London’s mini heatwave has closed its doors, great grey clouds entomb the downs. In my mind the meadows have all flowered and gone, so quickly has the psuedo-summer taken root. Sunday’s 27 degrees felt more like July than May. Gladly, at Farthing Downs all of May’s icons can be found: meadow buttercups, silverweed, yellowhammers singing in flowering hawthorns, cowslips moving to seed. A strange song emanates from the young trees grown too woody for livestock to graze. At first I think it might be swallows passing through, zipping and chattering, then perhaps baby birds. Swifts swoop overhead but no other hirundines are here.
The chattering song continues and I move closer. In ash, bramble and oak twigs the white throat of that very bird flashes. It jumps up onto a branch and I photograph it, a white bud or bug of some kind in its bill. The whitethroat has travelled from Africa to be here on the North Downs, a journey we cannot quite comprehend. Except we Europeans too came from Africa, but it took some 60-100,000 years to do it rather than a few months.
This whitethroat is not alone. Behind me is a bigger clump of trees and scrub, a thicket of ash trees riddled with canker. I’m listening to a song that I expect to hear in passing every April here, like a little chain tinkling, or some early mechanical clock. It’s a lesser whitethroat, another arrival from Africa. But I can’t see it, listening closely for a sign of whether it’s under cover or out in the open. I give up. A kestrel appears from over the whitethroats’ bushes, gliding, hovering and slipping off.
2 thoughts on “North Downs diary: All of May’s icons”
Beautifully composed… both lively and graceful, much like the whitethroats themselves. I’m at the other end of the UK, on the northernmost coast of Scotland, and although we also had unseasonably hot weather last week, I’m still waiting for our buttercups, and our cowslips are nowhere near moving to seed… Spring takes so much longer to arrive up here (we’re on a similar latitude to Juneau, St Petersburg & Oslo).
Thank you Laura. It’s back down to 13 degrees today so more like early spring again. The bluebells are going to seed, wild garlic flowering in full force. Apparently cowslips are flowering in Yorkshire so on their way to you.