Green fireworks and wild calls

Spring is a time when all life seems to burst forth. From fresh green leaves to amorous mammals, our volunteer and guest blogger, David Merry, has seen it all in his garden over recent weeks.

The quickening of spring’s energy can clearly be seen in the garden, with plants pushing to break through the soil and trees coming into leaf.  This is a vital time of year, when all wild things large and small are restlessly racing to find food, build a nest and find a mate.

In early spring the view of local woodlands from the garden revealed slender green halos to many trees. Day by day it’s like watching a firework display in slow motion as buds begin to unfold, at first so slender, a fresh greenness combusting skyward. Some trees flicker with catkins and some flower first before coming into leaf, but all add to the radiance of spring.

Trees coming into bud in our volunteer David Merry's garden

David Merry

The hawthorn, which has grown to the height of a small tree, dominates the garden, having the advantage of basking in the afternoon sun. The warming of spring means the regeneration of insect life; the clusters of green toothed leaves offering a great home for any number of bugs. There are over a hundred associated insects that can be found on hawthorn. The tree quickly attracts various foraging birds like tits, sparrows, and even goldfinches for the first time in our garden.

Close-up of white hawthorn blossom

Chris Lawrence

We always have a good show of blooms, but the garden and sometimes the house can be filled with its sickly sweet scent. In Medieval times the hawthorn was thought to smell of death and was seen as a harbinger of illness and plague. Botanists today have discovered that the ‘hawthorn’s blossom produces a chemical called trimethylamine, also found in decaying animal tissue’. Luckily the period when the tree is in bloom, releasing its unpleasant odour, is only brief, and we always have a superb crop of fruit in the autumn. From the first hint of flowering blooms the hawthorn is alive with pollinators: bees, wasps, midges, hoverflies and the occasional butterfly.

The garden was a flurry of feathers and calls of mating birds, but now resounds with the demanding cries of the hungry fledglings. I am surprised by scores of birds like woodpigeons and goldfinches joining other garden birds at our feeders. Recent reports show the bird feeder may well be helping on the front line of conservation in both winter and spring and it does make an amazing difference, bringing wildlife into my life and creating an addictive sense of wellbeing.

Goldfinches on a bird feeder in our volunteer David Merry's garden

David Merry

The garden has not been peaceful or silent with the coming of dusk, either. Since finding the hedgehog house empty mid-winter, I have been watching and waiting hopefully, and then on 23 March the first hog was sighted: one we hadn’t seen before. The following night we started putting food and water down again, water being so vital to hedgehogs.

A few nights later, joy of joys, the larger hedgehog that had occupied the hog house during the first part of winter returned to the garden. 

The calls of amorous hedgehogs are unbelievably loud, even drowning out the noise of the television. I had to open the patio doors to investigate, and at my feet two hogs were getting down to the nudge and shove that passes for hog courtship.

Two hedgehogs in the middle of courtship in our volunteer David Merry's garden

David Merry

The female darted away with the male in hot pursuit. In making these loud calls the female hopes she will attract other males so she can select the best mate, the ‘best’ being the strongest, the winner of rutting contests or head-butting battles.     

I witnessed the hedgehogs circling each other with the male roughly nudging the female’s rear. German hog-lovers refer to this period as the ‘Hedgehog Carousel’, which seems so appropriate.

Then comes the chase; running around the garden at top speed with the female seeming to decline the male's advances. The males, however, don’t give in, with the pursuit going on over many nights and early mornings. But will the male hog succeed? 

The male has disappeared and is now only seen occasionally at our feeding station in the company of the female. I’ll be watching and will savour every evening, waiting for dusk when these precious mammals appear in the garden.