March 10th

After lunch, I meandered for a while from daffodil patch to daffodil patch, hoping to catch an early glimpse of the daffodil fly. Only a few daffs have opened on campus to date, but even a limited supply was seemingly enough to attract the noisy buzz of a buff-tailed bumblebee queen, following much the same path as me. I watched her careen between 20 or 30 unopened buds before vanishing into the depths of a single bright-yellow trumpet. Ten or so seconds later she emerged and took flight at a startling pace towards the meadows. Taking her advice, I followed after.

Somewhere in the top of one of the nearest trees a mistle thrush sang at full pelt, almost ear-splittingly loud. Their voice carries further than most of our other native birds, a wild swirling reel that combines something of the repetition of a song thrush with the piping musicality of a blackbird. A heartbreaking touch of melancholy completes the recipe. Mistle thrushes used to be known as ‘storm-cocks’ for their habit of singing in gloomy weather, but it might just as well be because the song of the mistle thrush would make a fine elegy for those lost to wild weather.

As it happens, today was fine. Very fine indeed, with a glorious early spring warmth to the sun. A warmth that stirred the leaf litter, far below the thrush’s song-post, and the small creatures emerging from it for the first time this year. Two wolf spiders lurked on either side of a twig, shaggy and menacing. A little herbivorous fly was using the twig like a gymnast’s beam, either unheeding or unafraid of the spiders. It tottered along, raising one spotted wing after another for balance before dropping back into the leaves.

As I watched the fly retreat the buzz returned, swiftly followed by the responsible bee, now quartering the ground for nest sites. She evidently found something she liked – or had already chosen a spot – for she retreated underground for quite a few minutes, taking with her the fine coating of daffodil pollen that was just noticeable on her hind legs.

I left her to spring cleaning, and walked further down towards the lake. The air was busier today with sizeable flying insects than on any day since November last year. I took an idle swipe at one with a small net, and opened it to reveal a small dome-shaped dung beetle, one from the varied genus Aphodius. Precious little livestock on campus – perhaps it was after rabbit droppings – but with a flight that direct and industrious I’d probably be surprised how far it could go in search of a generous field of horses or cattle.

At the lakeside, spring clearly meant business. A chiffchaff began to sing, somewhere near the middle lake, whilst on the upper lake on the fringe of the Wilderness a clump of colt’s foot played host to my first comma of the year, with a honey bee for company. Like the pollen load on the hind leg of the buff-tailed bumblebee, the year now carries a delicate dusting of yellow warmth. A hint of the exuberance that is to come.


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