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Arrival of Autumn

Notice Nature > Albert Nolan Essays

Arrival of Autumn

The lazy days of summer are quickly winding down but the good weather is continuing unabated by the onset of autumn. We arrive on the Pollagh trail on an overcast but warm day and set off for another day of discovery.
The kids race ahead giving me little time to pause and examine the flowers. Sow thistle, Narrow Leaved Willow Herb and Greater Rose Bay Willow Herb are finishing up and their white feathery seeds are waiting for a gentle breeze to carry them to a new location.
Wasps are starting to come to the end of their lives and with the main work done in the hive they spread on and search for sugary treats. If nectar is still available they will feed on this and I find one feeding on the flowers of Figworth.
Fresh Nettle line the sides of the path and the leaves can be made into a beer. You can also make an affective natural insecticide from this plant. Soak the leaves in a bucket for a few weeks and strain through an old towel or cloth to remove the pulp. Dilute the resulting liquid 10:1 in water and spray onto plants to control pests like greenfly. The plants also get a boost from the minerals and nutrients contained in the nettle feed.
The wind rustles in the leaves and this is a real sound of late summer as the leaves start to dry out. The Beech trees have lost most of their leaves and the Hawthorns are turning a vivid red. This year is excellent for berries and I have never seen as many haws on the Hawthorn trees.
We take the first left and stop at the Spindle tree. On the underside of a leaf we find a small Spider. Some of these leaves will remain on the trees throughout the winter in sheltered places providing valuable cover for insects. Nearby on an Oak leaf we examine the track left by a Fly that lives inside the leaf. You can follow the short course of its life as it tunnelled through the leaf. When fully grown it emerges into the world and you can see the tiny hole in the leaf where it existed. Purple Sloes cover the Blackthorn trees and these are used to make slow gin.
The first bird of the day puts in an appearance. A male Blackbird flies across the path shrieking loudly. They love to eat fruit and all the berries on the trees and shrubs will be gratefully gobbled up by these birds. The mild weather has extended the flowering season of many species of flowers. Meadow Vetchling, Ragworth, Angelica and Purple Loosestrife create a colourful backdrop to the faded greens of the fields.
A colourful and unusual insect on Angelica catches my attention. Its shape tells me that it is an Ichneumon Fly and later I discover its delightful name of Diplazon Laetator. It has a long ovipositor (a long structure like a hypodermic needle) that it uses to lay its eggs in wasps. The larva hatch inside their host and eat the unfortunate insect from the inside out.
The Holly tree has no berries yet and a male and female is needed to produce fruit. Birds like Blackbirds are also very fond of them so you have to keep a careful watch on your tree if you want any for decorations. A Robin gives a harsh warning call and I wonder if he has laid claim to this tree already.
Water Mint is growing by the edge of the stream and when we crush it between our fingers it releases its pungent minty scent. Our hands still smell of mint long after we have left the nature trail.
The kids have great fun gingerly picking up tufts of the Creeping Thistle seeds and throwing them into the air for the wind to catch. Later on the game is reversed as we pick out small thorns from sore little fingers. Thistles are excellent for insects and we find loads of small flies on the flowers. Bright red Rose Hips are scrambling up through the trees and brambles. If you squeeze one you will find that they are full of tiny seeds. An Amber Snail is resting under a leaf and it can often be found near riverside vegetation.
Meadow Buttercup, Yarrow, White Clover, Yarrow, Common Valerian, Narrow Leaved Plantain, Greater Knapweed, Red Bartsia, Tufted Vetch and Shepherd's Purse line the edges of the path and display their colourful flowers. These attract a host of insects including three Speckled Woods, Leaf Hoppers and a Hoverfly.
Being low down has its advantages and the kids are great at spotting Spiders. They find a big Garden Spider on a web spun between thistles. As we near the crossing point we hear a Wren singing and a Great Tit calling. The white flowers of Bindweed are hanging like white bells and announcing the imminent arrival of autumn. By a field gate Pineapple Mayweed is growing. When you walk on the plant its releases a pineapple scent.
We scamper over the metal steps and onto the narrow path that connects the two main trails of the pollagh. Pond insects are skimming along on the surface tension of the water. This is a thin crust on top of the water and the insects open their legs wide to spread their weight evenly. I ask the kids not to throw in stones because if the surface tension is broken the insects could drown. Groundsel is growing along the edge of the path and it is one of the few flowers that can grow in the harsh and changing environment of the gravel.
The kids find a Seven Spotted Ladybird and tell me that each of its spots represents one year. I have found this is a widespread belief among school children. Most of the wildflowers have gone to seed and these will soon be eaten by hungry birds. Rooks and Jackdaws are feeding in a field and I count 70. This is a very consistent number as the last time I was here I got the same amount. Three Starlings and a Meadow Pipit are also in the field. Purple Loosestrife still has a few flowers and two common Carder Bees are searching for nectar.
We reach the last trail and head for the car. Greater Bird's Foot Trefoil is growing in the grassy bank. The kids pause to watch a Speckled Wood Butterfly and a Crane Fly and in this rare moment of peace I hear the sound of flowing water. A Swallow flies overhead but I have never seem them in big numbers in the Pollagh.
On a Bramble patch by a field gate we spy a Common Wasp and two Speckled Wood Butterflies. A low call catches my attention and two Bullfinches fly out from a Sally tree and into a Hawthorn tree. They are beautiful birds but are disliked by some gardeners as they eat a few buds from fruit trees.
As we near the car we see three very wary Grey Hooded Crows. They flew away as we approach. In towns and well used public areas they have become very tame and show little fear of man. This shows how our interaction with nature can change their behaviour and probably happens over the course of a few generations. The trail throws up one more new surprise. A small Yew tree is growing under the shade of a tall tree. The Yew can live for a thousand years but the tall Sycamore only around 150 years. Youth and vigour are on the side of the sycamore but the Yew has longevity and will ultimately win out in this battle through time. We reach the car to the song of a singing Robin. As we drive towards the playground I realize that the kids will be back to school shortly and our visits to the Pollagh will be a weekend affair.

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