The stormy March has come at last, With winds and clouds and changing skies; I hear the rushing of the blast That through the snowy valley flies.
~William C. Bryant~
March 1 marked the first meteorological spring season which will end on May 31. Meteorological seasons were based on the weather and the calendar, while astronomical seasons depended on the Earth’s orbit of the sun. Meteorological seasons remained the same every year and were also based on annual temperature cycles. The seasons were split into four periods of three calendar months each, which made it easier for forecasters to compare seasonal and monthly statistics. So spring was made up of March, April and May; Summer was June, July and August and Autumn was September, October and November.
March 1 was also a very special day in the Welsh calendar. Wales celebrated the feast day of St David, their patron saint on the same day every year, as the day also marked the date of his death in 589 AD. It was the first day of the year that Britain honoured one of its four patron saints - the others being St. Patrick for Northern Ireland, St. Andrew for Scotland and St. George for England. The feast had been regularly celebrated since the canonisation of David in the 12th century by Pope Callistus II, though it was not a national holiday in the UK, which was a shame. Bright green leeks and yellow daffodils were turned into accessories as the Welsh celebrated their national day.
A vegetarian and drank only water, St David was known as Aquaticus or Dewi Ddyfrwr (the water drinker). Although many associated him with leeks or daffodils, his symbol was actually the Dove, which usually rested on his shoulder. This was why he was the patron saint of doves and also poets. His last words to his followers before his death are thought to have been:
"Be joyful, keep the faith and do the little things that you have heard and seen me do."
The phrase gwenwch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd - 'Do the little things in life' – was still a well-known phrase in Wales.
Daffodils, which were in bloom around this time of year, became the national symbol for Wales in the 19th Century through a mixture of trends and linguistic confusion. The word for daffodil and the leek were the same in Welsh. Leek was Cenhinen and Daffodil was Cenhinen Pedr. This confusion meant that both had been adopted as national emblems. It was said that the daffodil was encouraged by the British government, as it don’t have the nationalistic overtones that the leek had, with its association with the defeat of Saxons!!!
Shakespeare name-dropped St David in Henry V. When Fluellen’s English colleague, Pistol, insulted the humble leek on St David’s Day, Fluellen insisted he ate the national emblem as punishment:
“If you can mock a leek, you can eat a leek”
~Act V, Scene 1~
My department had welcomed a visitor from Kiel, JC, who was the head cataloguer of a consortium of public libraries. We demonstrated what magic goes on in our department as she specifically wanted to know more about Sierra, the library management system, RDA and our cataloguing procedures. It was a lovely exchange of ideas and we were chuffed to learn that there wasn’t much different in the way things were done. She explained to us a lot on German vocabularies especially the definite and definite articles and the coding in MARC. After a session with us, she was went for a whistle-stop tour of the rest of the library. We met up again for a lovely lunch in the librarian’s office where she presented us with a box of yummy German chocolates as a thank you gift. Danke and have a safe journey home.
Then on the coldest day of the year so far, the fire alarm went off. Thinking that it was a normal fire drill, we followed the normal fire evacuation procedures and headed straight to the allocated meeting area. Thankfully, I had put my coat, gloves, scarf and hat on and followed the rest of my team. After about an hour milling about in the Ramphal atrium with no news, my colleagues and I went to WBS for an early lunch. Standing in the cold really whet up our appetites and the Asian inspired food that we’d really warmed us up. When we headed back it was sleeting down and we were told to wait at the Chemistry concourse opposite the Library building for more news. We waited and waited and waited and were told by different people what was happening. The students were told that the Library was closed for the whole day but not to the staff!!!
We were later informed that we could get our stuff. When we went to the main entrance, the security officer told us that he wasn’t informed and asked us to go to the back door. So off we walk in the sleet to the back door, and guess what, they weren’t informed either . By this time, we were 3 hours in the cold. Luckily, I’d my coat on but not some of my colleagues. We walked back to the main entrance and found out that they’d already allowed staff in, but in batches. We rushed in to get our stuff and then headed back to the very busy concourse. An hour later, we were told that we could go home by a security officer but a senior library manager wanted to have the confirmation from the management team which was nowhere to be seen. By this time, I’d lost my will to live. A few of us rebels decided to go home. We will take annual leave if we’d to.
After that incident, my viral infections flared up again. I was off sick for another 2 days due to standing out in the cold, damp, wintry conditions. I was laid low with a virus, sore throat, non-stop coughing and an aching body. When I returned to work, I was ready to be told off but somehow, nothing was mentioned. I just kept my head down but my ears to the ground. Apparently, there had been lots of heated discussions and conversations and lessons to be learnt from the very unusual circumstances. But the lack of communication and empathy from the top management were the ones highlighted. Hopefully, there will be better procedures when the SHTF the next time.
