Often when people think of orchids, the image of the big ‘n’ blousy type come to mind. That was certainly the picture I’d conjured up when a friend first pointed out a native orchid to me. As she was mad-keen on plants, I think my initial reaction and obvious disappointment crushed her enthusiasm. Ah well, I was only 18 at the time and had yet to learn to appreciate plants and native flowers in general. Now I, too, get as excited as my friend when I see our orchids start to re-appear every spring.
I heard a sound to gladden the heart yesterday – screaming. No, it wasn’t me finding a spider (I have to confess that the long-legged ones make my skin crawl, excuse the pun) but it meant that the swifts have made it back to Stroud for another year. For me, that signals the start of summer despite the grey clouds and cool wind. During my younger years when I lived in the outskirts of York, I never heard this evocative sound as swifts weren’t to be seen. There were oodles of house martins nesting under the eaves of houses all around us, and swallows zipped to and fro, but it wasn’t until I moved to Stroud that I hear this unmistakable sound. This has given them the nick-name of Jackie Screamers – if anyone knows why ‘jackie’ is used, I’d be interested to know.
OK, so the Water Park isn’t technically in Stroud district but it’s not far away and Cleveland Lakes near Ashton Keynes are almost a dead-cert for hearing cuckoos. This part of the park is also wonderfully tranquil, beautiful and offers habitat that we have very little of in Stroud’s valleys and vale apart from WWT Slimbridge. Thanks to the large reedbeds, luxuriant hedgerows and ample tree cover, the air was full of bird song when myself and friends walked around it yesterday evening. We’d only walked for a few minutes and were still close to the car park when we heard the cuckoo calling – what a result! It continued its appeal to any passing females all the time we were there.
On a beautifully sunny day, it can be hard to tell where the bluebells end and the sky starts when gazing at Cam Peak at this time of year. This hill, which is shaped unlike any other in the district and can be seen from miles around, is cloaked with vivid blue all the way round and is truly worth a visit. Especially as it’s so easy to drive to and to park. Local legend tells the story of the Devil pushing a wheelbarrow of soil through Cam with the intention of using it to block the estuary. The Devil stops to ask a local man how much further is the estuary. The quick-thinking man, realising what the Devil is plotting, says that he still has many miles to walk, so the Devil gives up in frustration and empties the wheelbarrow content on the ground creating Cam Peak.
June is busting out all over, so the saying goes. I reckon whoever said this first was a month late. May is the month when nature springs into life, seemingly all of a sudden after the long, slumbering stretch of winter. Flowers and birdsong flare up all over the place in an explosion of activity: bluebells, orchids, cowslips, red campion, yellow archangel, sweet woodruff and many others add bright colours to the backdrop of fresh green vegetation. Nightingales and cuckoos proclaim their presence – elaborately in the former whereas the latter sticks to two simple notes. Many other migrant birds add their song to the cacophony of the dawn chorus, but only until they find a mate when they stop singing and concentrate on the demanding job of raising youngsters. That’s why the later summer months are deathly quiet compared to the soundtrack of May.