Friday, 30 October 2015

Autumn Alchemy

What is the first thing you think of when someone mentions 'autumn'? Berries? Hearty stews? Quite possibly it's coloured leaves adorning every tree in a display of reds, golds, and yellows. 
This year has been fantastic for autumn colour on The Oak by the Rife patch. I recently drove south from the centre of the patch and out over the Downs, and was amazed by the glowing burnished woodlands and individual field-centre oaks in the afternoon sun. 

Today however, we wake after a day and a night of rain and many gusts of wind, to a bedraggled tree-scape.  The colours have been abandoned by the sun; they seem to have lost their light, their once bright hues washed out and muddied. 
Once the rain stops falling, and molten pewter clouds disperse, once the puddles drain there will be the pleasure of piles of leaves to jump in and rustle through, but these will be brown, earthed, not alive with the alchemic magic of before. 

Sunday, 25 October 2015

A kestrel on the wire

Today, Sunday lunch was followed by a stroll across the farm in the afternoon sun. Last night, the clocks stopped, and in that suspended hour the first frosts formed, they were forgotten by now but the shadows retained a chill. This autumn is turning into one of the best for spectacular autumn colour I have seen for some years, and the woodland edges and lone oaks are gilded in all shades of gold and copper. One oak on the Cocking road glows red. 
In another shade of red come the holly berries, round and ripe, adorning the hedgerow alongside the fizz of ivy flowers and dark glossy leaves. 

A blackbird plundered the sloes and a flock of house sparrows were audibly cracking the seeds from the withering brambles. A separate flock of house sparrows filled the barnyard with chirps; pied wagtails taking up perches upon the roof peaks as if in order to be heard above the rabble. Old mans beard scrambled over the rubble pile, a clump of mayweed bloomed unseasonably beside the track and starlings flocked in mini murmurations around the cattle feeders, dropping down between the beasts' large heads to raid the fodder.
Is it just me or do starlings always sound like they are playing 'Star Wars'? Stop and listen next time you're near some!)

A kestrel on the wire overhead, a silhouette, hunter. 

Sun lowered, kestrel dropped. A robin sang, warmth followed the sun leaving fingers and noses to be nipped by the evening chill. Long shadows led the slow way home.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Buzzards to bees, and the first winter thrushes will be pleased.

As Winnie the Pooh would say it's "a rather blustery day today". A north or north-easterly wind has been gusting, sending the spiky cases of the chestnuts crashing down, and scattering the ground with acorns and autumnal leaves. Despite the grey skies I headed out onto my patch in search of some moments with nature. 

A pair of buzzards were calling and circling over the Chichester Road, as I made my way around South Pond. Remembering days from my childhood holidays when buzzards wouldn't appear in the skies until we reached the foggy-heights of Dartmoor, I still love to see these wide-winged soaring birds-of-prey which are now plentiful in Sussex. 

A couple of shaggy inkcap toadstools had popped up under the bench at the north corner of South Pond. I wonder if anyone eating their lunch-time sandwiches noticed? 

The horse chestnut tree beside the bridge at the end of the wharf has turned a muddy shade of brown and I found possibly the largest conker ever discovered, just beside the wall of the bridge (what's that? oh yes, of course, I put it in my pocket!). 

I was pleased to spot the pair of roe deer which can regularly be found browsing amongst the trees of the small wet copse in the middle of Cowdray Causeway flood meadows. As I paused for a few minutes to watch them, another causeway meadow regular, a stonechat, popped up into view perching on the top of an old dock stem. 

Yew trees, holly bushes and rowan trees alike already seem to be laden with ripe berries. The thrushes will be pleased, but is it a sign of a particularly cold winter on its way? 

A party of redwings were my first winter migrants of the year, their 'seep' 'seeep' calls filling the air as the made their way through the tree tops above the River Rother. 

As the wind began to chill and my legs tire, nature had one final treat for me. An ivy bee was resting on an ivy flower at perfect viewing level at the corner of the primary school playing field. Each detail was clear; the furry thorax, the neat sandy coloured stripes on her abdomen, the glossy black eyes and the stacks of pale ivy pollen on her back legs. She posed for a few photos, until a cup of tea began calling me home.