I had barely recovered from the second attack of the viral infection when the polar vortex nicknamed "Beast From The East" hit the country. This was a mass of very cold air that sat above the Earth's north and south poles. The dense, cold air was controlled by a large pocket of low pressure, which rotated in an anti-clockwise direction at the north pole and clockwise at the south pole. Winds from Siberia had pushed in from the east, causing the mercury to plummet. Britain was battered by icy weather as the winds spiralled in from the arctic. The cold spell had been caused by a jump in temperatures high over the Arctic, known as Sudden Stratospheric Warming, which had weakened the jet stream that brought warm air in from the Atlantic to Ireland and Britain. To make matters worse, the Beast from the East clashed with Storm Emma which caused more widespread disruption across the UK.
Storm Emma, named by the Portuguese weather service, originated from out in the Atlantic, brought with it substantial snow, blizzards, wild gales and freezing rain. It had brought chaos with heavy snow and strong winds to Southern Ireland, South West England and Southern Wales with up to 50 cm of snow in some elevated areas. High winds had brought disruption to other parts of Great Britain and Ireland. The Met Office had issued red weather warnings of a danger to life for the first time in Scotland as the storm's 70mph winds hit the polar vortex — bringing deadly snowdrifts and a -15C windchill.
Thankfully, the atrocious weather conditions had calmed down by the start of the working week. When the storm was raging, Babe had caught the viral infections from me. He was hit very hard by it especially when he’d other health issues to contend with. He was out of action and was stuck indoors for at least three weeks which meant that I had to take the bus home. Thankfully, the bus stopped about a 100 metres away from our casa so it wasn’t a major issue. But it meant a short lunch break to leave at 5 pm for the bus.
So far March had everyone feeling perplexed by the current weather conditions. One day, we’d the most perfect sunny, spring day. The birds were singing, bees were buzzing and yellow daffodils were swaying in the breeze. The following day snow was dumped upon us!!! I guessed we’d to ‘Beware the Ides of March,’ as written by Shakespeare in ‘Julius Caesar’. The phrase had long been synonymous with the assassination of the Roman emperor and Shakespeare’s plays solidified the date’s notoriety in history. ‘Beware the Ides of March,’ Caesar was warned during the feast of Lupercal in the play. ‘He is a dreamer. Let us leave him,’ dismisses Caesar of the soothsayer predictions. One month later, on the Ides of March, Caesar was assassinated at the Roman Senate.
It was also the day I added another candle to the cake. It was a huge cake and I am very thankful for all the blessings that were given to me. Life was filled with so many unexpected twists and turns, pits and peaks, and to made it another year was something to be celebrated. We made many plans but we’d to postpone it due to Babe’s ill-health. I didn’t do any baking but bought 2 of Tesco’s finest cakes for my colleagues. Babe gave me a huge Hedgehog door-stopper that he managed to kept it hidden away until my birthday. I took a day off and went for a shopping spree in town. I didn’t buy much because the heavens opened and the most mental hailstorm tumbled down. For about half an hour, it hailed like armageddon and I decided to head home. The walk to the bus station was peppered with a carpet of white and piles of hail stones.
Following a brief spell of warmer weather, a fresh cold snap nicknamed the "Mini Beast from the East" brought another covering of snow on the weekend. Thankfully, due to the onset of spring, and a higher sun position, it was less severe than on the previous occasion, as the ground was warmer than before so the snow melted more quickly. Snow showers still affected parts of Britain and Ireland, with north-east England, the North Midlands, and parts of southern England experiencing the heaviest snowfall. The snow was accompanied by strong winds, and the Met Office issued an amber weather warning. The adverse weather conditions forced the cancellation of some sporting events, including the Coventry Half-marathon while Ireland's rugby union team, who had won the 2018 Six Nations Championship, cancelled their homecoming "due to heavy snowfall".
Britain was still shivering under a blanket of snow when the first day of spring was ushered in on Tuesday, March 20 and marked officially at 4.15pm GMT. The March equinox was the date used by astronomers to mark the start of spring in the northern hemisphere, signalling the beginning of longer days ahead and, hopefully, warmer weather to come. The spring equinox was also called the vernal equinox, with “ver” meaning spring in Latin. The period was celebrated as a time of rebirth and newness, with many cultural festivals taking place. Spring-time festivals and holidays such as Easter and Passover were the main celebrations across many cultures as the path of the Sun aligned with the Earth’s equator..
