Wednesday, 29 July 2015

The day that got lost

(Monday 27th July)

At last we have had some rain. All day Friday and again on Sunday grey skies and heavy clouds poured fresh water onto the parched ground. The garden, in the sunlight that forces its way through broken clouds,  is somewhat battered, but every leaf and petal drips with droplets that seek the soil and the plants' roots. I hope the crops in the fields have not been flattened by the wind and rain before the harvest.
I was sure the change in the weather would have brought some changes on the patch, and headed out eagerly, no set route in mind but simply enjoying wandering, stretching the legs and breathing fresh air after a weekend indoors.

I was immediately aware of an altered atmosphere, maybe it was the dampness of the ground or the smell of ripening berries or the rattle of wind-tattered leaves on the oak, but something in the air felt almost like autumn. It was as though a day from early September had gone for a wander and got itself lost in late July.
Rowan berries are passing from orange to scarlet and below them I spotted the first purple-juiced ripe blackberries, as ever, just out of reach. Hoverflies practiced their vertical take-offs and landings from the platforms of those bramble flowers still in bloom. Spires of wild arum, or 'lords and ladies' jutted up from the bank, the berries turning red from the top downwards, like a procession of burning flares marching along the hedgerow. Gatekeeper butterflies basked in sunspots.

I am pleased to see, when I emerged from the housing estate onto Pitsham Lane, that the farmer here at least has managed to harvest his most vulnerable crops before the rains came. I almost expected to see pheasants, and flocks of wood pigeons, picking through the stubble that remained in the field, but of course it is only July and those birds are still busy with their summer lives.

The water of New Pond was disturbed only by the wake of a half-moulted duck paddling from one clump of rushes to another, and the house martins that dip low for a drink on the wing. Most activity was happening on the bank-sides, blue tailed damselflies at the edge of the water, bumblebees barging their way into the pink flowers of greater willowherb or clambering over the purple blooms of an escaped buddleia. Bryony wound itself throughout the vegetation on either side of the path, its tendrils and stems twisting and draped, already adorned with berries which will soon ripen to glorious garlands of red jewels. A juvenile grey heron sat hunched forlornly on some dead branches in the far corner of the lake, picking at his feathers, contemplating life, the weather and the curious nature of fish.  Chiffchaff, wren, blackcap and whitethroat each scolded my passing. 

The sheep on the neighbouring farm, viewed through a view between two grand oaks as I paused at the the top of a stile, were grazing peacefully, their fat lambs now near full-grown. Sometimes on quiet nights when the wind is in the right direction I can hear their bleated warnings of imagined predators in the dark. There are three stiles on my route, at the next I stop to watch a host of house martins swooping over the maize crop and around the trees in the low corner of the field. Perhaps they were feeding on a hatch of insects from the oak trees there. I reached the third stile in a squally shower and hurried over it onto the plank bridge under the shelter of the trees. This bridge not only provides a crossing above a winterbourne but also a safe passage through the blackthorn hedge. Defended by vicious thorns, each branch was laden with promise of a grand sloe year; the little green unripe fruits will swell and become purple-blue globes with a soft dusty coating. 
Soldier beetles performed their duties atop pink-tinged hogweed flowers.

At first glance I thought the low flight, pointed wings and long tail was a hunting sparrowhawk, gliding barely a foot above the yellowed fallow field, powered by a couple of short strong flaps. It perched on a cattle feeder and turned to me, as if trying to work out my identity as much as I was intrigued by it. I raised my binoculars. Cuckoo. A juvenile, no doubt feeding up and building strength in it's wing muscles in preparation for it's long and mysterious migration. I would expect it to leave any day now, swopping England's patchwork farmland for hot african skies. It seemed somehow fitting, appropriate, on this day of autumnal character, to stand and exchange a stare with this young cuckoo, and wish farewell to this symbol of Summer. 


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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, 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 Feedback, comments and audience participation are always welcome! Sophie May Lewis