Ear To The Ground with Steve Blacksmith: Spring’s late this year but soon things will be on the move

This is a large female toad as found in Calderdale
This is a large female toad as found in Calderdale

My big potted, bonsai-ed Cherry-plum (Prunus cerasifera) is struggling to open its first few small white blossoms as I write on March 21.

It usually gives its brilliant massed white show in February. This is the first white blossom to come out, and later it might produce small red plums which are edible, though hardly sweet. It is native to the Balkans and the Caucasus. I tried to bottle some in sugar syrup in 2011 and they fermented, making a wine. I’m eating some and having a little glass of the pale pink liquid just now. It’s flinty-dry and thick, much nicer than the fruit, which is mushy now.

My other, this time intentional, attempt at making wine was with redcurrant skins left over after I made jelly last autumn. It failed to make wine. I got a carboy three-quarters full of dark red fruity vinegar instead! It’s good on salads and for putting beetroot in.

Wild food just coming up includes Ransoms, the wild garlic. A few leaves in a plain cheese sandwich on a walk are delicious. Just a few, though – they are powerfully garlic tasting, though it doesn’t seem to linger on the breath.

They are the plain spear-like leaves that come up in damp woods that small of garlic. Nettles are also just beginning to push up. The new young shoots are delicious steamed, but you need a fairly big bag full, as they reduce a lot when steamed. They smell gorgeous as they get hot. Both these plants are past their best for eating after spring.

I’ve seen plenty of frogspawn in various places already, but I go looking for it – I’m Amphibian Recorder for Halifax Scientific Society.

We collate records from the whole of Calderdale – what used to be the old Halifax Parish stretched right up to Todmorden.

I haven’t heard of any toads moving to their ancestral breeding ponds yet this year. In various places where there are numbers crossing roads the Toad Patrol people will soon be out with their buckets helping them get across safely.

They seem to start moving when the temperature at night is about 8C. Frogs need less help. They are fast and alert usually, but toads tend to dawdle and crawl or do little hops instead of leaping like frogs.

You can send in any amphibian records as well as see progress at toad patrol points on the HSS blog at Calderdale-wildlife.blogspot.

Also records can be posted to me care of Halifax Central Library, Northgate, Halifax, HX1 1UN. All wildlife records are needed. The various recorders for birds, mammals, fungi, plants and insects are all interested in what you find in your own areas. With our usual spring optimism we look forward to an exciting year of wildlife activity.

Amphibians the world over are a vulnerable group, suffering from habitat changes in developed countries as well as landscape changes, especially deforestation in the tropics.