To celebrate the day, my colleagues and I took part in an Easter Egg Hunt organised by the Sports Centre. I was very excited because this was the first time ever I took part in an egg hunt. A day before the event, a map was emailed to the participants where the eggs were hidden. Since it was the 21st century, we’d to take a selfie with the eggs as proof that we’d found them. We took turns posing with the eggs. It was about a 1.5 km walk around the university grounds where we located the 7 eggs at the Security, WBS, Arts Centre, PG Hub, The Rocket, Sports Centre and the golden egg at the adult playground. Our highlight was when we spotted Terry the Bear who was the Sports Centre Mascot. We each were given a box of mini chocolate eggs for finding all the eggs and our names were put into a ballot. Unfortunately, none of us was picked for the main prize but we still had a wonderful time..
After being stuck indoors for nearly 3 weeks, Babe was getting cabin fever. He needed some fresh air and so we went for a slow walk at our favourite playground. I was chuffed to bits when the receptionist told me that the Great White Egret was still in the reserve. What!!!! We walked as fast as we could to Teal Pool and as soon as we opened the shutters, I nearly screamed when I spotted it flying above the trees, being chased away by a heron. All you could hear were our cameras rattling away. Then it landed in the shallow water, opposite the hide but about 250 metres away. I was grinning from ear to ear, to get this close to one of my sought after birds.
Great White Egrets were large all white bird standing up to 1 metre tall and were only slightly smaller that the Grey heron with whom they shared many common behavioural characteristics. They had yellow bills and black legs and feet, though the bill may become darker and the lower legs lighter in the breeding season. They had a yellow featherless patch between their beak and eyes. Their diet consisted of fish, insects and frogs which were also similar to the heron and that was why it was being chased away by the heron. Prey was captured by either standing motionless or by stalking slowly then spearing with their sharp, long bill.
In the air, the wingspan was impressive between 143-169 cm and was more slender and longer-legged than the heron. It had a slow flight with its neck retracted. On the ground, it walked with its neck extended and wings closed. Although it was being chased off by the heron, we didn’t hear the low hoarse croak when disturbed. From the first record in 1821 until the late 1980s, they remained very rare in Britain. Since then, the species had increased in number, eventually being removed as a BBRC rarity in 2005. The first successful breeding was at the Somerset Levels in 2012, with 2017 saw a total of 7 pairs and 17 young.
I imagine the great painters of archangels
took the slender wings of egrets,
cut and lashed them to the backs of posing men.
Gabriel alighting at Mary’s side—
the majesty of the task—
the weight placed at her tiny feet.
The lake is a still life. An egret, on one leg,
watches below the surface the flutter of fish
between the subtle sway of bay grass.
I think of Icarus carrying the ambitions
of a race. The twisted maze on earth.
The father who knew too little. When
something unheard, something in this scene
hiccups, wingtips break
the surface, the egret lifts into the sky
with vast sweeping strokes. The bay
is just a bay again with two concentric circles
dissipating into the stillness.
If I could ask anything, I’d ask the egret
what it is like lifting to heaven
the weight of flesh with the weight of feathers.
Then the clocks had gone forward on March 25, marking the end of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and the start of British Summer Time (BST). Britons may felt tired as it meant an hour of lost sleep when the time changed from 1am to 2am. But it was good news for people who were needing some Vitamin D as it meant that the evenings was much lighter until June 21, Midsummer’s Day. I am soo looking forward to the longer, brighter evenings and also saving money on heating the house.
BST first started in 1916 during World War One in a bid to save money and resources such as coal to light the country. It came into existence with the Summer Time Act. But, it was first suggested by Benjamin Franklin in 1784 who believed getting up earlier when it was lighter would meant saving on candle usage. This was followed by builder William Willett who tried to convince the country that it would be a good idea in 1907, publishing a leaflet titled The Waste of Daylight. He died in 1915, a year before it came into place.
Good Friday marked the start of the Easter long weekend. It was treated as a day of mourning in the UK because it commemorated the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It was a day of fasting and penance for practicing Christians. Experts believed the event had been coined because the word ‘good’ meant pious or holy. As we don’t celebrate Easter, we spent the day at our favourite playground especially when there was a sighting of a Bewick swan and a Brambling at the visitor centre.
As usual, they were gone by the time we arrived. Even the Robins weren’t hanging around in the usual places. Some of them had retuned back to the continent to breed and the local ones might be sitting on eggs. But as we walked further into the reserve, we were serenaded by a few high up in the trees. The females had stopped singing. But not the males. They continued singing to declare the ‘ownership’ of a joint future breeding territory. Along Grebe Pool, the primroses were beginning to flower on the bank.
