Tuesday 4 November 2014

To Autumnwatch

"L’automne est un deuxième ressort où chaque feuille est une fleur", ("Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower"), Albert Camus

Just as a (lengthy) aside, I'd just like to place on record my enthusiastic feelings for BBC Two's Autumnwatch

I loved last week's four shows and wished there'd been a lot, lot more. Paying the licence fee suddenly felt more worthwhile.

Indeed, I was so inspired by watching it that I took Chris Packham's advice and got up very early one morning and wandered down Morecambe promenade to its farthest end, where there be birds and plenty of them. Unfortunately, as I'd I got up far too early I couldn't actually see or hear any of them. I found myself stood in the dark listening to the sea and the passing cars with a typical Morecambe breeze battering my face. Not so much as a squawk from any of the thousands upon thousands of birds roosting on the shore directly in front of me. The sun then began rising and the birds began to wake up and move around in the half-light. Unfortunately, I had to go to work at that point and missed all the real drama.

Undeterred, I returned at the far more reasonable time of 9 o'clock on Sunday morning and took my binoculars. It was quite the natural spectacle - stunningly beautiful. Real drama. Success. A happy ending. 

Autumnwatch really did Morecambe Bay proud. The local tourist board could not have done better. 

Morecambe Bay draws more than a quarter of a million birds in autumn, most flying down from the north. These include 54,000 oystercatchers, 12,000 curlews, 1,700 godwits, 29,000 knot (average figures!), plus pink-footed geese, shelducks and redshanks.

The series was broadcast from the RSPB reserve at Leighton Moss, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. This covers 23 sq km and contains the largest reedbed in the north west of England. It has 80 breeding species of birds, 13 mammals (including red deer and otters), up to 500 species of moth and seven species of fish.

There were so many gorgeous shots of Leighton Moss and Morecambe Bay on Autumnwatch that they must have my local patch must have looked like the most beautiful place on earth to those who don't know it - as indeed it is.

Anyhow, here are my 'Nature Notes' from the series. I usually like to polish a piece before publication but that would take hours, so instead here they are, largely still in sketch-like form. Hope you find them interesting. 


Brown rats - An underwater camera caught one diving. Though rats use water to get around they are usually seen swimming at the surface, rarely seen diving. Chris found two previous examples - rats in Italy's River Po diving for molluscs and rats in Canada and the U.S. diving for fish. An example of their adaptability, he said.

Otters - One way to recognise individual European otters is to check their noses. These can be unique because they can be patterned in pink and brown. Some though are just brown. 
Otters were widely loathed in the past. That began to change with two books, Tarka the Otter in 1927 and Ring of Bright Water in 1960, but it was after the 1969 film of the latter that things really began to happen. MPs began a campaign to have otters fully protected, pulling it off in 1978. Scotland waited until 1982 for otters to be fully protected. Since then they've made a strong recovery.
A dog otter's range is huge, averaging some 6o sq km. Female otters cover about half of that.
They have a greater range of food items than any other carnivore in the UK, very opportunistic (even more than foxes).
One dog otter with a bloody nose and a heavily-swollen foot caused concern on Autumnwatch - a very bad limp, toppled over repeatedly. A social media debate on whether the programme should intervene or not followed. Chris made his feelings quite clear: they should try not to intervene.
Chris saw his first ever otter on the River Itchen on Christmas morning!

Ducks - There are two main types of duck - the dabblers and the divers. Dabblers include the mallard, gadwall, shoveler and pintail. They move around the surface stirring up the mud and grabbing little bits of weed. Other dabblers, like teal, can graze on grass. [Head goes underwater, bottom sticks up into the air!] They are mainly after weed. Divers, such as the tufted duck, pochard, and goldeneye, squeeze all their feathers in when they are about to dive so as to get all the air out. They dive for things hidden in the mud - dragonfly larvae, molluscs, young newts, snails, backswimmers, etc. This isn't an artificial distinction. Recent studies have shown that the divers and dabblers are from different co-evolving genetic stock. Tip: Dabblers have bigger wings and can take off vertically from the water whereas the divers has smaller wings (so they can swim along under the water) and have to run along the top of the water to take off. 

