Sitting down to write this I’m keenly aware of Galicissa’s superb and very funny blog post on APOBPS (which is also possibly the first time in recorded history that Jochen has been beaten to the punch in the ‘surreal treatment of a birding subject in a blog’ stakes!) but nevertheless, I intend to press on and write about a truly glorious day of natural history that is a little light on birds but full of the tones and colours of autumn, and hopefully of interest anyway…
Home – not all of it, no, but a sliver on the far end…still, what a place etc etc (for readers who have no idea what I’m talking about check out this post).
Teasels in autumn
As seems to be the norm now here in the rain-soaked island I call home, our summers are miserable damp affairs but our autumns, our Septembers, are just beautiful. The sun, absent from our skies since – er, that week back in when was it now, might have been April? First week of May perhaps?…absent for a long while anyway, finally gets a chance to look down on ‘Olde Englande’ without a veil of clouds in its way, and how wonderful the countryside must appear. Yes, perhaps the ‘ball of heavenly fire’ has missed the deepest greens or the brightest yellows, but there is peace in the air, the frantic efforts of generation replacing generation are over, and a more relaxed world looks back. Greens are giving way to browns and muted reds, the fields are ploughed and lying back to rest, and life everywhere – even if just for an afternoon – seems to have exhaled and decided to lay their cares aside…
Oh dear, country-living seems to have mellowed me already. Still it’s hardly surprising when a very pleasant short walk yesterday with Jo and Evie ended up turning into a solo ramble along tall and ancient hedgerows, broad strips of wild grasses (‘headlands’ deliberately left along the edges of fields to encourage wildlife by a sympathetic and conservation-oriented owner, Robert Floyd), feeder-watching and butterfly photographing, and finally wound down with a rather good mothing session in a still, fresh evening as I swigged on a very tasty organic Ginger Beer with bats fluttering overhead (which accounted for the ‘rather good’ instead of ‘very good’ mothing) and two Tawny Owls calling in next-doors trees…
Mellow? Bring me the most world-weary amongst you for a weekend when it’s like this and I guarantee you’ll leave with your spirit at peace and your soul restored.
Enough, already, Charlie, get on with it…
So, the ‘glorious day in Wiltshire’ (GDiW) really got off to a flying start with a chance sighting of a bird I’d been hoping to see but had no idea whether I would or not: a Red Kite! Once extremely rare and confined to small areas in Wales, a successful breeding programme has seen a very welcome upturn for the species, and they’re now common to the north-west of London and have been expanding steadily westwards towards Wales down the M4 corridor (into rural Berkshire and Wiltshire) for some years now.
Juvenile Red Kite
I never saw one over Chippenham (and I looked), but to look up on a GDiW and see a juvenile floating serenely over Great Chalfield made up for that in a minute! It was extremely high, and I have no idea why I looked up when I did, just in time to see it, but look up I did. It sailed straight on through, high over the fields, my garden and the Manor, until I lost sight of it but there must be a chance that young birds out scouting for unoccupied territories will look down and find the countryside round here very much to their liking…I hope so anyway.
From there (as I mentioned) I wandered alongside ancient and cherished hedgerows full of hawthorns laden down with bright red berries, blackthorns (which fruit the bitter sloes which when soaked in buckets of sugar and alcohol are used to produce sloe gin), damson trees, field maple, and brambles heavy with blackberries. One late Chiffchaff sung briefly from an Ash tree, I saw my second Great Chalfield Goldcrest, a young Buzzard flapped heavily away over the fields, a broiling swirl of Rooks and Jackdaws took to the air a few fields away, obviously disturbed by something I couldn’t see, and a huge ball of about 500+ hirundines (House Martins and Barn Swallows) spiralled over, presumably on their way to Africa.
In the grass headlands I found late flowering plants like Greater Birds-foot Trefoil and Germander Speedwell, Spear Thistle and Oxeye Daisy, and clumps of dessicated Teasels (which were apparently used as hairbrushes by countryfolk long before the invention of plastics). I flushed a sleeping Roe Deer, startled a Fox which eyed me nervously before disappearing into the long grass, and found what must be a Badger sett.
