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Put your cursor on any photo for a caption, or click here for more August berry, fruit, nut and seed photos. For the latest observations see @SWC-Nature or scroll down for a live feed.

18 August 2017 We humans may be hoping for a bit more summer - for another hot sunny day at the beach, for some more al-fresco meals outside pubs - but as far as nature is concerned, it is pretty much autumn now. In fact, in medieval times, August was an autumn month: it was a time of harvest, of gathering in.

Modern day gathering-in tends to consist of a combine harvester droning away in the background - as much a part of a fine August day in the countryside as blackberry picking. I was musing on this the other day as I walked in the Chilterns. In days gone by the fields must have been full of people at harvest time - men, women and even children: now it is one man in a cab, listening to music as a computer drives his rig.

The other signs of autumn are everywhere in the hedgerows. Haws on hawthorn bushes are now ripe red and the blue-black sloes on blackthorn are starting to feel soft, showing they are coming to ripeness. Elderberries are also hanging in lush black clusters (they are edible but not that tasty to be honest).

Keep your eyes peeled and you can see all sorts of other berries and fruit ripe or ripening: guelder rose, wayfaring tree, rowan, cherry laurel, pyracantha. The last (which I prefer to call firethorn) is not really a wild shrub, though it escapes into suburban parks and green spaces. But its berries turning orange or red at present are a potent reminder of the winter to come because in December or January, when all is bare, they will be food for eager thrushes.

If you look closely, you can also see quite a lot of leaves on the ground. You might think this is just the result of the wet and windy weather we have had recently, but in fact some leaf shedding is very normal at this time of year. I call it the "slow shed", the process whereby shrubs and trees quietly get rid of a bit of foliage, as if getting a head start on the autumn to come.

It is definitely not a sign that autumn is going to be early - there is no connection at all, as far as I have ever been able to observe between the amount of late summer shedding and the timing of the big leaf turning, which does not happen till mid to late October. But it definitely does go on. Look at blackthorn or hawthorn or crack willow and a range of other species and you will see that they have a few yellowing leaves. The hawthorns in my local park are even looking a bit thin at the top.

As I mentioned two weeks ago, the ground is also increasingly littered with seeds and nuts. For example, oaks in my area are shedding acorns in quite large numbers, though most still remain on the tree. Not all of these show signs of having been nibbled by squirrels, so there must be some natural process at work too.

Whether this is the wind or the tree getting rid of surplus, I do not know, but you see the same kind of thing all over. Look at the way limes shed their winged seeds, which they do prolifically from late July onwards. Yet some still always remain at the very end of leaf fall and even into winter.

11 August 2017 As the rain hammered down on the very wet Wednesday this week, I was thinking about butterflies and insects. I guess they have ways of sheltering from the rain, but such a hammering must sweep away some of them. Butterflies in particular have a certain amount of lifespan and are not really built for rough treatment - you can see this from the very tatty-winged examples you sometimes see flying around at the end of the season.

This is a worry because it is already a disappointing butterfly season in many ways. As I said last week, now is the time when the summer generation of peacock butterflies should appear - classically you are supposed to see them feeding on buddleia (photo). But where on earth are they? A week ago I passed a buddleia bush on the North Downs that had two peacocks on it, and five days before that I saw some while cycling on Romney Marsh. But I have seen none whatsoever.

These are not the only butterflies that seem to be missing this year. Where are the summer generation of holly blues? (You should see them flitting around hedgerows: unlike other blue butterflies they have a pale blue underwing - photo). I have seen none of those either and I have also not seen a painted lady (photo) since they arrived in May. Nor a clouded yellow, though to be fair these are quite elusive migrants in the best of years. Even the familiar woodland speckled woods seem in short supply.

We will find out in due course whether these butterflies have been scarce this summer or whether I have just been looking in the wrong places, because Butterfly Conservation's Big Butterfly Count has just drawn to a close, a survey in which tens of thousands of people up and down the country record what butterflies they have seen in a 15 minute period. I will be awaiting their results with interest and some trepidation.

If peacock numbers are down, this will be a worry as these butterflies are supposed to be common. Older readers might remember seeing loads in their childhood. If they are in big decline, that is truly shocking.

To be more cheerful, I was thinking the same way about common blue butterflies both last year and in 2015, but this year I am seeing reasonable numbers and finding them in all sorts of unlikely habitats, not just downland reserves where they should do well. Last Friday I had the joy seeing a common blue, adonis blue and chalk hill blue all in the space of a few metres on the lower slopes of Ranmore Common, near Dorking: happiness does not come any higher.

The ordinary common "cabbage whites" (in fact three different species - large whitesmall white and green-veined white) also seem to be doing better now after a somewhat shaky start. I still feel numbers are down on what they should be, but in the last couple of days, when the sunshine came out, a fair few seemed to be out and about. I am so glad they found somewhere to shelter from all that rain.

3 August 2017 For the nature lover the onset of August produces a twinge. It is not that there are not plenty of flowers, insects and butterflies still to see, but we are now at that stage in the year when they slowly start to decline.

