily seized the welcome food. Our ‘hide’ provided excellent observation. Michael decided to make a simple bird tray to place on the fence. He makes superb, roofed bird tables, standing or hanging, and nest boxes too. These are all donated to the Blind Society charity at Falsgrave, and other charity shops in Scarborough and Filey.
The next afternoon he fixed the tray and a peanut container, and we filled them with more tasty morsels for feathered friends.
Our first visitor was a long-tailed tit, followed by bluetit; great tit; willow/marsh tits; robin and chaffinches.
The highlight of the week was a handsome goldfinch, gorgeous with its black wings and contrasting yellow flash. Goldfinches have white rumps, often overlooked among the wealth of other colours – a mixture of black, white, brown, yellow and red. Quite charming. It’s no surprise to learn a ‘flock’ of goldfinches is called a ‘charm’.