Close to town

I stood at the edge of the path, feet planted amongst the rank grasses and binoculars held slightly shakily to my eyes. I had been gazing across the meadows for a while and my arms were beginning to ache, but I had a smile on my face. 
Behind me, across the river, Cowdray Ruins slumbered under the grey sky whilst the bank-side alder and willow trees were buffeted by a blustery north-east wind. Even without looking diagonally across the flood meadows to the gap in the trees in the far corner I could tell the road was there, the stream of vehicle noise was a constant presence, punctuated occasionally by the rumble of a bus pulling up in the bus-stand at the end of the causeway. My view of the bus-stand and the rest of the town, except for a few rooftops, was interrupted by a small, scrubby, thin copse of willows. Their presence is the result of a patch of boggy ground which has always been too wet to mow or graze, beside the squat bridge roughly half way along the causeway. Rushes grow in thick tussocks and a snippet of open water after wet weather often hosts one or two mallards. Water rails squealed here in the cold of last winter. Today a stonechat clung to the topmost point of a bent dock seedhead, swaying in the wind, partway between myself and the copse. But he was not the main focus of my watch. Beyond the multi-trunked trees, in a space of weak sunlight, a roe doe was grazing. I glimpsed her mate as I arrived,  slipping quietly out of view, but the doe remained, picking at the herbage and from time to time, raising a wary head to watch or listen to a dog walker using the river path. The path was a busy one; a border terrier went one way, a rottweiler went the other, followed by a whippet. Joggers, shoppers, bored lunchtime strollers; not one looked up. And yet I stood, watching every ear-flick, muscle-twitch, and nose-lick of a wild creature, so close to town. 

Monday, 12 October 2015

An afternoon walk - the road to Bepton

My work pattern has altered recently, now allowing for an afternoon walk. I headed out onto the Bepton Road. The Downs slumbered in the distance ahead, indistinct with mist and low sun glare, their tree-covered northern slopes a myriad of texture and shade. 

I have noticed in past few mornings when heading out to work that overnight temperatures have significantly dropped; no frost yet, but fog and heavy dew and a chill in the air. The trees have obviously noticed too as autumnal colour is becoming very apparent along the woodland edges, not just in the fruits and nuts, but the leaves too. Beech trees always seem to be the first to turn, but even the oaks are taking on a golden hue and the road to Bepton, including the pastures which stretch either side, is punctuated by great old oaks, remnants of lost hedgerows like loose stitches from the fabric of the fields

A gateway suggested a place to gaze out over an everyday landscape, an ever changing yet timelessly familiar view. The village was not in sight from here, nor any other scattered habitation, yet more subtle evidence of people living off the land was everywhere, even if one ignored the marching line of telegraph poles. The field had been harvested, sheep allowed in to strip-graze the remaining stubble, pheasants paraded at the margins, tyre tracks  were imprinted in the mud where a farm vehicle had passed sometime earlier. 

Along the lane, the hedgerow was studded every few yards with jewel like clumps of berries from the rose and trailing bryony. Here and there, a few brave sprigs of yarrow, red clover and even bush vetch attempted in vain a final flowering.  On the opposite side of the hedge, a motley gathered group of tups picked at their grazing lazily, waiting for their turn with the ewes. A flock of finches overhead was a swirl of flight and twittering. 

A crow dropped into the top of the bushes, carrying in its beak the body of a vole, probably stolen from a harassed kestrel or other bird of prey after being snatched unsuspecting from the long tussocky grass; light then dark. 

After an awkward transition, autumn undoubtably has the countryside firmly in its grasp. There is the rumour of a hard winter to come. The berries on the holly are already red, reports are coming in from across the country of migrant birds arriving ahead of our own unnaturally imposed schedule, a chill wind blows from a cold north-eastern continent.  I wonder how the patch will cope with a winter freeze, what wildlife will be forced to venture down from the hills or the north, seeking survival? The crow will use his intelligence to survive, the voles will be insulated in a tunnel-world beneath the snow, the bright hedgerow berries will be a finite food source. 

This afternoon I was grateful for the sun, as it seemed to bathe all in a delightful golden light and warmed my face when turned away from the stiffening breeze. A comma butterfly was just as grateful, fluttering up from the hedgerow to bask on an oak leaf, as if showing its host tree an example of colour to aim for. 

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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