Monday, 19 May 2014

Big bang yellow

Plains in May (Martin Kelsey)
It is as dramatic a transformation to the landscape as our autumnal "second spring", equally fortelling of the weeks ahead. I have been out in the field every single day for the last month, but even I have been taken by surprise by the swiftness of change, engineered this year by the catalyst of several weeks without rain and higher than usual temperatures. As with the late September greening, the place to witness this metamorphosis is on the plains. The grasses shot up in height in April, with the flowering heads of different species head aloft on tall, fine stems, creating the beauty of the rippling, sometimes almost upwelling, as the breeze strokes the land. The tell-tale signs were there for those who cared to look, as the stems, paler than the lusher leaves, gave the greeness of the grasslands a slightly washed-out appearance. And then, the leaves having performed their role, and the seeds now set, the whole plant turns a sandy yellow and suddenly in the space of days the plains are dressed for summer, where just the scattered trees offer a brooding green.
Retama in flower (Martin Kelsey)
But spring does not leave us without a final flourish. There is a big bang of yellow as the retama (Lygos (Retama) sphaerocarpa) roars into flower. This spindly, lanky shrub with silvery green fine branches is the dominant shrub on unploughed dry country. Visitors sometimes mistake it for the rather similar-shaped tamarisk, but retama is a leguminous plant, similar to brooms, with a tiny yellow flower. The density of this blossom is so high that the normally rather uninspiring shrub, which seems to provide as interest chiefly as a perch for Corn Buntings, explodes into a deep lemon-yellow (see photo above) in mid-May. The brilliance of the inflorescence, coupled with with heavy aroma, attracts throngs of insects, among them the False Ilex Hairstreak (see photo below) - their larvel host plant, the holm oak, never far away.
False Ilex Hairstreak (Martin Kelsey)
Whilst the lark song continues at strength, the birds of the plains are quietly busy, as the sight of Corn Buntings carrying food testifies. When not laden with food, the bills of these open country species will often be open now, as the birds pant to try to lose heat in the depths of the afternoons (see photos below of Thekla Lark and Little Bustard). There is little shade here, but that which can be found will often be the place of refuge. Invariably the Magpies, Rollers and shrikes can be found tucked close to the side of a telegraph post, perched on that part of the cable lying in a tiny pool of shadow.
Thekla Lark (Martin Kelsey)

Little Bustard (Martin Kelsey)

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