The day after my last post I was filming wasps demolishing a Red Melba apple when a vehicle drove into the yard. Things often seem to happen when Dave arrives (we saw the Sparrow hawk take a Pied Wagtail earlier in the year as we chin-wagged in the yard). Today on a breezy day of sunshine and sharp showers as we chatted about potato yields and such like, we were aware of a sleek bird angling into the wind whilst calling with a distinctive bird of prey sound, and then we saw the other of the pair. The swallows were mobbing and alarm calling, but the pair of hawks, probably Goshawks, carried on over the yard, and higher up the mountain. Dave thought it was an adult teaching a juvenile how to hunt.
Later in the day, they reappeared high above our top fields, and occasionally as they feinted at the swallows, one caught a brief glimpse of grey feathers in the afternoon sun. I even managed a very brief photo of them on my camcorder, but as always for this sort of photography one really needs very expensive equipment to get a decent result. And I can’t rise to it, or in the main have the patience to chase specific prey.
Last thing that night I popped out after hearing a tawny owl, and was awestruck by the night sky, and a now completely silent landscape. Not a breath of wind. Since there was no moonlight to affect the stars’ brightness, the milky way stood out really clearly, and just before I returned inside, I glimpsed an incredibly bright meteor heading south in the westerly sky. It was an obvious yellow colour, seemed to last for 2 or 3 seconds, and ended its display by breaking into at least 3 sections. Spectacular. It made me check up online about the forthcoming meteorite showers this year, only to discover that for reasons of astrophysics of which I am completely ignorant, the moon in its waxing or waning gibbous form will interfere with the displays of most of the well-known meteorite clusters for much of the rest of this year. So a fortunate sighting.
I’d worried that the swallows wouldn’t manage a second brood this year after the earlier Sparrow or Gos hawk intrusion into the barn, but on closing the cowshed door the other evening, I glanced up and saw 3 chicks which had left a nest in this building, and were using an old fluorescent light fitting as a convenient perch. Later in the week we passed a huge gathering of swallows on the telephone lines in the village, a sad reminder that as we leave August behind, they’ll soon be on their way back to Africa, leaving just memories of a very successful breeding season here.
Yet another first sighting during the last 10 days was a wren in the house. I’m guessing that it flew in through an open window on a beautiful hot sunny day after the bank holiday. It ranks as the second ‘wren event’ up here, the first happening about 18 months ago when I’d just started filming the year 2010, and a wren landed on my hand at dusk, the day after Twelfth Night. This was indeed of very strange significance, since I’d discovered that in earlier centuries the local men hunted wrens around Twelfth Night, and then paraded them in specially ribbon-decked little wren houses, calling at houses in the neighbourhood for ale and food. Indeed there is a wealth of information on how the wren has been afforded special significance as a bird in many western cultures over the centuries. This time I managed a photo of the little bird before releasing it from its entrapment.
However the plague of wasps over the last fortnight has required steps to limit the risk of stings whilst harvesting apples and raspberries. The only time I recall having to resort to building wasp traps before was in the summers of my youth in Shropshire, where the family home had several apple trees in the garden. Jam jars, sheets of cardboard formed into cones with a hole at the base of the cone, and a rubber band to secure this over the jam and water baited jar, were what I recall using. But I reckoned that with the amount of rainfall here, a cardboard cone was probably inappropriate, so fashioned a couple of traps out of plastic cartons, with metal lids. Surprisingly quickly they have attracted large numbers of wasps, but there are still huge numbers flying amongst the fruit, without obviously coming from a single nest. At this time of the year the nest’s social structure starts to disintegrate and the redundant worker wasps are tempted to any easy source of energy like the sugars found in mature fruit. A quick look on-line showed an even simpler design for a wasp trap using the cut off top to any carbonated plastic drink bottle inverted into the body of the bottle with the top taken off, but of course plastic bottles weren’t commonplace back in the late ’60’s.
We seem to have moved quickly from a brief still dry anticyclone at the end of August to the return of Atlantic fronts with cloud, heavy rain and strong winds, but before the next front arrived again today around lunchtime, we had more spectacular dew covered spider’s webs.
Then with the first autumnal tints arriving in Rosa glauca, Bergenia leaves and some Acers, a pair of mating Common Darter Dragonflies rested on the Clematis montana outside the house, and allowed some lovely photos of their almost Tiffany-esque markings as they stayed motionless for perhaps 10 minutes, before releasing their embrace.
I guess that the female would then return to one of our ponds a couple of hundred yards away to begin laying eggs. The characteristic ‘wheel’ mating posture adopted by dragonflies is influenced by the fact that the male is unique in insect groups by having secondary genitalia. So the sperm are produced in the eighth abdominal segment, and before mating the male must transfer these sperm to the secondary genitalia in the second abdominal segment. Therefore at the time of actual bonding (in the photo above, this had just finished), the female grips the male’s body whilst swinging her own genitalia forward to join with the male’s just below and behind the thoracic segments. These particular dragonflies can still hunt at the relatively low temperature of 12 degrees C and so in a mild autumn can occasionally be seen into November or beyond.
Something tells me that this will not be a mild autumn! But the morning was spent with the latest apples to need picking, ahead of violent winds due for Tuesday, and the raspberries are now producing a nearly full punnet every other day.