There is still over a week until the astronomical beginning of Autumn, but colder weather has already begun to set in, and many migratory birds are already gone. It’s been weeks since the screeching of swifts stopped being part of the background noise on clear days when walking down the high road.
This garden warbler which we ringed in one of the last days of July will be long-gone now, off to Africa.
This clueless juvenile blackcap, unaware it was free to go after getting a ring, might have also left for warmer regions by now, although some blackcaps overwinter in England. This little chap stayed perched on my thumb until he began to slide off, rather comically. About to drop, he finally flapped his wings and made his getaway. Some friends asked me why we don’t just throw birds up in the air as you might see in films, where doves or messenger pigeons are released that way. The answer is, because the bird may not be ready to fly. It may be confused by what is happening to it – getting trapped in a net and then being handled by big animals must be terrifying – and late to react, potentially dropping to the ground, or its wings might have been strained when trying to free itself from the net and needs a bit of rest. That’s why the best way is to open your hand and wait for the bird to fly off, or in the case of thrushes, to release it on the ground so it may dash away, darting for cover.
Starlings are a rare catch for us. But with nets in rides cut among brambles, which were at that time heavily laden with juicy berries, we had a little flock of starlings fly in. Before they could free themselves (being bigger birds, they can get out of our mist-nets designed for smaller species), we ran to the net and managed to bag a few (birds are put in cotton bags and carried to the ringing station).
Moving on to late August/early September and creepy crawlies. Lemon balm is supposed to repel bugs, and it seems to keep mosquitoes at bay, but certain other insects quite enjoy it.
This green shield bug seems perfectly happy on it. The juveniles are very different from the adults, and at first sight they look like a different species to casual bug enthusiasts like myself.
Owing to my constant nagging, my poor mum keeps part of the garden wonderfully untidy. Some of the sunflower seeds dropped by birds visiting the feeders have sprouted and grown into medium-size sunflowers in-between herbs and ornamentals. We’ll probably harvest some for seeds, but most will be left for the sparrows that have been eyeing them for some time, like us waiting for the seeds to ripen.
With blackberries all gone now, another dark fruit catches the eye in the hedges. It’s the sloes, which will provide a feast for thrushes arriving for winter.
And something besides rosehips is ripening on the dog roses. It’s not in fact a fruit at all, but a gall formed by wasps.
This one is made by the smooth pea gall wasp. In the shade, the galls stay green, but when exposed to sunshine, they redden, becoming more like berries in appearance. It’s the less spectacular of the galls that can be seen on roses, the others being Robin’s pin cushion and sputnik gall. The pea galls seem to be all over the place at the nature reserve in Bedfont Lakes, while Robin’s pin cushions dominated earlier in the year.