• Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness

Two Saturdays ago, I watched in awe as dozens and dozens of swallows and martins swooped and dived around and up and over the house in what looked like a last-minute feeding frenzy before migration.  Sure enough, they were gone the next day.  And walking on the moor to get the Sunday paper in the morning, there was a distinctly autumnal chill in the air and that smell of dank, decaying leaves in the lanes.  Then the winds hurried, the rain drove, the mists enveloped, thunder thudded and summer disappeared.

It’s been a pretty miserable year for butterflies here.  I’ve seen just one Common Blue, the occasional Comma and Small Tortoiseshell, and only a handful of Peacocks and Red Admirals at any one time (above, a ‘Red Ad’ feeding on late-flowering buddleia in the garden, the week before last).  One thrill was seeing a Silver-Washed Fritillary on the buddleia that same day.

The birds have been thriving in this wet weather.  Why they should descend on this particular patch after and during rain is a mystery, but blackbirds and thrushes drill in droves for worms and other underground morsels.  New visitors this year have been adult and juvenile Green Woodpeckers (above, photographed yesterday) and Great Spotted Woodpeckers.  The GWs are diligent diggers, while the GSWs are also curious about the hanging and window bird-feeders, which as usual are thronged with tits, finches, nuthatches, even robins, sparrows and dunnocks.  The occasional blue tit pops in through an open window to say hallo and there are sudden rushes of goldfinches, which are almost invisible when feeding on the grassy gravel.  The young male bullfinches are moulting now, revealing their fantastic orange-pink chests, while their father is going bald on top and ever whiter.  I haven’t seen the marauding sparrow hawk for several weeks.

Other visitors have included fallow deer, for the time being beyond the 4’ stock fences.  In the New Year, no doubt they’ll effortlessly hop over to eat the tasty buds of the witch hazels, azaleas and laurel like they did this February.  Highland cows and their calves are regular visitors to the village, waddling idly through, looking fierce but actually quite timid.  Some escaped recently while being herded down a nearby lane and left evidence of their heavy-hoofed adventure all the way up and down both sides of the drive.  Several bags of topsoil later …

The greatest excitement was the other day, when I went out foraging for blackberries two tors away.  I heard a rustling at my feet and, with a scramble up the bramble, there was a dormouse right in front of my eyes (not my picture).  It rested 18” away, facing across my line of vision, heart pumping, feathered tail twitching.  I did not dare move, nor did the dormouse.  It was my first ever sighting of the creature, and probably its of a human.  The stand-off lasted for over a minute, then it turned its back on me and ambled away along the thorny stems.

Back home, and a second forage later, I’d collected over 5kg of berries.  With the help of a few lemons, a strainer, 3kg of sugar and a boiling pan, they produced over a dozen jars of bramble jelly for the winter larder.  I would never have thought that I’d become interested in such harvesting.  In just over a month, it’ll be the turn of the rock-hard quinces in the garden, which are already putting out their sweet aroma as the mowing season begins (hopefully!) to draw to a close around them.

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