On the first of October our daughter watched as a large flock of around 200-300 house martins swirled around the sky above her house in Hazlebury Bryan before settling on her neighbour’s roof. They rested there for a
while before taking off once more and vanishing to the south. These weren’t quite the last. Three days later
four stragglers were seen over our own village. Were these the very last of the last ones? The late fledglings
gathered in by anxious parents and relatives before their long flight to South Africa? I do hope so.
In our back garden, threads of silvery cobweb, sparkling with dew, connect the late flowers of summer –
Cosmos, Dahlia and Penstemon – with a handsome white Lupin spike which seems blissfully unaware of the
fact that it shouldn’t be out at this time of the year, whilst cowering beneath the falling foliage of shrubs in the
front, Primroses are blooming. Odd, but it’s been that sort of year.
There is a small nature reserve between the town bridge and The Bull just outside Sturminster Newton. Any
time now autumn and winter rains will flood its fields which are being carefully managed to produce more
wetland species. I’ve visited this reserve once or twice in the hope of seeing otters which have been spotted
here. I am also ever hopeful that one day I shall see Snipe or Reed Warblers but no luck yet. I have,
however, seen another bird that is resident there – the Kingfisher. It darts along the banks with its sudden
‘peep’ and flash of electric blue: a real dazzler.
Harvest Mice are the tiniest of our mice, being a mere two and a half inches in length. They’re chestnut in
colour except for a white belly, have blunt little noses and ears that lie flat to their heads. We have one that
lives beneath the hedge and now and then it scurries out into the open to pick up minute bits that fall from the
bird feeders hanging on a pot-grown tree. Its movements are so fast, barely stopping long enough to search
for a meal before it scampers away for cover beneath a nearby low shrub. It all happens just outside the
french windows but it’s so quick that often I only see such a slight flicker of movement that I’m never sure
whether it’s mouse or shadow.
The roadside hedges around the village are once more smothered with wild Clematis. I was slightly surprised
to read that this is a member of the buttercup family – one day I hope to find someone who will explain to me
exactly how plant families are connected. Travellers’ Joy is the country name for it and it’s most common on
chalk land or limestone hills but is rare elsewhere. By now the seeds of the green-white flowers have ripened,
each one bearing shaggy hairs that are borne away on the wind. Is it my imagination or has this year been a
particularly prolific one for this plant? There is hardly a hedge around that doesn’t look as though someone is
airing pale grey blankets.
The festoons of sealing-wax red berries of the Black Bryony will remain the most colourful plant on hedges for
most of the winter. Birds and mammals avoid them as they contain a powerful poison. Most berries are
attractive to animals to help with seed dispersal. Not so the Black Bryony. Apparently the function of this
berry is to protect the seed which will only germinate after a long period of wet weather.
The Woodpeckers stopped calling at our feeding stations some time ago, but we have had the occasional visit
from a pair of Chiff Chaffs. The Goldfinches are back in force, squabbling noisily as they sort out their pecking
orders. I have nothing to report on Mr Bocelli because he hasn’t been seen for several weeks. I refuse to
write him off just yet – I’ve almost done this a couple of times before and almost as soon as I send off my
article he’s back again. Fingers crossed for him.