By Brother Andy
At dawn the valley becomes filled with song, predominantly song thrushes joined occasionally by blackbirds, nuthatches and chiffchaffs (recently flown in from Africa). As you go up Monk’s Walk, wood pigeons coo in the trees.
Robins can be heard throughout Skanda Vale. These birds are unusual amongst songbirds because they sing throughout the year. You may have seen the robin that is a regular intruder into the dining room. Sometimes this bird gives a short trill as we chase it out as if to say “I’ll be back!”
(You can hear all of these birds singing by clicking on the links in the text.)
There are calls of less melodious birds to be heard as they fly across the valley – kronks of ravens, caws of carrion crows, the harsh screech of jays and high up, above the valley, kites and buzzards soar making their strange mewing calls.
The ‘drumming’ of great spotted woodpeckers, which have been heard since January, are becoming less frequent. A flock of excited greenfinches make twittering and wheezing sounds in the bushes by the monks’ accommodation above the Murugan Temple.
In the late afternoon, a flock of sparrows congregate in one of the large bamboos above the new accommodation block – their massed cheepings make it seem as if they’re catching up on what has been happening that day.
We have many beautiful garden plants here at Skanda Vale. One, a magnolia, grows next to Guru, at His samadhi site, its beautiful flowers blossoming as if offering a blessing to Him.
Garden plants have been bred for their showiness; large brightly coloured flowers are preferred. But amongst the fields, woods and hedgerows of Skanda Vale, wild plants grow often with small, subtly coloured flowers which on closer examination have a beauty to match any garden flower.
The last Saturday of March was sunny and warm and a short walk revealed that a number of wild plants were coming into flower. Although there are no leaves on the trees, in the valley, the understorey has the familiar ‘lamb’s tail’ catkins of hazel, the furry catkins of pussy willow and the white flowers of blackthorn (sloe) on display.
On the ground, daisies and dandelions abound along with the starry yellow flowers of lesser celandine. Sky blue speedwell flowers are emerging amongst leaves of grass. Common dog violets and the small flowers of wood sorrel (white petals lined with lilac or purple) bring more colour.
Opposite leaved golden saxifrage is abundant in damp places. This plant, with its long name, has very small flowers but as they are borne in yellow clusters and offset by acid green leaves and grow in dense mats they are easily spotted.
Primroses are occasional, welcome members of the hedgerows; they were probably more abundant at one time. Strawberry plants are widespread but these are barren strawberries (they won’t produce edible fruit) their flowers are very similar to the wild strawberry which will appear later in the year. In the still pools of water, out where the elephants go for a walk, a plant called water leaved crowfoot has come into flower.
There are less conspicuous plants; as you drive into Skanda Vale just before the gates on the right is a clump of what looks like gooseberry in flower. Whether this is wild or an ‘escape’ from the early Skanda Vale garden is difficult to say. The fact that there is a similar clump, where in the early days Guru’s caravan used to be, might suggest that these are relics of cultivation.
An abundant, though very small-flowered plant, is wavy bittercress – another plant of damp places. The field above the new laundry chalet has clumps of one of the earliest flowering grasses; the aptly named meadow foxtail.
The low growing shrubs of bilberry grow by the side of the walk up to Mother’s Temple. Close examination of these plants reveal small waxy pinkish-red bell-shaped flowers.
Bumblebees bustle around and on that Saturday in March a peacock butterfly, newly emerged from hibernation, showed off its beautiful wings in the sunlight. Moles push up their mounds of earth in the fields, and wood mice are occasional, unwelcome, visitors to the chalets in the woods.
At the far end of the valley, badgers have been active cleaning out their sett in preparation for the year ahead.
It is with some disappointment to have to report, however, that social distancing is clearly not being followed in the amphibian world. Frog and toad spawn will soon be appearing in the ponds and lake. The moorhen pair have returned to make their nest in one corner of the walkway around Mother on the Durga lake.
Spring has arrived at Skanda Vale.