Pink-footed geese - Chris and Michaela at Lanes End, Pilling. Rig and offshore wind farm, Stena Line ferry from Belfast sailing by. Dusk. 20,000 birds before them, newly arrived from their breeding grounds in Greenland and Iceland, fidgeting on the mudflats (where they'd roosted overnight), waiting till it's light enough to head for the nearby fields and start drinking freshwater and grazing. Then they all fly over C and M's heads to the fields.  They'll eat stubble, autumn-sown crops, sugar-beet and even potatoes (anything with lots of carbohydrates or nitrogen in). 90% of all pink-footed geese in the world arrive in the UK in autumn - 372,000 of them. 
A record year: 80,000 at Montrose Bay nr Aberdeen, 46,000 at Martin Mere near Southport. They will then fly off down to Norfolk. Why so many? Mild September, very little wind. Then October's Hurricane Gonzalo sent lots of westerlies across the North Atlantic. But it was further westerlies that blew over East Greenland and Iceland that have done the trick, helping the geese. There aren't, however, many migratory birds that come from the West though. Many more come from the East (eg starlings) and they are holding back because of those heavy westerly winds (and the lack of easterlies). 

While, over the past 25-30 years, there's been a 50% decline in farmland birds, pink-footed geese have greatly increased - probably due to our removal of hedgerows (they feel safer in wide-open spaces) and industrialised farming (of things like potatoes).

Red deer - From Minsmere, Suffolk. All good stuff. The General conquers all in the rut.
A Chris Packham fact: The red deer stags of the north (e.g. on Rum) weigh up to 100-125 kg whereas down south, where there's a lot more food for them, they can weigh up to 225 kg. Chris weighs about 80 kg. During the rutting season they put on a lot of weight around their throats - their muscle mass there increases by about 20%. Those muscles help the throat to change shape while they are bellowing. Demonstration: Tube (just under 30 cm long) normal throat length prior to rutting. During rutting they have laryngeal descent, pulling their larynx down into the chests so are to be able to produce a much deeper, more resonant sound. Why? Theory 1: That such sounds travel more widely over open areas. Theory 2: The deeper sound is more attractive to females because it implies that that stag is larger than the others. Michaela said studies show that most human women are attracted to deeper-voiced men and women remember more information if it comes from a man with a deeper voice - "the Barry White effect".
One thing I've never seen before was magpies 'pampering' the deer (during a quiet spell in the rut). The magpies behave like ox-peckers on the African savannah, picking tics out of hard-to-reach places. The deer looked to be rather enjoying the experience.
Less happily, red deer might actually be damaging Leighton Moss. Their browsing is lowering the reedbeds. RSPB using drones - yes drones - to count how many of them there are.

Fish-eaters at Leighton Moss - There are quite a few of those, including goosander (which dive for fish), cormorant, kingfisher. What fish at LM? Perch, eel, pike. And how do the birds get hold of the slippery blighters? Sawbills like the merganser have teeth-like protuberances in their bills, facing backwards. Snake-like, the merganser grabs passing fish and swallows them down.

Starlings - Are anti-depressants entering the starlings' food chain and making them lethargic? 15 million were prescribed in 2012. They are made of particularly stable compounds which break down very slowly. Kate Arnold, researcher, at a sewage treatment works. Microbes and microorganisms from our sewage are fed upon by invertebrates like worms, slugs, larvae. The birds feed on them in turn, especially in winter. The compounds build up in bird tissues - bioaccumulation - and the concentrations of the compounds in the invertebrates they feed on are 25 times higher than those found in the sewage. Kate said that, as birds - especially bird brains - are quite similar to humans in evolutionary terms ie. something that effects human behaviour is also likely to change bird behaviour. The active ingredient is fluoxetine. Kate tested starlings with worms containing such high levels of fluoxetine. Her findings? Birds were much more lethargic. They expel the fluoxetine from their systems in two days, much faster than humans, but being more lethargic could bring consequences. Starling feeding patterns have two peaks - they have a big breakfast and a hearty supper! - but the fluoxetine-birds had no such peaks and troughs, they just snacked throughout the day ie. there's a suppression of appetite. Could starvation result in some birds? Female starlings also had a lowered sex drive. Could there be repercussions for breeding success?
There's been a 51% drop in starling population in last 17 years.
Chris added that other chemicals - analgesics, antibiotics, antineoplastics (used in chemotherapy), hormones, all pass though our bodies and into the food chain.
Prawns have been effected. They are spending more time in light places rather than hiding away, so their predation rate is much higher. Some male fish in U.S. and Canada contain so many hormones they can't ejaculate to fertilise the eggs. A 2004 survey found that a third of English freshwater fish had developed female characteristics because of the contraceptive pill.
The solution? Shorter half-life drugs? Water companies devising a way to get these molecules out of the water (having to "reinvent the wheel")?

