In a typically (and depressingly) British fashion I will begin this month's round-up blog post by writing that "BLIMEY! Doesn't the summer heatwave feel such a long time ago now?!".
Summer heat can't last forever though and as is very often the way, September 2022 brought us much cooler weather, a little more rain, proper and heavy DEW and even in a spot or two (not here, mind), a teensy-weensy bit of ground frost I hear.
September began in still, sultry fashion. On the 2nd, large flocks (50 plus birds) of starlings spent the afternoon taking what I presume were flying ants from the sky. Occasionally they would shout a "HAWK" warning as a sparrowhawk lazily flew past and half-tested them. I was sitting under our newly trimmed HUGE leylandii in the back garden when the starling HAWK call rang out - and shortly afterwards, a smallish female hawk landed in the tree about 10 feet above my head. There she stayed for about 10 seconds, peering at me below with her sulphurous eyes. Then, as Bob Mortimer might say... AWAAAAAYYYY!
On the 3rd, the weather was still sultry (or "close" *shudder* as some people would call it... CHRIST I hate that term) and it was lovely to see a very vocal coal tit in the newly chopped (in half) leylandii. I'm a big fan of the unassuming coal tit and was worried that cutting our big leylandii in half would get rid of them (and the goldcrests) ... so it a bit of a relief for me to see one in the tree so soon after we hacked half of the tree away. On my daily walk around town, I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of avian disturbance on a local pond. At first I thought some swans had been attacked during the night by some humans and dogs (I know this happens... I used to take calls from the public reporting this) as there were hundreds and hundreds of white feathers all over the lake and evidence of real disturbance too (snapped, marginal plants floating in the lake). That said, there were no dead birds, nor large, OBVIOUS swan feathers, which of course was a good sign. As the month went on it quickly became clear to me that far from a flock of swans being attacked at night... the pond itself was being used as a mass roost for dozens and dozens of canada geese, which I presume, were all preening throughout the night - nothing more than that! Phew!
Between the 5th and 9th of the month, lots of thundery rain showers hit us. This felt particularly weird after weeks and weeks of hot sunny weather. Real, heavy rain - and flooded patios etc. During the night of the 6th (PM) and the 7th (AM) no hedgehogs visited our feeder for the first time in months, starting a couple of weeks of intermittent visits (the first such activity, or rather *lack of activity*, for months). Anna speculated that this might because the rains had reactivated their main food - slugs etc. She was very possibly correct. On the 9th, 10th and 11th for example, no hedgehogs at all visited our feeder - which to be honest concerned me a little (I spent a few mornings checking very local roads and pavements for flat hedgehogs and thankfully found none then).
On Saturday the 11th, Ben and I went to Wentworth Golf Club to watch the 2nd round of the BMW PGA Championship. It was originally scheduled to be the third round of course, but 'er maj' had the temerity to pop 'er clogs on the Thursday before, so the powers that be decided to call off play for a day. I have no idea why, but as I am a raging, ranting republican (and boy do I wish England in particular would finally grow up and have some self-respect rather than respecting some special blood sitting under a priceless crown) I wouldn't, would I?
Wentworth is a lovely place to be if you like golf AND wildlife and Ben and I enjoyed not only the sights and sounds of the best golfers in Europe smacking their wee white balls around the Surrey sand belt, but also the birds too. No-one else but Ben and I saw (or would be interested in) the tree creeper exploring the pines by the 10th green nor the coal tits in the same treetops, nor the flock of thirty or so house martins that flew over that part of the course in a big, talkative feeding party. Stunning birds, house martins, much prettier than swifts I admit, but nowhere near as impressive!
Sunday 12th seemed to be the day when I suddenly (I know not why) seemed to start noticing a lot more wildlife around me than earlier in the month. Firstly, two swallows (that I saw anyway, there may have been more of course) flew through the garden at lunchtime. Not together, but about 30 seconds apart, the first flying south and the second west. I mowed the lawn on the 12th for only the second time all year (it's been *that* dry all summer) after it suddenly seemed to turn long and green again (after summer of it being burned off and straw-coloured) and noticed a couple of rose chafers in the compost heap, not bothered by the wasp nest there of course. The rose chafer and wasps were also joined by a robber fly on our rope washing line - unfazed by me and my phone on macro mode, taking its mugshot.
I noticed a nice zebra spider sunning itself on the front of the house when I mowed a ring around our long, meadow front lawn and of course the dozens and dozens of bow-winged grasshoppers that live there. I honestly think that along with the pond (newts and frogs) and hedgehog tunnels (breeding hedgehogs) my greatest success, wildlife-wise, here at this house is our grasshoppers in the front garden. I never mow most of it... just a ring around the outside. Oh sure... the neighbours will hate it, but our neighbours are arseholes to be frank, so I don't care. The grasshoppers LOVE it though and therefore so do we! On the night of the 12th, a small, dark(ish) hedgehog visited the feeder for the first time in 4 nights (or pretty well exactly 100 hours). I have a feeling (I can't be sure) that this wee chap(pess) was one of this year's young. To top it all, a frog appeared in our back passageway (matron) which was a bit of a surprise, as despite frogs appearing in our back passageway (MATRON!) very often (they use our hedgehog tunnel to when moving in and out of our garden), they normally do so, like most amphibians, when it's wet. It was again, bone dry, when this frog showed up.
By the middle of the month, specifically the 13th, I was noticing LOTS of bats on my dawn walks and dusk patrols of the garden. Almost certainly common and/or soprano pipistrelles, as all the bats I was seeing were that sort of size, flying like pips and nowhere near notable bodies of water (other than our pond - over which one bat in particular seemed to enjoy feasting on the thousands and thousands of newly eclosed mosquitos above the pond and in between the poplars, oak and leylandii.