We made a pit stop at Baldwin Hide but there was nothing about so off to East Marsh Hide. At first, we only saw the usual Shovelers, Mallards, Tufted ducks, Teals, Cormorants, Lapwings and Gulls. Then we heard the familiar loud piping cries of a Redshank and it landed on the island. As its name suggests, Redshanks' most distinctive features were their bright orange-red legs. In fact, Shank was the old name for leg, so its name was just ‘redleg’. It walked along the rocky shore while pecking regularly for insects, spiders, worms and crustaceans. Occasionally it probed and then jabbing and sweeping through the water with a bill. Another Redshank flew past and it followed, a swift direct flight with steady wing-beats.
While checking out the Redshanks, we spotted a Little Ringed Plover foraging for insects and aquatic insects along the rocky shore. It must have been here all this while, very well camouflaged among the rocks. It was sandy-brown above, white below, with a black chest-band and black bridle markings on the head. The bright yellow ring around the eye was quite prominent. When it flew off, a very thin, pale wingbar was visible. A summer visitor to our shores arriving in mid-March and leaving again in July for the Eastern Mediterranean and East Africa.
Then another familiar call from one of the most vocal waders with their distinct and shrill piping ‘kleep, kleep’ echoed all around us. At first we spotted a pair, and then 5 turned up. It was mayhem. Historically known as ‘sea pie’, it was hard to miss as they were large black and white wading birds, with long orange-red bill and reddish-pink leg. During the winter, they were birds of the tidal estuaries and rocky shores. They were highly gregarious outside the breeding season, forming large flocks as they were joined by migrants from Norway. It was only during the breeding season, they flew inland and I think they were pairing up. I hoped the 7th will find a mate soon. We saw a piping display, where in order to establish a territory, the pair ran together side by side, calling loudly.
Babe also spotted a Lapwing making a nest by scraping the ground with its breast, up and down whilst the wings were held wide apart. This was the first part of the nest-building, the making of the nest-hollow. Lapwings needed a good all round view from the nest to spot predators, and nested either on rough or broken ground or in short vegetation to aid concealment of the nest. The males created many small scrapes on the ground and display these to prospective females by bobbing his tail up and down. Once a female had selected a scrape to use, she lined it with a layer of dead grass. We will definitely be keeping a beady eye on this nest.
I also had my first sighting of a Sand-martin but it was just too fast to photograph. We then made our way to Carlton Hide when a Muntjac crossed our path and quickly disappeared into the undergrowth. That was a very nice surprise. At Carlton, we met R and spent a few minutes chatting. A Little Grebe could be heard whirring deep in the reed-beds. We left R and headed to Ted Jury when Babe noticed that the entrance into the old badger sett had been cleared. We weren’t sure whether there was a new occupancy. We will keep an eye on it. We didn’t stay long at Ted Jury and made our way home.
We ended the month with another trip to our favourite playground again. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go far as the path was flooded from the nearby River Avon which flowed adjacent to the reserve. We went to Steely Hide instead and the path was so muddy as most people had made their way here when they couldn’t access the other hides. I had never seen the reed-beds at Steely Hide so flattened before. We stayed for an hour watching territorial Coots and Moorhens and courting Mallards.
On the way out, Babe met RC and while they exchanged news, I photographed a pair of Long Tailed Tits that had flown to the bird-feeder. It was their familiar ‘tsirrip’ sound that grabbed my attention before I spotted them. They were easily recognisable by their undulating flight, a tail much longer than their small pinkish body and generally flying in a small flock, and were also known as ‘flying teaspoons’. A magpie flew in and off they went, flitting between the branches, chasing one another, tumbling and somersaulting. They joined their family flitting between the myria moss capped branches, their calls still ringing like many tiny, high-pitched electric bells.
I was hoping to get a better view of a Reed Bunting but it refused to come closer. Although they were almost entirely insectivorous during the breeding season, they switched to seeds in late summer, relying on these for the rest of the year. That was why a sizeable flock could be found near the feeding stations of the visitor centre. The males had a black head and throat, white neck collar and underparts, and a heavily streaked brown back. The females were much duller, with a streaked brown head, and was more streaked below. Both had a small but sturdy seed-eater’s bill.
At 8 pm, I wanted to check out the dazzling blue moon that graced the skies for the last time in years. But, a thick cloud had carpeted the skies. It was dubbed the ‘sap moon’ by Native American tribes ‘as it marked the time when maple sap began to flow and the annual tapping of maple trees began’ according to the Old Farmer’s almanac. The rare phenomenon won’t happen again until the year 2020. The last time a blue moon happened on Easter was 94 years ago in April 1923. Blue moons were the second full moon to rise within one calendar month and despite the name, wasn’t actually blue. A pity, I wasn’t able to catch a glimpse of this spectacular moon. Guess, I have to wait in 2 years time.
March, when days are getting long, Let thy growing hours be strong to set right some wintry wrong.