"O to be in England now that April's here...": hackneyed as that line of Browning's is, there's nothing as emotional, nostalgic and exquisite as an English Spring and I was so happy to be back here from Los Angeles in time for it. Here is a glimpse of April in Ilford, divided in two parts between trees and birds:
Part 1: Spring Trees
Yes, ideally in April I would like to be wandering round country woodlands- sprinkled with Wind Flowers and Violets- but here I was in Ilford and, as always, found Valentines Park totally rewarding. The trees had that lovely, delicate early haze of buds that I find so entrancing:
Because we had that unusually hot weather at the beginning of April, the leaves shot out really quickly, each day showing more solid foliage. You will notice the difference in the same trees in the next two photos. Incidentally, the Oak tree to the left of the image is fulfilling the prophesy "The oak before the ash and we shall have a splash" (you'll have to believe me- without the proof of a photo of an ash!) as we certainly have only had a splash so far, which is causing endless problems:
The leaves on this Copper Beech are growing fast:
And here you see them again behind a warty Plane tree:
I am always excited to find Oak Apples, and thought this one was exceptionally apple-like...
And here are some oak catkins, the flowers that prelude the Acorns:
These catkins- in the next two photos- are those of a Hornbeam:
And these are the fresh lime-green leaves of a Lime tree:
Now we come to a favourite of mine, the Horse Chestnut,or Conker- first, the flower buds just forming and the leaves unfurling:
followed by the full array of "candles":
I have never thought the Red Horse Chestnuts were in the same league as the white flowered ones: the leaves are crinkly without the delightful lines and the flowers do not have the same elegance. That said, they are a great colour!
I am equally snobby about the difference between wild Cherry blossom- Gean blossom- and the double cultivated species. The Gean is so fragile and innocent:
But pink Cherry blossom against a blue sky is always seductive:
These pink petals among the daisies are from another Cherry tree:
Part 2: April Birds
One thing I get homesick for when in Southern California, is our British Songbirds, in particular the VERY familiar Robin and Blackbird. Now, neither bird can really be called an"April" bird: they are both residents and the robin sings its fresh, charming little song all year round whereas the blackbird stops singing for the Winter starting its unbelievably melodic song again in February. Regardless of this, I am including them here because when I returned in April I became obsessed to photograph these two birds while singing. Of course, they immediately became elusive, both skulking in dark Holly bushes in the park whenever they sang. My Blackbird would not move out of the Holly, but eventually I caught a Robin in a Willow tree...:
Another evocative Spring sound is the drumming of a Greater Spotted Woodpecker (also, of course, the "laugh" of the Green Woodpecker):
Now, followers of this blog may remember how last year I became totally obsessed with the three chicks in a Heron's nest in Ilford's Valentines Park, this being the first time herons had nested in the London Borough of Redbridge for over a hundred years. Their nest was built on the shore of an island in a decayed sycamore tree which finally- after the chicks had fledged- fell into the lake. It had been a wonderful location for observation. Well, I soon learned that in my absence the heron's had returned, this time building their nest high up in a Pine tree on the mainland shore. Unfortunately, this time visibility was NOT good, the three new chicks being obscured by branches. When I got back to Ilford they were already very mature and nearly ready to fledge- here is one of them:
The Mute Swans in Valentines Park were again nesting on their island, but these two are actually nesting on an island in South Park, also in Ilford. As you can see- and as I was able to see when they performed a change over for their egg-warming shift- they had laid a good clutch of eggs:
Coots always amuse me with their rubbish-dump nests...
and their babies are both weird and adorable!
and what could be more adorable than this little Gosling?
Or this Mallard duckling?
Another success story: Last year, a pair of Egyptian Geese in Valentines Park twice successfully hatched a brood but twice sadly lost them- to Crows? However, this year all seems to be well: three hatched babes are growing fast and are hopefully now strong enough to resist predators:
As the next two images show, their plumage is now very similar to that of their parents:
Another bird that followers of this blog will recognize as being one of my obsessions is the Great Crested Grebe. I was thrilled to find three Grebes on the lake again and even more thrilled to see one pair doing their exotic, abandoned display dance:
Unfortunately, nothing seems to have come of it as yet... the stripey baby riding on its parent's back in this next image is on South Park lake:
I will conclude this Spring story with a Tree AND Bird photo: two daft Mallard drakes going for an Oak tree climb on the island of Valentines Park Fish Pond: