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Nature Notes: September 2020





Whilst the old saying "When it rains in August, it rains honey and wine" obviously alludes to the harvest, the rain that broke the stifling, air sucking heat and humidity from the beginning of the month smelt and tasted every bit as sweet. Every creature certainly seemed to delight in the plunging, soaking, richness, as the petrichor arrived well before the rains. Birds sang loudly again, animals frolicked in the fields and I inhaled deeply the rush of the richness of the earth, followed by the sweetness of the straw left amongst the wheat stubble, and a plethora of additional palettes and scents - all deliciously attractive and refreshing.



Dust stirred up by the combine harvesters the week before, had been carried by the wind, dulling the deep scarlet sunset into faded embers like soot, as the day turned to night and thousands of insects and mammals made a dash towards the artificial lights and homes on the edge of the fields around the village. Inside my home, already resident house spiders were scuttling around with their egg sacs and ShrewBert turned out to be a female (ShrewBettie) as 'she' brought her baby shrewlets into the house for the first and only time, maybe also seeking the cool and shade.


My wide, open window during the hot, sultry nights, had brought my bedroom right out into nature. Owl hoots, and the terrified guttural screech of prey, startled me awake, and feeling suddenly vulnerable in my nakedness whilst the soft twitter of birds before dawn, in their calming familiarity spread a comforting, cooling cloak. The heat was especial hard on those birds on their 3rd or even 4th broods, who already had their nests disturbed by over-zealous hedge trimmers who couldn't wait until September. The pheasant chicks continued to dustbathe in the flower beds as the ground elsewhere was baked hard and split open like ridges of gaping parched mouths and the grass was yellow and crisp as straw. Frogs, emerging toadlets, invertebrates and other wildlife struggled with the lack of pond water and dry, riverbeds. Farm animals panted, struggling in the heat, seeking food, water and shade. The only thing that seemed to be thriving in the fields was the proliferation of Thistledown, catching the evening light like luminous clusters of Cumulonimbus clouds.



Autumn has arrived early. Yellow leaves crunch under foot from drought stricken trees - and also unripe acorns, some topped with wonderfully shaped green or brown crinkled hats - the sculpture (knopper galls), made by the oaks in response to miniscule wasps who laid their eggs in the acorns developing buds earlier in the summer. Other totally spherical marble galls, orange in hue, sometimes known as 'oak apples', still stick to twigs in the trees, their protective casing also sheltering a different breed of wasp larvae as they feed and grow, until later in the season when tiny exit holes will reveal where the adult wasps have emerged.



Some barking, squeaking and chuff, chuffing from a clump of trees turned out to 3 squirrels kits chasing each through the branches above their now visible drey. But all else is silent, other-worldly, as if in slow motion or on pause, somehow muted by the grey skies and very fine mizz like a sea fret hanging in the air. The recent damp has seen hundreds of small webs suspended around footpaths where even the bracken has started to turn, but the earth still yearns for a deep, long, cool drink.


Just as the bird breeding season ends, more mating is due to begin. Hedgehogs sometimes produce a second litter this month so don't forget to keep putting out water and hopefully there will be enough food around for them to put on enough weight to hibernate for the winter. This is also the month that Bats start fattening themselves up too, whilst males begin a series of special calls (purrs, clicks and buzzes) to attract females as they start to mate.


Whilst September normally sees a switch from flowers to fruit, the hedgerows have been full of ripe elderberries, blackberries and sloes for weeks. I've been really missing those bats that normally fly along the hedge lines - especially along Joyce Pope's old boundaries. Unfortunately, I did however, very worryingly find a rat poison bait box along the same hedge where dormice and amphibian and reptile surveys have been taking place. Who puts rat poison in a field full of mammals and small birds?!


Whilst nocturnal activity obviously abounds in the village, this is the last month of the National Bat Monitoring sunset/sunrise survey so keep your ears open and your eyes peeled and please report any bats that you do see. September is a month of new beginnings - in nature around us, and in all of our lives. May yours be full of anticipation, excitement, and the fullness of the harvest ...