In the depths of the Dorset countryside, amongst hills, fields, rivers and hedgerows, an oak tree stands tall, stretching its branches over its corner of a field. Having stood proud for many years, each year this tree goes through its cycle, starting with its skeletal form, and moving through budburst, flowering and leaves unfurling, to shedding its green cloak in the autumn at the start of its long winter sleep. Hopefully it will keep continuing its cycle for many years to come.
Every year the rest of nature also goes through its cycle of life, overlooked by this oak tree. From the beginning of new life to the death of others, from howling gales to sleepy sunshine, from constant neighbours to new wildlife spectacles, this tree stands tall through it all. So for this piece, lets follow a year in the life of this particular oak tree in 2022, and see what can be experienced in just one spot.
As a new year began, the landscape lay in slumber, riding out the worst of a harsh winter. Hibernating animals, seeds and bulbs laying beneath the earth, and trees standing tall in dormancy. The oak tree was no different, slumbering through a very chilly January 2022, with many dry, cold, and foggy spells. A number of mornings began with the glittering shine of thick hoar frost, turning the landscape into a crisp, white world. During clear nights, the oak tree was surrounded by tawny owls ‘twit-ing’ and ‘twoo-ing’, rekindling pair bonds. By day birds were busy, robins defending feeding patches and forming pairs, great tits singing their squeaky gate songs, and buzzards hunting over the open countryside.
As a new month unfolded, the oak tree still stood slumbering, lichen dotting its bark and its buds hard and scaly, waiting. The oak tree may have been dormant, but around it subtle changes were beginning to appear in the landscape. White snowdrops nodding their heads under the hedgerows, lemon yellow catkins blowing in the breeze, and a woodpecker drumming on a trunk nearby. At night, male badgers pass by on the hunt for a mate, and foxes can be heard making their chilling howls, with females now heavily pregnant. February was a wet and very stormy month, but the the tree stood strong throughout.
As spring began to unfold, the oak tree experienced a month of unpredictable weather, moving from cold frosty nights to some very hot days. Despite this, change was in the air, with the oak tree beginning to wake up and show swelling in its buds. This was mirrored in the landscape, through blackthorn dripping white from the hedgerows, primroses creating a yellow carpet beneath, and the distinctive nodding heads of bluebells beginning to pop up everywhere. The oak tree also witnessed the first chiffchaff singing, the first brimstone butterfly flitting by, and even the first tawny owl nesting in the oak tree’s box before being unfortunately predated. Mammals were beginning to range further from their homes and other species were making their returns, such as the melodious blackcap.
A new month dawned, and the oak tree was becoming a symbol of new life. The first pale green leaves were unfurling and yellowy-green flowers were now hanging down from its branches. Drier, more stable weather meant the oak tree was now standing side-by-side with bovine neighbours, whilst many species were making use of the oak tree itself, such as blackbirds singing from its heights. Hedgerows and meadows around were also coming to life, with spectacular springtime flowers, from snowy stitchwort to sunshine celandines and cowslips. Daily, foxes can be found passing by, off hunting to bring back pheasants and rabbits to their cubs that are growing fast. The oak’s paddock also becomes a feeding ground for wonderful returning swallows and house martins, just the tip of the fantastic spring wildlife that were there to be discovered.
As spring blossomed into its full potential, the oak tree became adorned in its full cloak of fresh green leaves, thriving on warmer, calmer weather. The tree’s neighbouring hedgerow also began to bloom into life with flurries of white hawthorn flowers and the swelling cream buds of elder flowers. The tree was now home to a new family of woodpeckers, as well as some boisterous young squirrels and blue tits flitting between the leaves picking off oak eggar moth caterpillars. New life and its signs were everywhere, with fox cubs playing above ground, a male cuckoo singing, and even a female kestrel sitting on eggs in a lone oak tree in the next field. The landscape was buzzing with life!