Barn owls - Last year was a terrible year for them- no eggs by May, worst breeding season for 50 years. This year has been a fantastic year. Why? It's been a great year for voles. Early spring - nested earlier, bigger broods (14 eggs in some places), lots of birds fledged (6,7,8 at times). Because of long hot summer many have had a second brood.

Ivy bees - There's a new bee on the block. It feeds exclusively on pollen from ivy - hence its name, the holly bee...er, the ivy bee (or, on formal occasions, Colletes hederae). 
Autumnwatch filmed a colony of ivy bees nesting in thousands of tiny burrows in sandy cliffs near Hastings. They do look rather attractive, having stripier abdomens that the bees we're all familiar with but being furrier and more ginger than wasps. They synchonise their life cycle with ivy's autumn flowering - mid-September to early November. The adults, therefore, live for just six weeks. 
The final days of September mark the peak of their mating season. Autumnwatch showed some of that mating, as the males pile onto the irresistible female and form a seething ball of lust which rolls around like randy tumbleweed - a remarkable sight. Eventually all of the males give up, except one - the last man standing clinging on for dear life, so to speak.
Ivy bees are solitary, and each female has her own nest. She collects half a million grains of pollen per trip and stores it for her young. Her larvae spend a year in their pollen-packed nursery. 
They were first seen in the UK on Dorset coast in 2001. Spreading at a rate of some 12.3 mile per year, they have now colonised parts of  the South West, East Anglia, South Wales and Warwickshire. One colony in Cornwall already has a million bees. Even more remarkably, the ivy bee was only discovered as a species in 1993 when it was split from another species in southern Europe.
Why is it here? Our over-generous benefits system perhaps? No, according to Chris Packham, "One of the reasons that they've spread up through Europe and into the UK is, of course, that the climate is becoming milder." [That won't please those who don't believe we are warming and who blame the BBC for promoting the 'warmist' message].

Tawny owls - An owl's eyesight isn't much better than ours but its hearing is about 10 times better than ours. 
Its flight is silent. Why? They don't want to alert their prey and, because they hunt by sound, they don't want to make a noise to disturb their own hearing. How? Martin did an experiment with paper. Waft ordinary white paper, it's noisy when rustled. Cut off the edges of the paper in a serrated pattern though and then waft it, and there's hardly any noise. The former creates a lot of turbulence, the latter creates lots of little vortices. Owl feathers are fringed with myriad tiny fringes which break up the air flow. Starlings, in contrast, don't have such fringes, so so can hear them flying. [Almost silent fans have now been invented based on the owls' feather principle]. 
What do tawny owls eat? Mice, voles, but also - !!! - magpies, rabbits, etc. ie - big stuff! Fancy that, owls predating magpies! Who'd have thought it?
They found 15 owls around Leighton Moss.

Mute swan -  50% of Europe's mute swan population nests in the UK. Why? Well, for hundreds of years swans were protected for the Crown because they were a great treat for banquets. For 500 years or so, very few mute swans could fly because they captured the young swans, cut their wings so that the feathers didn't grow so that they could capture them more easily. Even Darwin was partial to swan and said they tasted like venison with a hint of duck.

Other swans - We have two other swans that migrate to the UK for the winter. 
The larger is the whooper swan, which fly over from Iceland in a single journey of 6-800 miles. Have been recorded flying at 8,000 metres (26,000 ft), picked up on radar. They fly over the sea. 

The smaller one is the Bewick's swan with a yellow mark on its bill. There are 18,000 of them across Europe and 7,000 come to the UK each winter. They breed in the tundra of northern Russia (a short but highly productive summer). They travel some 3,000 miles to the UK - too long for a bird that weights 7-8 kg, so they stop off in Estonia. 
Martin went there with Julia Newth of the WWT, visiting a huge inland lake, Lake Peipsi, where the birds rest and feed, plus the west coast of the country.

Orchards - This was a beautifully-filmed piece by Richard Taylor-Jones. Fruit flies on the apples, woodpeckers eating apples, jays eating apples. The holes the latter leave are taken over by the fruit flies. What's the biggest consumer of apples in the orchard? The larva of the codling moth. Bullfinches, sitting on nettles, delicately plucking away at nettle seeds. "Accidental nature", Richard called it - nature thriving in a place made by humans for humans. 
We were encouraged to celebrate our traditional English orchards.
Orchards are now protected under the UK's biodiversity plan "which is a good thing as we've lost 60% of traditional orchards since the 1950s" (Michaela).
There was then a clip of a badger climbing a tree to get an apple - and then, after a bit of trouble, eating it!