On the 14th and 15th of September, it was clear that we had at least two hedgehogs visiting our feeder again - and not just in the wee small hours, as they had done earlier in the summer, but now like they used to, just after sundown too. Unfortunately, the hedgehogs, being solitary animals, did start to scrap a little over this food source again, which I videoed on the 20th.
It was on the 16th September that first noticed a female sparrow occasionally roosting in our cedar swift box, which I again videoed on the 20th of the month. Looking at all the dried bird poo on the footage, which wasn't there in April, it's clear that birds (tits and or sparrows) have roosted in this box all summer perhaps - but I hadn't been aware as I (we) were getting live video feed to our portable TV from our attic swift space and tit box - neither was used by anything all year (for the first year that I can remember).
On the 17th of the month, Ben and I played golf at Bird Hills Golf Club near Maidenhead and it was a pleasure to see quite a few swallows and house martins fly across the course, as well as a few pheasants run across it. They were ... the only birdies that we saw on the course that day (A HA HA HA HA HAAAA OHHH STOP IT).
On the 18th, I videoed a dozen or so more house martins drink from the watering lake at the Royal Berkshire Polo Club as Ben played rugby there.
I also took a little walk through Winkfield and discovered a wonderful badger sett alongside a deserted footpath, and watched roe deer and buzzards in the adjoining fields. A lovely little discovery!
Finally, again on the 18th, I discovered a big patch of new parasol mushrooms on our local golf course. The sharp-eyed among you might be able to read the label on the inside of one of my clodhoppers in the second photo below... yes I have size 14 feet... these were BIG mushrooms!
At the end of the 3rd week of the month, specifically on the 21st, on another of my dawn walks, I watched a dozen or two bees swarm around an LED street light above a footpath before dawn. You may know bees DO sleep (generally) at night (or if you didn't, you do now!), but these bees were not sleeping - in fact they seemed very active, considering the sun was half an hour away from rising at the time.
There is an issue with honeybee parasitisation in North America at least (and I thiiiiink it's been seen in Belgium too) where honeybees are parasitised by Phorid flies, which effectively turns them into "zombees", and often makes them active at night and attracted to light. I don't happen to think this is what I was witnessing the other morning though - I assume all I was seeing is a few bees that had "bearded" around their hive in a tree at night - and these relatively new, bright LED streetlights erected nearby, had confused them meaning basic phototaxis has taken over and some of these bees were just attracted to the light, almost naturally.
Luckily, one of my sisters works in the Natural History Museum in London and has a few contacts which I hope she'll ask about what I saw. I hope the nasty zombie Phorid flies aren't now in the UK... we'll see eh?
Back to writing about our hedgehogs briefly now, and I witnessed (on automatically recorded footage on my tiny CCTV camera) our boldest hedgehog fill its belly with a load of hedgehog food in the small hours of Friday 23rd September - and then curl up and sleep IN THE FEEDING BOWL for 90 minutes (between about 0200am and 0330am)! That would be the first time I've seen this behaviour. I hope it doesn't mean the hedgehog is ill or not quite right... it seems OK to me, other than having two or three big, swollen ticks behind its left ear.
The last week of September brought us a mixed bag, weather-wise. Squally showers, cooler temperatures, some sun and some strong gusty winds meant my wildlife sightings were perhaps a little limited during this time.
Oh sure, I was lucky enough to see two swallows over our local golf course on the 25th, as well as lots of common darter dragonflies and what I assume were migrant hawkers too. Yes, I saw a lovely big buzzard sat on the corner of a local college's observatory on one of my walks (see the photos below)... but no I didn't go and see the juvenile marsh harrier that spent most of the month, including the last week of September, quartering over a local gravel works where Ben and I watch our winter ducks. Well... we're not "twitchers" you see.
By the final week of the month, the sloe bushes along my walk were DRIPPING with fruit, walking under oak or horse chestnut trees was becoming a risky affair (I got hit on the head twice by acorns and conkers) and the neighbourhood bramley trees were covering the roads in smashed, rotten fruit.
Earlier in the year (the Spring I think) a large house spider crawled over me in bed and on the 28th of September, in the early hours, a False Widow (Steatoda nobilis) did the same to Anna. I'm sure the reader(s?!) of this blog don't believe all the BS printed in the gutter press about these spiders, but in case there is anyone out there reading this that does believe that false widows are dangerous, WILL bite you and will rot flesh with their bite, none of the above is true. Oh sure, they'll bite you if you're dumb enough to squash them, but the bite will be no worse than a wasp sting (if that bad) 99.99% of the time and much more often than not, the tiny, poor spider will try its level best to avoid you. Of bloody course it will. (sigh).
The spider that crawled across Anna's face originally and then her arm in bed was removed groggily by Anna herself, with her fingers - and then by me (it looks squashed in the photo below was fine, honestly).
Another shaggy inkcap came up in the front garden in the spot they always come up, (see photo below) and it was lovely to still hear and see the bow-winged grasshoppers in the front garden right to the end of the month.
Finally, depressingly-enough, the leaves were beginning to turn. As in almost every year (and despite the poor, stressed trees starting to drop their leaves (for a spell at least) in August this year during the end of the 2022 heatwave), we ended the month with 95% of the leaves on the trees, but we'll end the next month, October that is, with only around 5% of the leaves on our trees - and most of those 5% will be oak and beech!
Until November then....