With summer coming to an end and Autumn on the horizon last week, we took our usual walk along the river and through local woodland. But we have entered the hinterland between seasons…With that great rarity, late summer sun on a bank holiday, a walk along the river and through the wood had great appeal. But as you reach this time of year the natural world can yield frustration and delight in equal measure.
Smaller birds form bigger flocks that may be on the move. Yet the winter migrants are not yet here. That can make for quiet times unless you hit upon a flock of young. The long-tailed tit above was in such a flock, but with the trees still firmly in the green they were far too elusive to get a good shot. Plenty of noise though.
In what has generally felt like a bad year for butterflies following the hideously wet start to the year, it was good to see numbers of Speckled Wood flitting about in the dappled light through the trees.
On the subject of dappled light…
Given this was taken in the churchyard with the light shining on the back of the church, it would be all too easy to fall back on metaphors about heavenly rays. The reality was slightly more mundane. Somebody was taking advantage of the late summer sun by firing up the barbeque, and the smoke drifting through the trees picked out the sun.
I like churchyards, I’ve never bought into ideas of such places as ‘spooky’, ‘depressing’ or similar. It’s not morbid, death is a part of life. An essential one.
There’s always life in the churchyard and this was no exception with a Common Darter choosing a sunlit gravestone to alight.
Earlier in the year we saw Tree Sparrows here, apparently nest-building, but since then it’s just been noisy and gregarious flocks of House Sparrows. But they were being pretty elusive too.
In fact for many birds, with such thick and verdant foliage available, elusive was the word of the day. Just round the corner from the church a few young warblers were being very vocal, but not really sitting still.
Eventually one did pop out in a spot it could be clearly seen.
These types of warblers, Leaf Warblers, are incredibly tricky to identify if they are not singing (Incidentally the scientific name for the group, Phylloscopidae, means ‘leaf watcher’ and refers to the way they spot tiny insects on the undersides of leaves).
Given how prominent the yellow stripe above the eye (the ‘supercilium’) appears to be, my first thought would be the brighter Willow Warbler. But you can see the legs on this bird are quite dark, which is distinctively Chiffchaff. There is a third possibility which is Wood Warbler, but given I’ve often heard Chiffchaff singing in this area, and given the belly looks quite buffy rather than pure white, that’s what I’m sticking with. Feel free to use the comments section to disagree!
One thing I love about this time of year is the way rain and dew can highlight the intricate beauty of a spider’s web. Even if the web is battered, the water droplets form jewels along the strands. But even without that, a bit of sun breaking through can illuminate the delicate yet powerful silk.
Entering Autumn also means it is the time for fungus to become more prominent and there are signs of this starting now. The best woodland I ever visited for fungi was around Harlaw Reservoir in Edinburgh. This isn’t up to those standards but there are fungi to be found.
The wood here has a fantastic, gargantuan and ancient-looking oak. Given the size it’s a minimum hundred years old, but could be much older given the oldest on record is over a thousand years!
Finally, a robin. A quintessential bird of winter but here posing in the shadows in a Hitchcockian fashion. Or maybe Harry Lime in a Viennese doorway…