Bearded  tit - No, it wasn't the return of Bill Oddie.
Bearded tits are reedbed specialists. There are insectivores in the summer but change to eating seeds in the winter. They have to eat lots of fine grit to help them do so. [An experiment confirms they do indeed like the fine grit more than medium or course bit of grit. Its results? 3 Coarse, 6 Medium, 22 Fine]. They do it for about nine weeks (from late Sep to early Dec, then they shed it as they don't need it anymore. There are 600 pieces of grit in their stomach during winter. This drops to 38 in Spring, though they are bigger pieces of grit. [Fish, crocs, and alligators, and even some dinosaurs, also use/used grit]. They even grow little plates inside their stomachs. 
Bearded tits are not bearded and aren't tits either. They were thought to be a kind of parrotbill, but recent DNA evidence shows they aren't after all. They're now in a group of their own.

Swallows - Michaela, describing the unpredictability of nature. Swallows ready to migrate to Africa. Flowering turnips in the fields draw in the insects. Reedbeds, a safe roost at night for. This year something extraordinary: Local swallows being joined by thousands of swallows streaming down from the north - a "once in a lifetime" concentration/gathering of swallows, perhaps 30,000) Conditions are right. Swirling swallows, "a seasonal wonder in the wilds of Wales". A few days later, all gone. Reeds quiet once again.
A cold snap in Scandinavia seems to have been the reason. So they came here and aggregated on Anglesey. As you do.

Technical hitch - The third edition of the programme went off air for a quarter of an hour. Chris explained that Leighton Moss is a "remote location" and such things can happen with "remote outside broadcasts". [Leighton Moss isn't remote to me! That said, our reception in this area has never been the best].

Hobby - A Michaela film featuring a big sister and two younger brothers. We see dragonfly being eaten, though they specialise in hunting fast-flying hirundines (swallows, swifts, martins).  They even eats mothst hough.The chicks can be predated by buzzards though. Fascinatingly, a female wood pigeon appears on the nest and wants to mother the hobby chicks ("extraordinary behaviour"). She's probably lost a brood of her own and the maternal instinct remains strong. She feeds the hobby chicks pigeon milk - fat and protein from her crop - not their usual diet, to put it mildly.
There used to be 100 pairs in the UK. Now there are 2,800 of them. That's a conservation success story, says Martin. They arrive in April and leave in September - 6,000-10,000 mile flight to southern Africa, following the swallows.

Hen harrier - Very rare - the female is brown, the male has grey wings with black tips. Autumnwatch wanted to team up with Natural England to monitor them using satellite tags. 4 were tagged. 2 months later two went missing. Just disappeared. No trace. Assumption: Illegal killing. This year only 4 pairs of hen harriers managed to breed across England.

Gannets in West Wales - An upsetting report. Iolo Williams and RSPB volunteers went to a gannetry, island 8 miles off coast. Many nests there made almost entirely of plastic. When the gannets leave it looks like a rubbish tip. The birds see the plastic floating on the surface of sea, think it's seaweed and build it into their nests. Some of it is discarded/lost fishing nets. Young gannets ready to fledge are found tethered to their nests by plastic netting, ropes. They need to be freed. Some have serious injuries. Many die. Iola is clearly upset and angry. (Almost 50 are released that day, some in rather a bad way). Steve from Exeter Uni estimated there's 18,000 kg of plastic on the island. Snag: Gannets use the same nests every year, so if you remove all the plastic chaos could result....
So what's to be  done? Stop producing and discarding plastic. Lots of domestic rubbish, plastic bags, party poppers, found there too. 
"We're all involved in this, and we all need to do our bit to sort it out". Go out and clean your beaches, says Michaela.

Feral pigeons - (sharing the barn with a barn owl). Fascinating stuff from Michaela (in spite of Chris): They breed all year round because they can produce crop milk from their crops. This is very rich in fat and protein,. They feed them that for about 10 days and then add seeds to it. By the time the chicks leave the nests they weigh more than the adults. The only other birds that produce crop milk are flamingos and....at which point Chris stopped her for talking about feral pigeons and imposed a blackout with a piece of card, so I had to look up the other bird because I was curious. That other bird is "some penguins". Fact.

