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Stour Valley springs to life

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Sign and descriptive map to the Stour Valley
The Stour Valley is right on my doorstep, and as a result I visit it regularly throughout the seasons to witness whatever is current.

Spring is wonderful, when new growth and the prospect of new life makes you feel good to be alive and witness the regeneration in progress. As the trees come into bud, I relish all those beautiful and different shades of green as the leaves develop. Then I think of all the butterflies and bees that will visit the flowers once they bloom, and thank God that this miracle happens every year so that life goes on - for all of us. For without the bees, where would we all be? I keep hearing about the decline in the bee population, but a trip to the Stour Valley (not to mention my back garden) would suggest otherwise. Surely the secret lies in what is available for them in order to collect that essential pollen. The Stour Valley is alive in spring with blossom (there are many varieties of tree that will later produce fruit) and a stroll along the river bank makes you smile as you hear that heart-warming hum of Mother Nature in progress.

That hot spell in April this year kick started the flora and fauna into action. It was great to see Orange Tip butterflies flitting around the fields and hedges, not often co-operating with the frustrated photographer as they don’t seem to stay still for long! But it’s the first time I’ve spotted them locally for many years.

Early flowers were a bonus for the abundant insect life and in turn for the birds. The hatching of the mayfly provided a feast for the swifts and swallows as well as the local bird population.

The Stour Valley is also one of the few places where I’ve seen a bullfinch in recent years, perched on top of one of the hedgerows (a constant habitat for many small birds) and just to see this small, but proud looking “Lord of the Manor” type bird, was a pleasure to witness, even though I didn’t have time to click the shutter!

There is an old, almost dead looking tree on the northern bank, which is often host to cormorants who sit with open wings and creating quite spooky and ghostly images.

Reed warblers (incredibly noisy for their size) are frequently heard (but not often seen) in the clumps of reeds which are prolific along the river banks.

That incredible flash of turquoise and orange as a kingfisher breaks all the speed records on its journey from one part of the river to the next is always a joy to behold (just the few seconds that you’re lucky enough to glimpse). I’ve even seen them cutting the corners, going over a field to cut out a bend in the river in its urgency to be on its way.

For birdwatchers, the Stour Valley offers many opportunities to see swan, several species of duck, moorhen, coot, water rail, heron, egret, and countless varieties of their smaller land based cousins, like the finches – green, gold and bull - blue, great, coal and long tailed tits, chiffchaff, stonechat, nuthatch, wren, warblers, thrush, blackbird and that ever favourite robin. Larger species include greater spotted woodpecker, lapwing, owl, sparrow hawk, buzzard and kestrel.

During the summer months when the wild flowers are prolific and the blackberry brambles are covered with pale pink blossom, a stroll down by the river on a warm summer’s evening is well worth it to see the butterflies. Peacock, small tortoiseshell, painted lady, skippers, gatekeepers, meadow brown, speckled wood, red admiral, brown argus, marbled white and small copper are all easily spotted, and many of them seem to like the bramble flowers in particular. It’s also a good time of day to see the dragonfly population darting back and forth. There are many different varieties including broad-bodied chaser, ruddy darter, southern hawker, brown hawker, emperor dragonfly, golden-ringed dragonfly and damsel flies, in particular the banded demoiselle.

There’s a wonderful variety of wildlife in the Stour Valley, from roe deer and otters, bats and badgers, to crickets and grasshoppers, and the closer you look the more you’ll see.