Week 20 Roundup: 5th August
She’s right, of course. Everyone has their favourite season, it’s just that this one isn’t mine! But, yes, as Ellen points out, ‘high summer’ does indeed have its delights and compensations. Two weeks ago, for instance, I was lamenting the general lack of birdsong, but now—as if from nowhere—Wood Pigeons have stepped in to fill the breach: Tim Dee, this time in Four Fields, refers to late-summer pigeons playing “again and again [their] cracked tuba,” to produce “… a lullaby sung on an iron-lung.” Apart from the pigeons, there’s still the odd Blackcap, an occasional Chiffchaff, and the wheezy rasp of Greenfinches. And then yesterday, down by the river, in an old apple tree, I heard my first ‘post-moult’ Robin. Further along the river, in a bramble patch, a Wren made a hesitant, half-hearted stab at singing again.
The world’s still turning, then, and these scraps of birdsong make up, just a little, for the sudden absence of Swifts. Last Thursday there were dozens in the skies above Taunton; on Friday and Saturday they could still be seen, and heard, as they careered and screamed around the streets at rooftop height, as well as larger numbers at higher altitude, probably feasting on flying ants. (On Friday, the gulls were gorging themselves too, strutting around the outfield at the cricket ground, picking off ants as they crawled across the grass.) On Sunday, the local air-space had become quiet, just a single sighting of one Swift, late in the day—plus, for good measure, a ‘mewing’ Peregrine that circled high above the street, before landing on the church tower opposite, causing consternation and panic amongst the local gull population. On Monday, two Swifts, early in the morning, then nothing for the rest of the day; yesterday, four birds first thing, then nothing; and finally today, nothing, nothing, nothing. So, it seems our local Swifts spent the weekend fattening up on ants, then skedaddled.
Of course, we may yet glimpse the odd singleton passing through, but there’s no getting round the fact: they’ve gone. As Peter Brown puts it, in Swifts Round a Tower: “Three precious months / Is all that they could stay, / May, flaming June / And hot July. / Now swifts have left / To our dismay.” At this point in the year, the ‘Taunton Deane Swifts’ WhatsApp group becomes a support network for those of us struggling with the harsh reality of a world without Swifts. It happens every year, of course, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
There have, though, been arrivals as well as departures. Georgina had her first Clouded Yellow, Colias croceus, on the 30th, at Draycott Sleights—amongst “hundreds” of Chalkhill Blues, Polyommatus coridon—while Keith Gould saw a female Clouded Yellow at Roughmoor on the 22nd. He also reports that in the last week at Thurlbear there has been the beginnings of a partial second brood of Dingy Skippers, Erynnis tages. Usually this butterfly has just a single generation each year, in the spring (April-May), but in especially hot summers second brood adults can occasionally be seen on the wing in southern England in August. Plants can do something similar, re-enacting spring with a second burst of flowering late in the season, like Val’s Spring Cinquefoil, Potentilla verna, at Velvet Bottom on the 31st, or Helena’s ridiculously late (or early?) Cowslips, Primula veris, in the Cam Valley today.
It’s been another week of thin pickings on the first-flowering front. Between us we saw just four of our target species: Georgina and friendsactuallyrecorded Common Sea-lavender, Limonium vulgare, and Sea-blite, Suaeda maritima, at Sand Bay on 23rd July (so in Week 19); Dee reported just-flowering Common Sea-lavender at Clevedon on the 3rd; I saw my first Hop, Humulus lupulus, at Longrun Meadow on the 1st, followed by Trifid Bur-marigold, Bidens tripartita, between Obridge and Creech Castle on the 4th. The last of these was next to a fine patch of Water Mint, Mentha aquatica, which was flowering profusely despite having been noted as not flowering just four days earlier—which highlights how rapidly things can change, even when nothing much seems to be happening! The 4th was a good day for Water Mint, with Helena and Val both ‘WhatsApping’ reports of having seen it flowering in VC6, the latter at Catcott Heath.
What else? I recorded Sneezewort, Achillea ptarmica, at Ruggin SWT reserve this morning—although I expect someone will surely have an earlier date for it? There was a second record for Harebell, Campanula rotundifolia, this time from Liz at Westbury Beacon on the 4th. My own first-flowerers this week included Carline Thistle, Carlina vulgaris,on the 31st (Thurlbear), Sharp-leaved Fluellen, Kickxia elatine, on the 1st (Corfe), Dwarf Spurge, Euphorbia exigua, on the 4th (Staple Fitzpaine), and Sowbread, Cyclamen hederifolium, today (Angersleigh). Elsewhere, Margaret saw Bifid Hemp-nettle, Galeopsis bifida, at Redding Pits on the 3rd, while Georgina et al. had Henbane, Hyoscyamus niger, at Sand Bay on 23rd (Week 19); and, most exciting of the lot, perhaps, was a message (and lovely photo) from Clive on the SRPG WhatsApp group reporting the discovery by Brian Lancastle of flowering Autumn Lady’s-tresses, Spiranthes spiralis, at Sand Point on the 27th—two days earlier than Andrew’s record of it at Purn Hill.
Ellen, in her email last week, noted the joy to be had from walking through grassland in summer, and I get what she’s saying, I really do. It’s interesting to note the subtle shift in the nature of this experience as the season advances. The sound changes: in May and June, tramping through grass produces a soft, juicy-green swish, swish, swish,whereas now it makes a much harder, drier, scrunch; and each scrunch, each foot fall, is accompanied by an explosion of grasshoppers, like fire-crackers going off.
She’s right: each season really does have its compensations.
Have a good week, everyone.