Spring in the South Downs is one of our favourite times of the year as April brings the promise of budburst on the vines and birdsong fills the air. If you plan on walking our Vineyard Trail, be sure to keep all your senses switched on as spring unfolds around you.
By Richard James
Rathfinny is more than a vineyard and spring is an excellent opportunity to illustrate this. As we dust ourselves off from the long winter months, the wildlife on the Estate has been merrily doing its thing. The highlight for me is the bird song. As soon as the sun is even thinking of appearing, it is a race to see who can get the highest and who can sing the loudest! Over our arable and grass margins the skylarks have got this down to a tee. The males slice up through the sky, open their lungs and then parachute down providing a full repertoire of liquid song. Sometimes difficult to spot but when you are exploring our self-guided Walking Trail, just stop and listen and it will be the background music for the rest of your walk.
On the southern edge of the Vineyard is our diverse bank of downland grass which is home to a myriad of species. Here the bird calls may be more recognisable to some like the melodious blackbird, the clear but repetitive nature of the song thrush or the “teacher, teacher, teacher!” call of the great tit. Through this cacophony of calls, alarms and sexual tension you may be able to pick out the talkative sound of a yellow hammer or the bursting yaffle of a green woodpecker.
If you can take yourself away from this menagerie then as the ground and air warm up the blackthorn and hawthorn will begin their floral display on the Estate. The spiky blackthorn blossoms before it leaves, and the hawthorn does the reverse so we have a good dusting of white flowers through into June.
This increase in blossom and other flowering plants will also be a welcome sight for many insects. A much-needed food source for a wandering queen buff tailed bumble bee for instance – easy to recognise as a flying black and yellow striped woolly thimble of a bee. Looks too big to fly in my opinion. Take a closer look at one of these bushes as they blossom, and you will notice a plethora of flying insects from the peacock butterfly to the distinctive early mining bee with its fox red thorax – a stunning sight and sound as they hum away during feed time.
The self-guided Walking Trail is open all year round so please enjoy the Estate and keep all your senses switched on as spring unfolds. What animals or plants will you hear or see I wonder?