Monday, (July 15th) was the date on which we used to feast for St.Swithun – a Bishop of Winchester in the mid 800s.
On his deathbed, Swithun asked to be buried outside, where “ubi et pedibus praetereuntium et stillicidiis ex alto rorantibus esset obnoxious” (where it [his corpse] might be subject to the feet of passers-by and to the raindrops pouring from on high).This dying wish was granted, and for a hundred years or so, his grave remained outside.
On 15th July 971 however, his skeleton was moved to a shrine inside Winchester Cathedral – legend has it that the (dead) Saint was not that happy about this move – so he commanded the heavens to open – and it poured down.
This legend does not seem particularly (cough) watertight however – more likely is that the weather lore surrounding St.Swithun’s day (at the height of summer on July 15th) is borrowed from (much earlier legends) continental saints’ days during summer.
The proverb does have its feet grounded in a fair amount of sense to be fair. Generally-speaking, by the height of summer, the jet-stream over the North Atlantic will have settled(ish) into one of two patterns – either 1) slap bang over the UK (or even a little south of the UK like last year) where it becomes a “rain-maker” for the summer (like last year) or 2) to the north of the UK and in this case, warm air from the Azores is dragged up over northern Europe and we get a hot, sunny summer.
No prizes for guessing where the jet-stream is situated this summer then.... yip..... over northern Scotland, which means the Azores high (pressure) has been allowed to build up over much of the UK and produce a steaming hot, sunny summer heatwave which is 11 days old already – and started just a matter of days after the wonderful Met Office predicted that we may have up to another ten years of miserable summers, like the last seven or so. You’ve gottae love those poor sods at the Met Office – as soon as they predict something – the opposite often occurs.
So.... what have I seen recently, in this Azores high summer of 2013?
I’ve been pretty busy digging out more swift nesting sites in the soffits, fascias, eaves and even walls of our house. I’m under strict instructions from Anna not to a) compromise the structural integrity of the house nor b) compromise the house’s eventual value by providing nesting spots for my favourite bird - and I think in those aims I’ve succeeded.
We’re lucky enough with the weather being as it is down here that whilst it’s dry – I can leave the swift call (on my old phone) out all day in the house gutter – important at this time of year if one is looking to attract swifts for the following year, as during July and the first part of August, yearling swifts and young birds (bangers) are banging into prospective nest sites for following years – at any time of day – unlike earlier in the season, where birds intent on nesting this year banged into prospective nest-sites at dawn and dusk primarily.
We have had up to four prospectors (“bangers”) investigate the calls and house pretty-well every day during the season and certainly during July – so I am hopeful that we may have the best birds of all back nesting with us next year (the first time ever they will have nested in this part of our post-war town) and I’ll try to film them like I did back in Reading a couple of years ago now....
Our one nest this year – a blackbird’s nest in the poplar tree has unfortunately ended badly. I was filming the nest since discovery, with a remote camera –the hen laid four blue eggs and incubated them for ten days. On the eleventh day, three eggs hatched but during the night, a mystery assailant took out all three nestlings.
One might be forgiven for assuming a cat had done the dastardly deed, but I had originally covered the trunk of the tree in silver foil to dissuade feline investigations (cats HATE foil) and there were no claw marks in the foil after the nest had been lost.
Chief suspect as far as I can ascertain is the local great spotted woodpecker, who uses that poplar tree many times – the nest was certainly raided in clinical fashion – very much pointing to an avian predator I think. Sad, but then again I’m told 90% of all blackbird nests tend to fail.
I think that was her second brood of the year – I don’t know whether the first was any more successful – and I’ve already noticed her starting her third attempt in next doors’ garden, right by a fence – silly bird – I rather think that is doomed also!
Other sights (and sounds) of this particular hot summer have been a couple of pips (either common or soprano – I KNOW both spp. roost in the area) are noisily flying ‘round the garden each dusk. Yes... you read that right.... bats being noisy. I know, but its true – I can hear these wee mammals - I assume it’s their wings I can hear flapping or they’re communicating to each other with an audible (to me) call.
We have our old hedgehog snuffling noisily through the garden foliage each night - and rolling a fallen peanut bird feeder across the lawn. I had originally thought we had foxes back in the garden doing this peanut feeder rolling – but after setting up a trailcam in the garden last night.... the culprit was identified as not a fox, but our determined hog (which I’d not seen at its hibernaculum or anywhere else in the garden for weeks and weeks – I’m glad it’s still alive!
I’ve also managed to run the moth trap each night for what feels like weeks now – very different to last year when I couldn’t run it due to it invariably raining each night. I’ve had great success this year so far, with the nocturnal lepidopteran highlights including small elephant hawk moth, elephant hawk moth, poplar hawk moth, swallow-tailed moth, bird cherry ermine, white ermine, common emerald, light emerald, common footman, buff tail, beautiful hook tip, herald and true lovers knot.
These sights (or sounds) above are pretty-nocturnal in nature – what about the days?
Well.... the bee hotels have been inundated with Willoughby’s leaf cutters (see photo below) and the odd Osmia mason bee also – a real success this year – and proving attractive to the parasitic ruby-tailed wasp also – very nice to see.
I’ve sited the hotels above the goldenrod which the bees adore (but hasn’t even flowered yet) and all the bamboo tubes in the hotels will be full in a few days!
Anna and I have bought and planted a few foxgloves in the garden this year – these have proved very popular with the bumblebees, including the tree bumblebees nesting once again in the roof above the foxgloves.
The garden (yellow) loosestrife has flowered very well this year (unlike last when it was flattened by heavy rain) but no sign of the elusive yellow loosestrife bee just yet.
In the pond the large white Alba lily has flowered once (and is about to again), the frogs are just about coping with having one of our young cats fish for them each day and the purple and yellow irises flowered successfully in June.
I’ve left a good third of the garden a no-mow area and that has been a great success this year – with wild carrot, creeping buttercups, birds foot trefoil, heal all and clovers all blooming brilliantly – which of course all the mini beasties love. I’ll not mow that part of the lawn until the middle or end of August now.
How long will this heatwave last? For another week I think, at least, but the popular press suggested it might last all August – if that happens, then we’ll be comparing 2013 to 1976 I think. Let’s wait and see…
I do hope anyone reading this is having as good a summer as us here – and please, during this hot spell...remember to put a little water out for your hedgehogs...