The best experience this weekend was when I was washing the car (bear with me on this) - a Coal Tit sang from a leafless shrub just six feet away from my ear, unafraid of my presence. His song included the usual Great-Tit-like teacher, as well as tumbling random phrases that put me in mind of that classic 70s track. For a few minutes, the dreariness of another dull weekend was banished.
[The photo above is from a few years ago - the sunshine shows it wasn't taken in 2011]
Some plants are struggling towards spring - Goat Willow (why goat - why not pussy?)
A few of the scattering of Moschatel plants near my back gate has started to put up their tiny flower stems; while the eagerly-sought first flowering of Coltsfoot at the bottom of the cliffs amounts to just one stalk - last year it was also late, appearing on Feb 27th whereas it was in full bloom on 18th and 20th January in 2008 & 2009.
The original fat Blackcap has left the feeders to his slimmer rival, distinguished by slight differences in its plumage (and a more svelte figure).
A walk along the beach to Walmer reminded me of the density of the alien invasion from the gardens onto the shingle. Holm Oak and Red Valerian plants and seedlings are ubiquitous, while others like Silver Ragwort and Red Hot Poker are currently confined to an area closer to the houses, but are spreading strongly.
"Native plants do not, as a rule, spread suddenly and rapidly all over the place " wrote Peter Marren, "nor do they normally shrink to vanishing point just as suddenly. A native plant should be more or less in balance with its wild environment."
It's clear that the age-old lichen and native plants are being out-competed by the incomers that have found a favourable climate on the beach.
The draft management plan by the White Cliffs Countryside project can be found here, and if supported it will enable us to protect at least some of the beach from invading species.