Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Subtle changes under the sun

Here on The Oak by The Rife patch it has been a dry summer so far. Even forty-plus miles away in London, the June Wimbledon Tournament passed without hardly a drop. 
On the northern end of the patch, sandy soil is fickle, allowing itself to be blown on the wind as the grass yellows. All across the countryside and roadsides the trees are dusty, they sound brittle in the wind, and the hedgerows have taken on a slightly raggedy look, loosing that co-ordinated vigour of spring. Instead the plants are jostling and leaning across one another, or else weighted and bowed having outgrown their strength. 

In the dry weather, the bramble flowers are not lasting long, dropping their petals soon after a suitable visit by a bee to reveal promise of blackberries. Other berries are forming too, the thorn-protected sloes, the hanging clusters of elder and the bunches of rowan. We will need some rain for the fruit to swell.  Beside the brambles, the hedgerows are festooned with bindweed; each bridal-white trumpet shaped flower may only last a day, but in summer days are long, and when one flower fades it seems there are three more buds waiting to replace it by the following morning sunrise. 

Those summer sirens the swifts still scream over the town rooftops; I counted a party of 20 or more on Friday evening, but I can't help but wonder how long it will be until the day I look up and find the skies empty, as the swifts are always the first of our migrants to sense the approach of autumn. 

Some birds have already changed their habits. The blackbird hasn't been heard singing for days, and the dawn chorus volume has been turned to mute; evenings are just as quiet. A few early-ripe nightshade berries attracted a blackcap in the bushes beside South Pond at lunchtime today, perhaps a tasty divergence from a diet of caterpillars and insects. 

The water of South Pond itself was teeming with small fish, and between the newly planted rushes and reeds, pond skaters skittered across the surface. A red damselfly danced buoyantly around the vegetation, mirrored by a blue tailed damselfly. An impressive female emperor dragonfly was egg-laying in the shallow margins. All very positive sightings following the recent and ongoing restoration works (see www.southpond.co.uk). 

A male mallard, his previously showy plumage dull and muddy-coloured as he enters 'eclipse' or post-breeding phase, crossed the central expanse of water. He did not notice how ripples in his wake disturbed and fractured a row of white reflections. A raucous cry, an easy flickering flight. Monochrome plumage, a bright eye in a dark chocolate head fronted by a red beak and matching legs a-dangling ready for landing as the birds twist and turn and tumble. Water droplets sparkle as they are shaken free. The black-headed gulls have returned, their breeding attempts over for another year, to their inland wintering-harbour. I wonder if they were successful with their nests. Over the coming weeks they will loose those chocolate velvet heads and just a dark smudge behind the eye will remain until next spring. 

Back home in my garden even the buddleia, its flower-heads about to turn purple, looks like it is wilting a little under the intensity of the sun in this hottest part of the day. Yesterday the humid air leaked a fine mist which finally turned into a thick drizzle that clung to the night. Every surface, whether leaf or flowerpot rim was damp, conditions which the slugs and snails were quick to make the most of, but that moisture could be a distant memory now. The fruit on the brambles, the sloes and the elder will have to wait a while longer yet for rain. Perhaps the rain is the sign the swifts will be waiting for too, before they fully trade places with the gulls come the autumn. 

In a little over a week we will enter August, a month of low sun at the bend in the road, and tractors keeping pace with combine harvesters who in turn keep a wary eye on horizon clouds.

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Hello! Thank you for viewing my blogs and profile. I am passionate about the countryside and british wildlife and I hope that this comes through in my blog. I am a nature writer and have been pursuing photography since early teenage years, whilst building a career in conservation. Helping people to reconnect with the natural world is very important to me, whether through direct hands on interaction, education or literature. Please also visit my website www.sophieco.co.uk, for more information, my current CV, and further examples of writing and photography. You can contact me or keep up to date with new blog posts via Twitter @SophiEcoWild and/or Facebook.com/SophiEcoWild Feedback, comments and audience participation are always welcome! Sophie May Lewis