And the insects, wow, the insects. Most of the Estate here is pretty much organically farmed, using few pesticides and little fertiliser. There are hundreds and hundreds of spiders trying to trap the hundreds and hundreds of hoverflies, including the nicely seasonally-coloured Garden Cross Spider below. Autumn dragonflies have appeared in some numbers and I found both Common and Migrant Hawker, the latter typically sunning itself by hanging from an open perch (later I also found the male Southern Hawker in the photo further down the page which was jealously guarding a puddle of a pond in the Manor Gardens). September is still a good time for crickets and grasshoppers, and Grey Bush Crickets and Common Field Grasshoppers were both quite easy to find – and I think I saw a Long-winged Conehead (I’ll have to go back and look asap), which may (?) or may not be unusual but it surely has one of the best insect names in the UK. And there are still a few grassland butterflies too, most notably Small Copper and Common Blue – both of which were ‘new’ away from my own garden – and Comma and both Large and Small Whites (the ‘cabbage whites’).
Garden Cross Spider Araneus diadematus
Comma Polygonia c-album
Small Coppers Lycaena phlaeas
Migrant Hawker Aeshna mixta
With the temperature unseasonally high I decided after an hour or two to head back to the cooler, shadier confines of the Manor Gardens and see what butterflies the warm weather might have tempted out. Many of the flowers in the Gardens are ornamental, but they’ve still mainly been chosen for their attractiveness to insects, and one small patch of large purple Michelmas Daisies (thanks to Andy for the ID) seemed to be pulling in butterflies from the rest of the garden. Virtually perching on top of each other were four Painted Ladies, three Small Tortoiseshells, and a beautiful lemon-yellow Brimstone…glorious.
Brimstone Gonepteryx rhamni
Southern Hawker Aeshna cyanea
From here I headed back towards our own little garden and the feeders I posted about a week or so ago. As usual within about ten minutes I’d seen Blue, Great, Coal, and Marsh Tits – a crowd that I hope I never grow tired of. The juvenile Greenfinches I’d seen a couple of times before are still nervy, but hanging around and edging ever closer. It’s going to be one of my favourite places when the winter sets in and it’s too cold or wet to go far from home…
Marsh Tit Poecile palustris
I have to admit that after such an unusually long time spent out I was starting to feel a little guilty that I hadn’t blogged at all ALL DAY! Unheard of really. But, you know, sometimes us birder/naturalist types really do need to get out into the field for a good walk, to feel the sun bearing down on any exposed bit of neck, actually look forward to that cold drink rather than just reach for it out of habit…so blogging, I decided, could wait even longer.
I spent a very pleasant early evening with Jo and Evie again (watching the very funny ‘Kung Fu Panda’) and then figured I’d try a little more mothing once Evie had toddled off to bed and Jo ran herself a much-deserved long bath.
Now, I have to say that so far I’ve been a little amateur in my mothing attempts. I can’t find part of my wooden moth-trap (or ‘moth box’ as I prefer as nothing gets trapped for long and I don’t ‘take specimens’ – unless photographs count as ‘taking’) so I’ve been just laying out a sheet by a moth lamp (a 125watt bulb that gives off high amounts of ultra-violet light) for a few hours and seeing what comes. It’s not the most effective way of discovering what’s around, so fairly soon I’m going to have sort out my trap/box and leave the lamp on all night…However, even this rather haphazard way of attracting moths has resulted in about a hundred or so species in about eight nights, and – under a clear sky – tonight was no different.
Orange Sallow Xanthia citrago
Dusky Thorn Ennomos fuscantaria
Brindled Green Dryobotodes eremita
Red-green Carpet Chloroclysta siterata
I have no idea yet (I’m trying to find out) what species are unusual for these particular parts, but many of them are new for me, and the four above especially made standing out in a dark garden worthwhile – that and the bats whipping overhead and snaffling moths out of the air before I’d had a chance to see them, and the two Tawny Owls duetting in the trees in next-doors garden…oh, and the stars, and the peacefulness, and the utter satisfaction of having spent a GDiW with the people I love in a house I’m finding more enchanting as every day passes, in a little corner of Wiltshire that feels like my own nature reserve. A Glorious Day indeed…