One sees this clearly in wild flowers. Ever since February when one species has gone over, there have been other ones to take their place - something new to move on to. But from now on there is not. The very last species to flower are michelmas daisy (photo), common fleabane (photo), tansy (photo) and various types of mint, all of which are out or appearing now. There will still be wild flowers well into September, October, even November (some species already in flower just keep on going) but gradually the number and variety of them is declining. Soon you will be seeing wild flowers now and then, rather than everywhere.

The same is true of insects. I was looking at a blackberry bush today and noticed it was covered with tiny flies of some kind. Looking down at a flowery verge I saw various types of bees and hoverfly, and in the grass one could see grasshoppers (or crickets?) hopping about. By the end of August there will still be some insects to see, but nothing like this fecundity and diversity.

For butterflies too the transition from August marks a turning point. Just at present you can still see gatekeepers and silver-washed fritillaries and all manner of interesting species. As we approach September the number of species decreases and sightings become dominated by the familiar overwintering species - brimstonepeacockcommaspeckled wood - that started the season back in March. Suddenly one is aware of the species that have come and gone - the marbled whites, the skippers - and that it will be another year before one sees them again.

If all this seems a bit downbeat, August is also the start of the fruit, berry and nut season. Indeed in medieval times it was regarded as the start of autumn, the season of gathering and harvesting. Blackberries are the most obvious manifestation of this - plenty are already ripe (a bit earlier than usual, though not massively so: August always was the best month for picking them), but if you keep your eyes peeled (and know what you are looking for) you can also see ripe plums and cherry plumsElderberries (photo) are another edible that are ripening at present, and lots of other berries such as haws and sloes are turning colour too.

On the ground you may see windfall apples and also hazelnuts: the latter tend to have holes in them presumably made by squirrels - or perhaps dormice, but some also seem to fall of their own accord. You may also see a sycamore or field maple tree with lots of fallen seeds under it - that is definitely squirrels at work: if you look closely you can see the seed cases have been slit open.

I also suspect squirrels of being behind falls of beechnuts and acorns that I sometimes see, and I wonder too about the occasional ash or hornbeam seeds on the ground. But I suppose it might just be the strong winds we have had recently - another thing that makes one think of autumn.


Em said...

Somewhere on this site you have written that it is perhaps sterile to spend time identifying birds, plants etc but I don't think so. I think it helps enjoy the rich diversity of what is there and appreciate the differences and variety in nature.

Peter C said...

I am glad you think so, and definitely agree!

ramblinros said...

Thank you for interesting nature blog
Found a new-to-me spring flower on Saturday
Spring Beauty - Claytonia perfoliata syn Montia perfoliata -
the stem is surrounded by a curious cup-shaped leaf
Was walking on the North Downs Way eastwards immediately after the Watts Gallery - very sandy -
up a slight rise and then the plant was on both sides of the descending path
for about the next 100m, and then no more

Peter C said...

Nice observation, ramblinros! I have seen this plant once or twice and I do mention it in April Verge and Field Flowers (….

"Also in the wierd category is spring beauty, a plant of sandy soils which has tiny white flowers in the middle of large round leaves."

…….but it is a rather rare thing to see, so I am glad to hear of your sighting.

PeteB said...

On polling day 7 May I went for a long tramp over the South Downs starting in Lewes and eventually finishing in Eastbourne. At the start of my walk (Book 2 walk 25c Lewes to Glynde) I had just left the golf club car park and started on the path past a water trough where a herd of cattle were drinking and grazing when to my surprise I saw what I am sure was a single red? deer hind grazing with the cattle (it was too large to be a roe or fallow deer). The animal was frightened by my presence and seemed to try to hide among the cattle! I had my camera phone but did not want to start unsettling the cattle and I had a long day ahead so pressed on with my walk. The only deer I have seen before on the South Downs were fallow deer in the flat water meadows. I have never heard of red or sika deer on the South Downs and a web search has revealed nothing. Quite a sighting !

Peter C said...

A very interesting sighting, I agree. Of course, historically red deer were present throughout England but I had always understood that now they only live in places such as Richmond Park. The only other place I have once thought I saw one was in the Lake District. Perhaps you should report this sighting to some relevant association or other. I am not quite sure which. (If it was a butterfly or bird or flower it would be easier to think of suggestions!)

PeteB said...

Did walk 3.20 Sevenoaks to Wesaterham today after bailing out of it early on Sunday because of violent storm. Bluebells already showing well at Ide Hill and should be at their best in 2-3 weeks which seems a bit earlier than usual? Fields still pretty waterlogged in the morning but after lunch at the Cock Inn terrain and woodland trails much drier.

PeteB said...

Did walk 3.20 Sevenoaks to Wesaterham today after bailing out of it early on Sunday because of violent storm. Bluebells already showing well at Ide Hill and should be at their best in 2-3 weeks which seems a bit earlier than usual? Fields still pretty waterlogged in the morning but after lunch at the Cock Inn terrain and woodland trails much drier.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to learn that Yellowhammers have been detected on the walks this summer (considering their numbers have declined rapidly). I saw some on the Pewsey/Avebury walk recently. They were in a quiet country lane, flanked by tall *all important* hedgerows. I haven't seen this species for years. E.

Peter C said...

I have read that their numbers are declining, but I have to say I hear them quite a lot in the south east. They like hedgerows on farmland but are also heard up on the downs. A lovely song so I hope they don't decline further.

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