The larches are in flower, something i have never seen before; bright pink cones emerging upright from soft green pine needle tufts. These are the female flowers, sometimes known as larch-roses and they will develop into pine cones. The male flowers carrying the pollen are found on the same branch. The fresh new growth looks lovely after the winter; european larch (larix decidua) turns gold-amber in the autumn before loosing its needles. Its light shade provides habitat for red squirrels and birds such as sparrowhawks and goshawks; crossbills, siskins and tree creepers; as well as many moth species.
On the doorstep i almost trod on what i think is probably a palmate newt (Triturus Lissotriton helveticus) a tiny little thing, which let me pick it up and relocate it to a safer place near the stream where it was better camouflaged against the stones. It was a dull, dusty brown colour with a thin ridge along its spine and tail and an almost translucent orange-red glow to the inside of its limbs. Its underside was creamy and there were vague dappled markings to the sides of its tail.
Palmate newts are common throughout Western Europe, where habitat remains that suit them, however they are becoming extremely rare to endangered in a number of countries. Despite their common status, they are still considered vulnerable throughout their range and are protected by law everywhere that they are found. They breed in ponds during spring, when they come out of hibernation from old walls, so i guess this one had just emerged. They like tussocky grassland and areas of water that have vegetation above and below water level, so i suspect the shallow grassy stream is a perfect environment for them.
The warmth has brought a few toads out, they are slowly crawling around in the sunshine. They have lovely golden eyes with horizontal pupils, with lumpy glands behind them. The common toad (Bufo bufo) is native to the UK and is becoming increasingly less common as habitats are lost, and migration routes are disrupted. They favour large ponds with deep water for breeding, which they will return to each year. Woodland, scrub and coarse grassland are the ideal environment where they hunt for slugs, spiders and insects nocturnally. There is a project called Toads on Roads that patrols crossings on migration routes.
Down at the wildlife pond in front of the house, the edge-water is full of frogspawn, pooling gelatinously around the grasses. It will be interesting to see how much of this survives the resident heron, and what will emerge.
Other signs of spring appear each day, daisies and buttercup-like lesser celandines; primroses and the green leaves of honeysuckle, first to appear in the hedgerow. The clematis montana across the front of the house has thousands of buds, and tiny scilla shine blue from the border. The biggest change to the landscape is the gorse which is fully in flower and brightening the hills with golden highlights. There is a berberis tree at the top of the lane that is a brilliant rusty orange, and mahonia in the stone wall glinting yellowly. Birds are beginning to look for nesting sites in the hedges and walls, which the sparrow hawk has been taking a keen interest in, and the forest behind the house is beginning to show a hint of fresh green, where the larches are filling in with fresh needles.