I’m not sure if it is the blackberry laden brambles, whose sweet smelling fruit attracts late bees and kids alike, as they fight over natures, sugary, bounty; or the heady, wine like scent that the elderberry’s, hanging low and deep red, offer up as you brush past; the crushed apples and ripe plums that seem scattered along the towpath of the Grand Union canal or the distinct lack of the sound of the songbirds, but all of a sudden summer has gone, left like the summers of my youth all blue skies and endless days, and autumn has donned her wide brimmed hat.
The sun was warm and enlivening as I walked the patch today, but what autumn provides with one hand she takes with the other, and the wind she carried today, while warm, was strong and powerful enough to bend trees and pull down fences.
Summer Has Gone
As I began walking first through the old church yard, with its Normanesque tower, and fallen graves, and on through the old lock area, full of quickly ripening fruits, the sounds of the season were all about me. The soft chattering of the gathering Swallows and House Martin as they alighted on overhead cables, after feasting on the wing as they prepare for their arduous flight through the farms of Europe and desserts of Africa; the tiny peeps of young Bullfinches calling to the rest of their family party as they pick through the Blackthorn; calls of Chiffchafs, no longer uttering their names incessantly, but “wheeting” to one another in hushed tones, as if in mourning for the summer past.
There is not much as anticipatory to a birdwatcher as the welcoming of autumn on their local patch, spring may bring the new, but often the arrivals are quickly over and passage birds are gone with barely a chance of viewing, autumn however is a much lazier affair, often the birds are still fattening themselves up for the rigours of migration or the cold winter months ahead, they dally longer, and feed deeper, so with the welcoming of autumn around me I was eager to hit the mud of the reserve.
Floodplains and Dry Mud
Entering the Iron Trunk hide I removed my bag; to rest the dull ache of my shoulders and embrace the cool air on my hot back. I set about scanning the muddy shores of the islands in front of me. A lone Green Sandpiper slowly bobbed its way along the northern edge, pecking at flies and bugs on the waters edge; a family of Mute Swan preened and ruffled their feathers shaking off unseen particles of dirty and grime; Shoveler all in their dull eclipse garb swept their spade like bills through the water appearing to nibble the surface as they sifted through the muddy waters in search of food.
|Magpie in the Scrub|
A Cacophony of Bird Noise
I quickly moved on to the stilt pits and all that their muddy islands could offer. Cresting the iron bridge between the pits I entered a world alive with sound. Canada Geese jockeyed for space with the Greylag Geese, their loud raucous cackling and honking a cacophony of noise. Tufted duck, Shoveler, Mallard and Gadwall swam, dived, dabbled and splashed through the grey waters. Two Little Grebes did their best to hide amongst the flotsam tossed onto the lakes by the wind. Little Egrets and Grey Herons stood motionless on the banks aloof to the drama from the water fowl; and Black-headed gulls stood in long rows across the islands interspersed by the occasional, larger, Lesser Black-backed Gulls.
|Canada Goose dabbling|
|Raucous Canada Geese|
|A Row of Little Egrets|
Settling in the hide once more, a well camouflaged Snipe could occasionally be seen as it stabbed its long beak deep into the mud edging the pits; and two Dunlin dodged in and out of the legs of the much larger geese. This was why I was here today. Not the quite of the main pits but the rowdiness of the stilt pits. The feeling that anything could happen, anything could drop in out of the skies. I could waste hours just waiting here, but time presses on and the morning was vanishing fast; so once again I packed up and moved on.
As I made my way down to the river, passing between the pits and settling ponds, the trees around me burst into life as an early gathering of tits passed through en-mass. Ten or twelve Long-tailed Tits, all pink, white and black, and looking like cotton balls on long sticks flittered through; while the Great Tits and Blue Tits accompanying them were in the minority.
|Long-tailed Tit Takeoff|
Meandering alongside the winding path of the River Ouse I made my way back towards the canal. Overhead small parties of ducks flew about, wheeling and dancing on the cross winds as they tried to escape some unseen foe or threat.
Along the glassy flow of the river a family of 5 cygnets still grey and downy, and their parents, a late brood perhaps, swam elegantly along. Appearing to effortlessly glide through the current.
A Buzzard, high on a thermal keyed, its call piercing through the skies down towards me, a fitting end to an early autumn walk. Summer Has Gone.