Plum trees have benefited from warm spring

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Summer, I realised as I opened the first gate, had picked up momentum at last, going ahead at a hand canter.

It was the vanilla and honey scent from a hedge wreathed with honeysuckle and wild rose that alerted me to the year’s progress, when we seemed to have been marking time for weeks. If the fruit trees I had passed on my way were anything to go by, it won’t be much of an apple year - though last year was outstanding in this respect - but the plums seemed to be developing in quantity. Of course, the plum trees, which often get hit by frosts when they are flowering, benefited from this year’s unseasonably warm spring, while the apple trees blossomed that much later and so caught the windy weather that stripped the flowers before they could set fruit, and kept the pollinating insects away as well. All this occupied my mind as I walked around the fields where Old Tom has his magpie traps.

We take turns to give Old Tom a hand on those days when he isn’t feeling too sprightly, so today on the way back from checking my rabbit traps, I stopped off to walk these extra fields. This time of year, apart from a few late broods of this and that, there isn’t much in the way of eggs and hatchlings for the magpies and crows to take, but what we do by extending the trapping season is catch the unwary young corvids which would otherwise be future breeding stock. Newly-fledged, smart and sassy, this year’s youngsters are not trapped so much by territorial skirmishes as sheer curiosity, and Old Tom tells me that at the moment he is having some success using, of all things, fruit as bait. There are no call-birds in his traps after the end of June, but he is cunning in the siting of them, and has taken a good tally so far. When Young Tom and Wayne are here on trap-checking duties, they each come equipped to do some shooting, which all helps. There is no shortage of magpies, for sure: there have been times when I have run out of nursery rhyme.

The last trap inspected - nothing this time, but there was one this morning - I turn along the track by the copse, which in turn conceals a very small pond and a rather unusual orchid. I found both by accident some years ago, while in pursuit of a disobedient terrier. There is only one orchid this year, but at least it is still there.

I pause to look into the pond, and am rewarded by the sight of a newt looking back at me. It has gold-rimmed eyes, and amazingly wide paddles on its rear feet, in contrast to the long webbed fingers it has in front. It hangs in the water just under the surface, looking more like a plant than an animal, the rest of it blurred into muddy green shadows from the surrounding trees. The pond is much larger than normal from the rain this year; though still small, it is quite deep, offering good shelter to such creatures as this. Newts were commonplace in my childhood, but now you feel privileged if you see one.

That will be something to tell Tom when I stop off at his home to tell him about the magpie traps, and see if he’d like me to take a look around tomorrow. He will be looking out for my vehicle leaving the top wood, and by the time I stop in his drive, the kettle will be well on its way to boiling.

Foxglove