Every evening this week the BBC nature unit is broadcasting Autumnwatch from my village in the Cotswolds. So I thought I’d show you a corner of it, all photographed yesterday.
This is the Broadwater, a stream turned into a chain of small lakes by Lord Sherborne, and now sadly silting up because the National Trust has made a decision not to dredge them.
There are fewer over-wintering ducks than there used to be, but we still have wigeon and of course mallard.
And the swans and egrets are there year round.
Away from the water, there are jackdaws, and horses too…
(The weathervane is on top of the old stables block, they did things in style in those days.)
Back in London, in the very centre of the city, I have a tiny courtyard back garden, heavily shaded. Even there, all kinds of life goes on. There are parakeets, but they won’t let me photograph them. So instead I have settled for a late bee! There’s very little nectar around at this time of year, but in a not-very-well-tended corner of the garden this bee has found my Fatsia japonica flowers.
The flowers are tiny, but there is plenty of pollen for the bee to dislodge:
and then carry on its hind legs to another flower.
I’ve left Maine, but going back through my photos I thought I’d write another blog or two from the summer’s joys.
Most of the time we look at the tops of things, because that is the first view we get. First impressions may be important, but looking underneath yields further pleasures.
The crusader moth is dramatic from above, but when it takes wing there is a flash of orange,
and if you can persuade it to pose for you its underparts are a bright rusty shade.
This enormous mushroom is dramatic enough (it weighs over 50lbs),
but it’s underside is a maze of frilly canyons.
Underside of huge polypore
Underside of huge polypore
And the giant swallowtail butterfly is just as exquisite from underneath:
So don’t be content with the surface of things.
I leave this evening, so a last few photos to help me remember through the winter.
The natural world is preparing in different ways, getting ready for a time when food will be scarcer. The animals seem to emerge from the woods a bit more, like this pair of ruffed grouse crossing the road by my house:
My red squirrels are collecting, eating, and storing the nuts from the hickory tree inside its hollow tree trunk..
The paper wasps are frantically building their nests, laying a single egg in each cell, then sealing it up.
A late dragonfly, a Shadow Darner, was hunting through my flowerbeds.
And the lake is serene.
It just started to rain again, so I have time for another posting. Only a week left in Maine, and then I will probably go quiet for a while.
Milkweed is a remarkable plant. Native to New England, it is the only plant that the threatened monarch butterfly caterpillar eats, so I encourage it until it tries to take over the entire field. This summer, the monarchs were here, and so were their caterpillars. (The butterfly is on a liatris flower, not a milkweed.)
Monarch butterfky caterpillar on milkweed. The head is to the right. The thorax, to the right, has three pairs of true legs. The abdomen, at left, has 5 pairs of prolegs ending in tiny hooks which they use to hang on with.
Milkweed has a very unusual flower, botanically speaking. The anthers are fused up the outsides of the stamen, like little pillars, and instead of loose pollen they contain capsules of pollen, Pollonia, which insects dislodge and carry off. I took these photos a few years ago.
Milkweed have unusual flowers. The anthers are fused up the outsides of the stamen, like little pillars, and instead of loose pollen they contain capsule of pollen, Pollonia, which insectsdislodge and carry off.
It then produces a big fat seedpod, and the seeds inside are arranged like roof tiles, each with its own tiny parachute. I opened one up, and took these photos.
And the silks are ravishing:
All this beauty, in plant and butterfly too.
A spell of wet weather, so I shall compose a flurry of blogs!
Some animals and birds spend a lot of time on vertical surfaces, so they are specially equipped to find footholds just about anywhere. This squirrel is using its front paws to eat upside down on the hickory trunk, so it is only using its back feet and its body to hold on to the rough bark.
Nuthatches are good at this too, and tend to do their scavenging and eating head down.
They have very long claws which seek out tiny cracks in the bark.
Finally, this woodpecker has claws like grappling hooks, seen in closeup on the bird feeder.
On the tree trunk, it uses them to seek out tiny holes and crevices, to make itself truly stable before it begins to hammer away. Mountaineers, watch and learn.
There is a flat rock covering an old well by our hickory tree, creating a good flat platform that is little higher than the rest of the garden. Both the red squirrels and the chipmunks like to take their food there because it is a safe vantage point. The red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) are a different species from the ones in England, and are very aggressive. This time of year, they are gathering hickory nuts for the winter. They chew off the green outer casing, then gnaw through the very hard nut to get at the kernels inside.
The squirrel left for a bit and the chipmunk came along.
But then the squirrel came back, and took a dim view of this intruder. The much smaller chipmunk, after a brave show of aggression, beat a hasty retreat.
And the squirrel did a victory dance.
Summer is winding down now, but we still sit outside with a glass of rosé in the evening. Last night George was joined by a large flock of wild turkeys, four females and all their little ones, maybe twenty in all. They practice communal childcare, very sensible.
At the same time, on the scarlet honeysuckle growing beside our porch, was our smallest bird, a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird. An adult weighs about 3.8g.
A fully grown male wild turkey can weigh up to 14Kg. That is as much as 3500 hummingbirds.
Too late, I realized that even though we were well away from the path of totality, it would still have been smart to get a pair of special eclipse glasses. So I had to improvise. The pinhole camera I made out of a cereal box was useless, but even simpler methods were rather magical.
The first photo shows the patterns made by the sun through the leaves of our hickory tree: see how the crescent shape of the 50% eclipsed sun shows up?
The next photo is the shadow cast by my kitchen colander’s round holes: each hole creates its own pinhole camera, and the screen is the white siding on our house. And each hole shows the crescent shape.
The last photo is the intact sun at the end of the same day, setting over the White Mountains seen from our porch.
Human skin is so familiar we pay it little attention. But other creatures have the most astonishing outer garments, if you get up close enough to see.
The first picture is a Gray Treefrog. It is about 2 inches long, and lives mainly on the bark of trees, for which it is well-camouflaged, but on the ground it is more vulnerable. When scared, it freezes, which makes it possible to get in close for a portrait. But just look at its knobbly skin, And it can change colour from gray to green too.
The second picture is a Hickory Tussock Moth caterpillar, about 1/2″ long. We have a large hickory tree behind our house, so its presence in the garden is unsurprising. Amazing eyebrows, and so many spines you can’t tell which end is which, though in fact the head is to the left.