“It was one of those fine October days
free from summer’s heat and haze
but not yet gripped by autumn chill”. – Richard Green
Apt words from the poet Richard Greene as we greet October. The sun is still shining and my garden has borne the greatest harvest I have ever had – I am still plucking ripe tomato fruits from the vines in my greenhouse. But there is now more of a change in the air; the mornings are dewier, the cobwebs glisten and the mist lies in the folds in the fields.
After such a wonderful summer, autumn almost seems loathed to get a grip, as insect numbers are still high and the burgeoning population of various bat species continues to hawk the park in the evening. However, the days are becoming shorter and shorter and before you know it, the gloom of winter will have descended.
For the good though, winter is some way away and we can still enjoy some hazy days and autumn warmth. I have yet to succumb to putting the heating on, but I have built a very satisfactory log stack to keep me warm this coming winter. A new stove in the fireplace will make my toes toasty hot after a good day in the field.
Autumn is always the start of many tasks in the countryside, or even the urban garden. It is the time when everything and everyone is fattening up for the coming hardships ahead.
Writing in the last days of September, there are still a lot of swallows and martins about, but these are the last ones and they will soon be long gone for several months until the spring, a time I cannot wait for. However, there are many new arrivals and antics that signal the changes of autumn and winter.
The first flocks of redwing landed pretty early this year, an indication that the arctic is perhaps not as warm as some might suggest. Some wonderful autumn sunsets, coupled with line after line of honking pinkfoots, was for me the first signal that autumn and winter was on its way. The first long skeins come over my house in the third week of September and there has been a constant flow ever since. Down on the marsh I occasionally shoot over, mallard, wigeon and teal numbers have been building steadily – good news for our resident peregrines who have probably become bored, and lean on their usual summer diet of scemmy pigeons and the odd redshank or starling.
Watching the peregrine hunt over the marsh is often the highlight of a cold morning flight when the fowl are so often out of range; the peregrines make my day in true Eastwood style.
When they pick a target and home in for the kill is truly one of nature’s wonders, something that just makes me stand in pure shock and awe. I remember a few years back being out with a friend who had never seen such a bird before, used to the cosy wholesome world of the TV wildlife documentary where animals are ‘predated’, not killed, so as not to offend the sensitivities of viewers too much.
When the peregrine first appeared, a few dummy runs were made to soften the targets up before the real business could begin. He seemed to have his eye on the teal this morning and when he made his move, we were in a superb position, sunken from view right out on the marsh amongst the creeks and gulleys. As his strafing mission neared conclusion a dozen teal burst vertically from a small cut. Radar locked onto the teal rising between him and us, he stooped into a spiralling dive straight towards us.
The impact was audible; feathers exploded mid-air and with the ease of a Top Gun pilot he eased up on the throttle … as bird and head literally parted company, casting a sharp eye he hung momentarily in the air before descending to where his prize would land. The head, I swear, was still blinking (it wasn’t, but you know what I mean) when it bounced in front of us.
My friend was open-mouthed as he stood in pure shock and awe. Seconds passed as we watched the male peregrine mantle his meal before we said, ‘well you don’t see that on TV’; more to the point you don’t hear that on TV, as sycophantic commentary more than often masks the reality of life and death in the rest of the animal kingdom, and anthropogenic feelings and sentiments are implanted into a factual display of hunter and prey. In this case, the duck died and the peregrine didn’t, but what was not missed by this audience was the incredible endeavour behind such a deed, that ultimate need to kill to survive. There were no hard feelings, no sentiments, just a good professional job done. The rest of the teal settled further on and started feeding almost straight away. The peregrine lifted his prey and left us amateurs to a memory.
October is full of surprises, colours and beauty – I have touched on but a few, so whatever your ilk, enjoy it as it comes only once a year, and remember more of Richard Greene’s fine sentiments:
“It was one of those fine October days
when one draws a deep breath
and is grateful
to be resident on Earth”.
Category: Northumbria Wildlife