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Spring nature walk: part 1

Spring forwards

There’s something to be treasured about a Spring nature walk in the Breamish Valley. Daffodils and tulips bloom, the days grow longer and the heavy, wet ground of winter begins to dry out. Hawthorns begin to leaf, blackthorn begins to flower and it feels a little warmer. And…did you notice? It makes us feel a little better as well, doesn’t it?

A short walk around Branton Nature Conservation Area in early May reminded me of how thrilling it can be to take a new look at the so-called ‘mundane nature‘ around us. I didn’t see anything particularly exotic on my walk: nothing like a Bee-eater or Hoopoe that I saw birding in Barcelona recently. However, viewing the everyday, common wildlife around us anew can help us connect (or re-connect) to nature in ways that improve our sense of well-being.

So…what ‘mundane’ things did I see on my Spring nature walk?

Adder

Basking adders can still be seen and I was rewarded by a sighting of yet another one sunning itself along the hedge near to the car park entrance.

Adder at Branton Lakes

The distinctive ‘X’ shaped mark on this adder’s head can be clearly seen.

Adder retreating at Branton Lakes

Adder retreating into the undergrowth

Adder (Vipera berus)

This is a widespread venomous snake: in fact, the UK’s only native venomous snake. However, seeing one is no cause for alarm. They are quite placid if left alone and a bite is highly unlikely to be fatal. However, any bite should be taken seriously and you should seek medical attention immediately. That said, they are a wonderful sight, with their distinctive black or brown zigzag mark running down the length of their back.

Canada goose

Canada goose in Breamish Valley

Canada goose exiting the lake at Branton NCA

Canada goose (Branta canadensis)

A large water bird (63-114cm long), this goose is distinguished by its black head and neck and a large white throat patch (chinstrap). It has a wide, flat bill and large webbed feet. It feeds by dabbling in water (moving its bill around in shallow water whilst feeding) or grazing in fields, looking for grass, leaves roots and seeds. It can often be found in flocks mixed with Greylag geese…

Greylag goose

Greylag goose in Breamish Valley

Distinctive orange-pink bill of Greylag goose at Branton NCA

Greylag goose (Anser anser)

This is a large (74-91cm long), bulky goose often found, as mentioned above, in flocks mixed with Canada geese. Claimed to be the ancestor of nearly all domestic geese, it has a stout body and a long, thick neck. Its bill is orange-pink and about 6-7cm long. Like Canada geese, they mainly eat grass, leaves of cereal crops, roots, and (spilled) grain.

Common cowslip

The cowslips have really come into their own at the moment. If you haven’t seen them yet, it’s well worth the effort to go along on your own Spring nature walk to Branton Lakes and take a look.

Cowslip in Breamish Valley

Common cowslip showing umbels of yellow flowers

Common cowslip (Primula veris)

This familiar Spring flower is a semi-evergreen perennial which grows to about 25cm in height. It has a rosette of wrinkled, toothed leaves with distinctive upright stems that carry the bell-shaped yellow flowers. The flowers are typically arranged in an umbel (a cluster of flowers on equal-length stalks coming out from the top of the stem ). The weight of the 1.5cm flower clusters often makes the umbel droop to one side.

Exmoor pony

Exmoor pony in Breamish Valley

Exmoor pony grazing at Branton Lakes

A couple of weeks ago in early May, we still had three Exmoor ponies at Branton Lakes when I was on my Spring nature walk. I assume, however, that they’ll soon be moved away to a more suitable spot for them to spend the summer/autumn .

Exmoor pony (Equus ferus caballus)

This pony is considered to be the oldest native British breed. They have a stocky build, with deep chests and large girths. They typically range from about 11.5-13.5 hands and are usually bay, brown or dun in colour.

Gorse

Ah…the favourite wildflower of my Spring nature walk has to be gorse. It’s rugged and tough and yet it produces hundreds and hundreds of beautiful relatively soft yellow flowers.

Gorse at Branton NCA

Swathes of flowering gorse along the lakeside

Gorse (Ulex europaeus)

This is a common, bushy evergreen shrub. It has multi-branched stems with numerous sharp spines about 1-3cm long. The shrub itself grows anything up to 3m in height. Its flowers are a bright yellow and around 2cm in length. They give off a characteristics coconut smell. Gorse can flower all year round, even during the harsh winter months. However, its peak season is April-May, when nearly the whole shrub is covered in flowers.

It is closely related to the brooms…

Common broom

Broom in Breamish Valley

Deliciously bright flowering broom

Common broom (Cytisus scoparius)

This is an upright deciduous shrub. It has long, slim green shoots bearing small leaves that are arranged in threes. It has clusters of bright yellow, pea-like flowers. Unlike Gorse, Broom only flowers in late Spring.

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