Finding the first shoots of spring at Crosby

PUBLISHED: 00:00 14 April 2020

Little egrets

Little egrets

not Archant

Jon Flinn finds the first green shoots of spring in the woods by the coast at Crosby

A panoramic view of Lunt MeadowsA panoramic view of Lunt Meadows

The open coastal plains of west Lancashire are great for big skies but don’t give much shelter and right now there’s a 35mph south westerly wind blowing across Lunt Meadows from the Crosby coast.

A pair of bird watchers complain that they can’t hold their cameras steady in the wind so head home. The wood at the southern end of the Meadows seems like a good bet for now. Along the path, lined by leaning and lichen-patched alders, the roaring of the gale is replaced by the sound of bone-dry branches clattering high above like morris dancers’ sticks.

It’s only on the far side of the wood that spring seems to be making its first tentative marks on the Meadow. The alders still carry the cone shaped female catkins that apparently stay all winter but here on the sunny fringes of the plantation goat willows are lined with fur buds like silvery pearl buttons and glossy yellow/olive coloured branches with 2-3mm dark brown buds shoot from grey trunks of what look like crack willows.

Ahead, the path on the edge of the wood turns inwards. The trees here are different, far bigger, more established and less densely planted and there’s a feeling of entering a large room. Across the floor are shoots of green, and, in three small clumps ahead of me, snowdrops now slightly beyond their best.

The way out to the other side of the wood is under several inches of water but glimpses of light and blueing sky ahead are a draw. On the edge of open country again, more woods lie across the sodden marshes directly ahead. One is purple and made up of birch trees. The other is made up of more willows and changes colour from orangey-yellow at one end to the silver, from the goat willow branches bending in the wind at the other extreme.

I head for the big sky and open marshland to the left, aiming for a footbridge over the Alt. The bridge is exposed and the wind attacks again, blowing patterns down the surface of the river like someone shaking wrinkles from a bedsheet. The water level looks high now but the line of plastic bottles at the very top of the bank suggests that it has been much higher during recent floods.

Birds behave differently in wind like this. On the opposite river bank a pheasant appears for just seconds but is almost blown off the top of the dyke and disappears to safety in the fertile-looking ploughed fields which stretch across to Maghull. These fields often seem to attract flocks of lapwings but today are home to hundreds of Canada geese.

On the Meadows small groups of waterfowl or black headed gulls launch like jump jets almost vertically from the reed beds to face straight into the fierce wind before having to veer off sharply to the right. Getting from A to B in weather like this needs different flying strategies and only an egret with its pure white wings seems to retain its elegance as it touches down far to the left.

It’s hard to feel that spring has arrived on these windblown marshes and harder still as the bright light and blue sky which drew me from the woods are obliterated by a bank of cloud which has crept up from behind.

The wind is now up again and the most exposed of the ponds are transformed from placid pools into small tidal seas with hardy coots riding the wind-driven waves. A pair of huge dark wings appear 150 yards away, hugging the tops of the reedbeds before disappearing seconds later. Marsh harriers are regular visitors to Lunt Meadows but I’m too slow and unsteady with the binoculars to make a positive sighting and the mystery bird doesn’t reappear.

The path now drops down from the riverbank to an old brick pumping station and changes direction as it cuts across the reserve. One edge is marked by a thin screen of hedge plants. It’s hard to believe but the blackthorn is covered with blossom. Many of the small white flowers are still in the process of unfolding but they just need a few more hours of encouraging sun. Even more amazing, just yards away, the hawthorn is coming into leaf.

It could take some weeks but spring, like the blackthorn blossom, is slowly revealing itself across the woods and marshes of Lunt Meadows.

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