We are so lucky to have these regular contributions from a Henbury resident who is a keen-eyed flora and fauna enthusiast. Lots to report this month. Thank you to "Horrid of Henbury".
A hot, humid day to start the month and then the rain came, rattling on the roof overnight. Dot the Dog frolicked around the wet fields. Visiting ravens croaked. The wasps nest that the badger had dug out remained inactive.
The field-flood started to regain lost territory (especially towards the building site) and the gulls and geese made an appearance. Two skeins of geese headed towards the power cables and I thought "roast goose", but one group flew over and the other under – formation flying the RAF could only dream about!
The cattle disappeared – hopefully to pastures new rather than – well, use your imagination... It had been a week or two since S (brought up on a farm in Suffolk) remarked that the fields were becoming "grazed out".
A dog-walking acquaintance told me that a muntjack deer had been seen in a garden on Chelford Road – thought to have come via the "For Sale" maize field at the junction of Church Lane and the main road. Seemed a bit odd but S reminded me that a similar sighting was made last year on Andertons Lane.
Wild bees began to hatch from our bee-nests, but the surviving wasps became dozy unusually early in the month – activity around the nest in the eaves of our house more or less ceased after the attentions of the pest controller. A few still appeared through open windows and one or two corpses were found on the floor.
Time for another anecdote – when I was a boy in Suffolk in the 1950s/60s the farmhands always had at this time of year a teaspoon lashed to a broom handle strapped to the crossbar of their bikes. In the saddlebag would be a tin of potassium cyanide (in those days freely available from the local pharmacy) and any wasps' nest spotted in the bottom of a hedgerow would get a good spoonful in the entrance. Surprisingly none of the farmhands ever got poisoned (as far as I know)!
The bees continued to find nectar in the lavender plants around the garden even though the flowers were showing signs of going to seed. Damsons coloured up.
I heard a buzzard (or maybe two) mewing high up one hot afternoon, but it (or they) was (or were) way above the range of my myopia.
A glut of redcurrants prompted me to try my hand at making redcurrant gin (a change from last year's damson gin – delicious but toxic – or conventional sloe gin). Might be good – or horrid – but it coloured up to a wonderful rose-pink. Verdict in a couple of months!
The weather turned hot (very) mid-month. All the fields were mown. There was suddenly little bird activity in the garden. Our feeders were relatively neglected but the dishes of water were evidently well-patronised. However, the remainder of the field-flood still kept its population of gulls and several geese popped in.
The badger had been excavating rabbit holes. Dot the Dog found this "interesting" and proceeded to dig further.
Hotter and hotter! Already 26° when Dot and I went out one morning at 9 o'clock. I had planned a shorter walk but DtD insisted on the full thing. By lunchtime when I had been out and come home in the car the thermometer reading was 30°. S postponed the "afternoon" walk until a quarter to nine when the temperature was a "comfortable" 27°. I watered the containers in the garden – being socially responsible, I did not use the hose – good old-fashioned watering can. When the geranium boxes mounted on the back wall of the house (facing due south and in full sun all day) had run through with water the drips were palpably warm.
At last the heatwave was supposed to have subsided... We ate on the patio latish one evening (beginning to adopt "furrin" habits) and watched the bats flitting round, but there seemed to be fewer of them than in earlier years in the dusk. The following day was not projected to be so hot – but with the humidity it didn't feel much different and the lettuces were still wilting. There was a pretty useless attempt at rain – a few spots here and there without any noticeable effect, but I guess it was a try.
A few days after mid-month there was suddenly a feeling of autumn about the morning walk. The sun adopted a brassy, hazy glow and was noticeably lower in the sky at 9am. Looking over to Shutlingsloe and Sutton Common the slopes facing west were in shadow – for many weeks at that time of day they had been in sunshine. There was cloud in the sky, some of it grey. The air was much fresher than for a month or two.
Still there was water in the field-flood – not much, but for the last year or two it hasn't completely dried out and the gulls and occasionally geese remain around. I had hoped that the end of the hot weather would bring flash floods that might wash away the building site but I guess it was wishful thinking...
A red admiral and a painted lady visited the garden flowers – not so many butterflies as usual this year, probably due to the heat. Trees began to show signs of stress with the damson leaves yellowing and the laburnum dropping crisp brown ones. Even so, our small pear tree had a magnificent crop to come off in a few weeks. They are normally too hard to eat raw (but as an optimistic if scruffy gardener I always have high hopes), however poached in red wine... Nonpareil!
The cattle drinking trough disappeared from the small top field adjacent the building site – and a digger had worked beside the field-flood. Ominous!
End of August – autumn begins officially in a few days but the trees are so stressed it looks almost as though it has already arrived. A hot and humid B(l)ank Holiday weekend – but better weather than is often the case!
There were wood brown butterflies in and around the little coppice area adjacent the building site, and whites here there and everywhere. Soon they'll be looking for shelter overwinter.
Dot the Dog and I watched the sparrowhawk being chased off by six or eight crows. DtD really wanted to chase them but I wouldn't let her. On return home we found unmistakeable traces of a hedgehog near the pool. I don't know how it got through our "dog-proof" fence. Some years ago, when Dot was a mere pup, she created an awful racket by the pool late one Saturday night – S and I were in evening dress having just returned from Clonter Opera – and there was I in black tie fishing a hedgehog out to drain. I built a hedgehog escape ramp for future use!
I ramble... We have had a glut of cucumbers (vg soup) and beans and tomatoes (vg minestrone with some chard added late on). With the good weather tomatoes that were green as DtD and I left for our morning walk were practically ripe by sunset. The pear tree, having had a couple of years sabbatical with little fruit, had regained its enthusiasm!
More or less the end of August (and of summer). Dot the Dog took S and me over the permissive path from Rough Heys Lane to Whirley Lane and then the older permissive path back to Dark Lane (both to close in a couple of days). The paths were a bit overgrown in places but there were plenty of meadow brown butterflies as we made our way, and then we came across the startling blue daisy-like flowers of common chicory where the land was going wild. A little further along there was purple tansy (must be unusual – none of my wildflower books has it but I identified it with the aid of the phone app Picture This – highly recommended – and then had to Google it when we arrived home). By the wayside was a largish pool where a kingfisher darted into the water with a scarcely audible "plop" and then surfaced and flew in unmistakeable style into the surrounding trees – I could not then catch sight of it again. Not far from there a neighbour had spotted a polecat only a week or two ago. It's amazing what you can see within easy distance of home!
Horrid of Henbury