I have always loved this time of year. The days are getting longer, and the first signs of spring are starting to appear, so one of my favourite things to do is take the dog for a walk around Ebor Gorge. If you look, you will see the first hazel catkins hanging hopefully on their spindly branches waiting for the wind to carry their pollen to neighbouring trees, and the first buds of the Ash and Beech glimmering in the dappled sunlight.
Animals are very shy this time of year either in their behaviour or not having developed their bright plumage ready for the mating season. This is a great opportunity to hone your other senses in trying to find where they are and where they’ve been. Thanks to the thin ground cover, footprints will be visible as will droppings and burrows of everything from insects to small mammals. From these simple signs, you can tell so much about the unseen life around you. What species is it? Which way was it going, how fast and why?
Not all signs are visible of course. When the wind is low and in the right direction, you can smell where badgers and foxes have been as they both methodically mark their territories. The overwhelming aroma of the woods this time of year is that of the new growth. It is hard to explain this except that the smell of an emerging woodland is an amazing cornucopia of fresh green herbs, damp musty moss mixed with the occasional kick of an early flower such as the snowdrop or maybe even a primrose that has just been a bit too keen to get started. You will also hear the rustling of birds and small mammals in the decaying carpet of leaves, birds calling above and occasional crash of a deer or two through the undergrowth.
The spring flowers will soon be appearing adding a carpet of blue, yellow and white to the woodland floor. These have to complete their flowering and reproduction before the impatient woodland canopy blocks their light as they take over towards the summer.
It may be a bit damp and cold, but don your boots and coat and loose yourself in the woods and you will not be disappointed.