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NATURE Spring brings new battles for nature

Outdoor Living
Nature on the March


Country sights and sounds
John Shelley

It’s great to wake up to find light creeping through the trees once more. It’s been a long winter, but now every morning feels like an adventure waiting to happen. The blackbird likes it too. He fills the dawn with song, telling the world he is there and, more specifically, letting the neighbouring blackbird know that this, where he lives, is Private Property.
It seems likely that the greater the volume of the cock blackbird’s song, the larger the territory he will hold and therefore the more plentiful food supplies for his young family will be. This simple principle holds true for many other species of bird too. It is as if one bird cannot bear to be within hearing distance of another of its kind.
Individual bird songs can be easily downloaded from the internet. Then, if they are replayed in the back garden the sound will soon attract the attention of the local landowner. Blackbird, robin and wren are all suitable subjects for an experiment of this kind. Of these, the robin is the most pugnacious and the least tolerant of having family dropping by in springtime.
Remember that artificial robin that went on the Christmas tree? Now is the time to place this same creature in the front garden. Do you imagine your resident robin to be a friendly little chap whose sole purpose in life is to brighten your mornings with his pretty song? Then watch closely, for there is another side to his nature, one that you may find surprising.
If the recorded sound of his own voice was enough to make him agitated then the sight of an imagined intruder will send him into a rage. Now we will see what really lies within that coloured breast! It might be sport to test the robin’s mettle in the month of February, but from March sets in properly, his attention will be on finding a place to nest. It is only fair to leave him in peace then, for he will have much to do.
In the woods the honeysuckle is throwing out new leaves by the day. In springtime this is a light-hungry plant – by May the canopy will have closed over its head and it must make do with the small amount of sun that filters through the leaves above. Other plants have their own means of gathering as much of the sun’s energy as possible, which is, after all, the force that drives photosynthesis and supports all life on earth.
Where the woodland floor is acidic in nature bilberry plants thrive, even though they are cast into shade for more than half of the year. A closer look at the bilberry shows us that the  twiggy growth of last summer remains green through the winter, the chlorophyll within busily capturing photons on even the darkest days. The energy processed is stored until growth begins in March. Then, out come the pale, subtle scented flowers, each loaded with a special treat to lure pollinating insects. Bees are the chief pollinators, yet bees are in short supply, this for a number of reasons.
Have faith! There will be enough. And how glad we will be in June and July when the berries are ripened. In a few moments we can gather more than enough for the day. So what if these humble relatives of the noble blueberry are small and insipid; they are just as good for us as are their plumper, cultivated cousins and are just as natural and free as food should be.
Other woodland plants have their own strategies for survival. Some keep their leaves all year round. Others, such as the cuckoo pint, throw out broad, dark-green, chlorophyll-rich leaves early in the season, to catch as much sun as possible while it is available. In this way they are able to inhabit even the deep beech woods where little else is able to survive the seven months of dark shadow that occur there.
Plant life is so varied that we cannot hope to know it. There is enough to keep us busy. And in the quiet moments, when the weather keeps us close to home, we have the birds to amuse us.