As June hit, the oak tree was experiencing the peak of spring and its ending for another year. The oak tree continued to flourish whilst watching the cycle of nature surrounding it. House martins dancing on the wing, swallows hunting low over the fields, swifts speeding past screaming, red kites circling over fields following tractors cutting grass, hares grazing by falling light, a roe deer quietly sneaking past, and fox cubs beginning to roam. Not too far away the clutch of kestrel eggs had hatched and the chicks were beginning to grow fast!
Though a calm and sunny month, July was by far a very hot one, with some extreme heat waves hitting the oak tree and its home, its leaves now deepening to a dark green. In the midst of heat, the landscape was still dotted with colour in the form of wildflowers, from red campion and knapweed to bramble and swathes of cow parsley. Butterflies were busy on the wing, with the sight of a red admiral flitting by the oak tree in lazy summer sunshine being a tranquil sight to the eye. A highlight of the month was the yellowhammers singing their metallic song from the nearby hedgerows, and the neighbouring kestrel nest producing 4 healthy chicks to fledging and leaving their tree silent for another year.
Following on from July, August saw the descent of the countryside into a worsening drought state. Now the oak tree’s leaves were starting to look dusty and sad, whilst the oak began to produce young acorns, small and green. The lush summer was beginning to fade, though colour still could be found in the form of darting blue damselflies, orange flashes of a meadow brown butterfly, and the first shining blackberries. As nature’s season of new life passes, with fox cubs becoming more independent and young birds now feeding up ahead of migrating, the tree watches on, as a new mother cow gives birth in the shade of its lofty boughs.
With the onset of autumn, the oak tree experienced the continuation of warm weather alongside the return of some rain showers. This was enough for the tree to green up once again and for its plentiful little green acorns to swell into the typical acorns we all know. The oak’s bounty was also joined by hedgerows filled with hazel nuts and shining berries, such as elder, rose hips, hawthorn, and sloes. This bounty was attracting an array of species, including wasps, blackbirds and jays. The oak tree also overlooked other spectacular sights from spider webs glistening with morning dew, red kites scavenging close by, charms of colourful goldfinches feeding on seedheads, swallows lining up on telegraph lines in the evening sun, and some fantastic sights of a family of linnets.
The mild weather continued into October, with the oak tree now covered with ripening acorns, and leaves beginning to be tinted with spots of orange and brown. These acorns were already being utilised by grey squirrels and migrating woodpigeons, amongst other species. With the oak tree’s bovine neighbours beginning to leave the tree behind for the winter, the oak was left alone overlooking the landscape changing colour spectacularly, from the pinks of spindle to the yellows of silver birch. The oak tree also watched over other autumn spectacles, such as craneflies lazily flying over the grass in warm sunshine, roe deer bucks chasing does, and the growing of magnificent fungi, such as the oak’s own bracket fungus. The landscape is alive at night too, with the return of calling tawny owls, the snuffling of badgers, and the exploring of now fully grown fox cubs.
A mild November led to it being a very wet and windy month for the oak tree and its home. Ripe acorns now lay scattered around the trunk of the tree, and brown and orange leaves were now being blown free with each storm. On calmer days, the landscape was still showing lots of wildlife activity, with territorial robins fighting, families of long-tailed tits flying between hedgerows, flocks of meadow pipits feeding out in the fields, and large flocks of fieldfare and redwings making themselves at home. Whilst exploring around the oak tree, fantastical puffballs could be found in the grass, late ivy flowers and the start of its black berries in the hedgerows, and spectacular pink and orange spindle berries in the hedges further away from the oak.
To wrap up the year, December marked a change in the weather, with colder, drier, and sunnier days, and some spells of real hard frosts and frozen ground. By now the landscape was beginning to fall into its winter slumber once again, as was the oak tree, with only the hardier species still active. A lone cattle egret, a murmuration of starlings, wagging grey and pied wagtails, a hare passing through, and hunting barn owls included. As the tree’s surroundings lose their colour, a little can still be found with the shining green of a hart’s-tongue fern or the blood red of holly berries in the hedgerows. Here the year is drawing to a close, with a fantastic sunset and the oak’s last leaf floating softly to the ground.
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