Rodent agility test - A highlight of the week. A competition between a brown rat, wood mouse and vole. The wood mouse was the worthy winner.

Spoonbills - Chris and Martin at Brownsea Island, Dorset. Spoonbills haven't been seen in Britain for more than four centuries. 49 of them at Brownsea. 
Chris: What's the collective name for spoonbills? "A cutlery?" Martin suggested. Surely a 'canteen' would be better? 
Sometimes they pass their bills through the water, holding it open and then when they touch something, maybe a small fish, they'll snap closed. Alternatively, they sift. Their bills contain lamellae (comb-like structures). Presumably, like flamingos, they use their tongue to help pump the water through their bill. Small animals are captured on the lamellae and then transported by the tongue in a soup down into their stomach. 
Martin: "So as the climate warms a bit perhaps we're going to see more and more of these warmer climate birds staying with us?" [Global warming alert! Global warming alert!] Chris: They're not really warmer climate birds. They did breed here up to 300 years ago [I thought they said over 4 centuries earlier?!] They nested in the Thames at that time and were a favourite for Henry VIII's banquets. They used to take them out, cook them and put the skin back on them so it looked like the bird was still alive. ("Don't tell Blumenthal that!" said Chris).

Limestone - "A limestone love-in" with Martin Games-Hughes climbing down a small limestone cliff. 
Limestone is 340 million years old, made up of the bodies of tiny animals living in the sea at the time - a warm, tropical sea as the land that was to become Britain was very close to the tropics then. A cliff of compacted animal bodies. A gorgeous fossil (from over 300 million years) showing plant-like animals, filter-feeders, pulled from Martin's rucksack. "When Professor Brian Cox goes on and on about all those big numbers I get a little bit confused..." Those creatures were called crinoids and evolved some 500 million years ago, some 300 million years before the dinosaurs. Yet they are still with us, "Living fossils", in warm seas. "We human have been around for about 200 million years. We're just Johnny-come-latelies." [He probably meant to say 2 million years, though 200,000 years may be more accurate. A mistake from Martin. Whoops!]. 
Limestone is calcium carbonate. The cliff face is eroding so slowly we can't see it. Rainfall is already slightly acid, picks up more acid from the soil, becomes carbonic acid (a weak acid). The cliff is "slowly dissolving". Limestone formations, water grounding holes, specialised plants and animals in cracks ("grikes"). Over longer times you get caves. It takes about 100,000 years for the water to carve out a cave big enough for us to enter.

Bats - Off to one of those limestone caves, part of one of the largest cave systems in Europe, over 100,000 km-worth, where bats hibernate. Martin with bat expert John Altringham at Link Pot, Cumbria. Plenty of autumn socialising, ie, mating, going on. A 'harp trap' is set up to safely capture and identify bats. 8 out of Britain's 17 bat species come here to swarm in autumn (incl natterers, brants and brown long-eared). Martin impressed by the long-eared bat. Male bats perform acrobatics to impress the females, often chains of 6-7 bats chase the females. 64 km is the record journey a bat has made to this site. They come from Lancashire, Cumbria and Yorkshire. I liked this exchange:
Martin: I can feel the wind from their wings. We're sitting in the middle of a bat love-in.
John: That's one way to put it!
Martin: I was feeling the passion in the air. It's electric!
John: That's the static from the bat detectors.
Martin: John, come on! Where's the romance in you, man?
John: I'm a scientist.
Chris: It really was spectacular, but I'm not sure if you look for 'electric passion' on the internet you're going to find bats to be quite honest with you.  

Brown long-eared bats - Its ears are almost as long as its body. It hangs around listening to what's going on. Its ears are so sensitive it can hear the tiniest sounds - not just the echolocation sounds they produce but also the sounds of insects rustling as they walk across the leaves and across the barks of trees. Their ears are are so big that they do cause a bit of drag and slow the animal down, but they're a slow-moving animal anyway and their advantages more than compensate for their disadvantages.

Moths - Some moths are still flying around. The winter moth even flies when the temperatures are close to zero. Some still around are Merveille du Jour (Griposia aprilina), "marvel of the day"; the Herald (Scoliopteryx libatrix), which hibernates in caves; the Mottled Umber (Erannis defoliaria), "because it's umber and it's mottled" (CP) [Twitter went mad again cos it wasn't a Mottled Umber at all!!!], its females are flightless (little tiny shrunken wings); the December Moth (Poecilocampa populi), very furry, can fly in cold weather. There are 2,500 species of moth in the UK - 800 big ones, most of the others are small and, thus, more difficult to identify. (You have to dissect them and look at their "complex genitalia" under a microscope).

