Autumn Nature Notes

Autumn, the time of comings and goings, the time of change, has set in again on the island as the world of nature makes preparations for winter.

The swallows, having raised at least two broods in the steadings nearby, left in the third week of September. One moment they were balancing on the wires like pegs on a washing line, the next moment they were gone leaving behind a very empty sky and, for me, a sense of deprivation. With luck, they’ll have made it to warmer countries by now and will be dining on plump African insects.

One of the really interesting features of Autumn is the flocking together of certain birds. Not only do they join up with their own kind but sometimes with others of similar habits, for instance finches, buntings and sparrows, or, lapwings, knots and dunlin. Much debate has centred on why birds associate in flocks at this time of year, the sensible theory being that there’s safety in numbers and so feeding is likely to be more efficient when there’s less need to keep an eye open for predators.

Last week, a flock of thirty-four golden plovers wheeled over the hayfield, paler underparts flashing momentarily, uncertain whether to land or not, then, decision taken, swooped down in one movement on to the field. They’re particular favourites of mine and unmistakeable, whether in flight or on the ground, because of their heart piercingly sad, plaintive call. When their countryside food is in short supply, the shoreline, where food is plentiful, will never be far away and here they may well join up with lapwings.

Some birds are heard before they are seen and this week I was delighted to hear again the familiar chuck-chucking sound of our visitors from Scandinavia, the fieldfares. Some were in the trees, some on the ground and though I didn’t spot the redwings which usually accompany them, I’m sure they would have been there too. They can’t match the aerial displays of the swallows but have an attraction of their own, maybe because they fill, for a little while, the gap left by migrating birds.

Notice of a bumper bramble crop was given as long ago as June when the bramble flowers first began to show, until eventually every bush was a mass of white providing butterflies, moths, bumble bees and hover flies with nectar. Now the leaves are tinged with red and orange and yellow and the full flush of berries is over, leaving many Lismore larders well stocked with bramble jam and jelly.

The honey bees have almost shut down for winter, instinct telling them they’ve made enough honey to last them until spring, but an occasional change in the temperature has brought them out for another foray or two. After a poor year, I can only hope that enough queen bumble bees have survived to start the process of egg laying and rearing brood next year. The sound of such insects flying from plant to plant in the garden is one of the very best summer sounds.

A return visit from Tom Prescott of Butterfly Conservation (Scotland), to assist local enthusiasts to find the marsh fritillary caterpillars’ webs, was successful on one day and less so on another when we assumed the caterpillars had gone deep down into the vegetation. It’s good news that the butterfly is flourishing on Lismore. Tom’s enthusiasm and encouragement has left many of us with a deeper interest in entomology. Also discovered on these outings were several amazing spiders with enormous abdomens, perched on the tops of grass stems beside their webs. They may simply be diadem, or garden, spiders.

Anyone out walking today, where wild flowers bloomed abundantly in the summer, now sees quite a changed scene but one with different attractions. Rose hips, cotoneaster berries, wonderful seed heads and seed cases of, amongst others, grasses, yellow iris and the umbelliferae family, are everywhere, evidence that the world of nature is renewing itself again.

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