Urban badgers - Ah yes, badgers. Why is this shy animal increasingly living in our cities? Dr Dawn Scott, Uni of Brighton, is now studying the phenomenon.  Precise tracking. Will their social behaviour change? How will their arrival effect hedgehogs? How with they interact with foxes? The last survey of urban badger distribution was in 1984. It found plenty around London, some around Portsmouth and Southampton, Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester and Edinburgh. Autumnwatch is doing a new survey in order to build a new map of the urban badger.

Changing colour of the leaves - Why does it happen? This is worth transcribing (from Chris Packham):
"In the spring and summertime, when the leaves are green, they're a working organ. They're filled full of chlorophyll. That's processing sunlight to generate sugars. Now after autumn, of course, comes the winter when there is no sunlight, so this would be redundant. So what they do is go through a process called "abscission" - and that means that they shed the leaves, but not before they've taken out all the valuable material that they possibly can. And it's this that leads to the spectacular change in colour. The green pigment in the leave, chlorophyll, is broken down at this time of year into colourless compounds. Those allow the yellow pigments that have been there all along to reveal themselves, and these are typically carotenoids. There is another group of pigments that reveal themselves when the leaves turn reddish, and those are anthocyanins. So that's the science of leaf fall and leaf colour change, and when it comes down to it that which excites us most is this compound, one of the anthocyanins - the thing that makes those leaves such a beautiful hue of red. But, you know, sometimes I do think that we tend to murder to dissect. You can kill things to understand them but although I think this science is wonderful we mustn't let it get in the way of our simple appreciation of this phenomenal spectacle - and it can be so inspiring."
William Cullen Bryant — 'Autumn...the year's last, loveliest smile'
American nursery song - Come said the wind to the leaves one day, Come o re the meadows and we will play ... dresses scarlet and gold, For summer is gone and the days grow cold
Lightning Seeds - As leaves pour down, splash autumn on gardens

As colder nights harden, their moonlit delights

Human evolution: Martin Hughes-Games: "Hang on, hang on. Twitter's gone mad. I've got to 'fess up. I had a little pop at Professor Brian Cox, saying about numbers and getting confused, and I said that we'd been around for 200 million years. I meant we've been around for 2 million years. Thank you everyone for putting me right...I'm very sorry. Sorry." 

Brent geese - A lovely film by Sophie Darlington from N Ireland's Strangford Lough. 75% of brent geese come to N Ireland in autumn. They've been breeding in the Canadian Arctic during the summer. They re-stock themselves on eel grass after their arduous journey. 30-40,000 geese. 
"The noise is wonderful. In the morning, just as the light is lifting, you can hear this gentle cronking. And it's not a honking, it's a cronking. It's different. It's more lyrical. It's softer. It undulates across the lough. It's like a group of family hellos. They're so excited to be here."
 CS Lewis was inspired by this place and light to write Narnia, she said. Van Morrison was inspired too.
Chris Packham fact: Pale-bellied brent geese go to N Ireland and NE England. Dark bellies go to the Wash and SE England, and come from Siberia. Might live for 27 years, could fly 135,000 km.

Weather forecast - Record Halloween temperatures. Needed to beat previous records of 20 degrees. Smashed it! - London and Gravesend 24. Even Edinburgh reached 19. Morecambe was 18. Some rare migrant moths have been blown in. Oh dear, northerlies next week and "proper autumn" coming. Nice to end on a cheery note!


    SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness, 
        Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; 
    Conspiring with him how to load and bless 
        With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run; 
    To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees, 
        And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core; 
            To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells 
    With a sweet kernel; to set budding more, 
        And still more, later flowers for the bees, 
        Until they think warm days will never cease, 
            For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

    Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store? 
        Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find 
    Thee sitting careless on a granary floor, 
        Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind; 
    Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep, 
        Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook 
            Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers: 
    And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep 
        Steady thy laden head across a brook; 
        Or by a cyder-press, with patient look, 
            Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

    Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they? 
        Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,— 
    While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day, 
        And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue; 
    Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn 
        Among the river sallows, borne aloft 
            Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies; 
    And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn; 
        Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft 
        The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft; 
           And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

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