Thursday, 23 August 2012

Simple things...

It's been pretty poor for most things in Britain this year, with perhaps the honourable exceptions of molluscs and bryophytes. Not a lot of consolation though. We went out for a walk today; a round route at Mansands, near Brixham. We left home in steady rain, sufficient to ensure that today's batch of nappies would 'dry' in two batches - one lot indoors and one lot under the scaffolding - and with a cloud-base low enough to obscure the tops of the hills surrounding Bovey. By the time we got to Mansands the rain had reduced to drizzle, and the cloud-base was down on our heads - the only brightness coming from the lemon and gold spires of Toadflax in the hedges. Encouragingly, shafts of sunlight soon gleamed through the fog on our way down the track, which is treacherously slippery in the wet. We started to see some immediate responses from the wildlife: hoverflies appeared at the powder-puff heads of Hemp-agrimony in the hedge, clouds of tiny midges emerged to jostle for position over our heads and a couple of bedraggled-looking Gatekeeper butterflies burst from the sodden vegetation like tiny erratic gingersnaps batting through the air.

Hoverfly on Hemp-agrimony.

By the time we got down to the hide overlooking the wetland, the fog was beginning to burn off, in fact sufficient to see a handful of Mallards upending, a couple of young Coot and Moorhens doing their best to con their parents into feeding them - and several sleek blue-and-green Emperor dragonflies patrolling the water. The wetland is a Hendrix-like haze of Purple Loosestrife at this time of year, though it's not particularly photogenic in the swirling fog! We carried on to the coast-path, turning south towards Scabbacombe, trudging up a steep incline in what was raidly turning into tropical conditions: humidity rapidly closing in on 100%, temperature somewhere in the mid-20s and whether carrying baby or rucksack, the body's response was an immediate muck-sweat...

We soon gained the plateau and paused for breath amidst swirls of cloud and flashes of sunshine, the excited peeps and trills of a pair of Oystercatchers echoing up the cliffs from the rocky beach below. More butterflies joined us: Meadow Browns, subtle brown-and-orange, Green-veined Whites like scraps of paper fluttering across the grassland and a single Common Blue, mimicking the blue of the sea. The sea was beginning to emerge from the murk: tatters and shreds of fog blowing up past us anc coalescing around the higher ground, leaving a flat-calm, azure blue sea behind. In the distance a long grey bank of fog obscured the view north and east towards Dorset, whilst Berry Head and Scabbacombe Head floated in and out of view as the fog drifted, all accompanied by the mournful wail of the foghorn on Berry Head.

Scabbacombe Head emerging through shreds of fog

One sheep looking startled, the rest of them looking for food.

We strolled on steadily towards Scabbacombe beach, where we stopped to eat, relax, paddle and admire a small flock of Manx Shearwaters heading south, just inside the fog-line - which by this time was rolling back towards the land. Eventually, however, it was time to tackle the hill to Scabbacombe Head. We crossed the stream - hedged with Purple Loosestrife and Hemp-agrimony, resounding with hoverflies and bees - and slogged our way up to the top of the hill. Turning inland we began to leave the fog behind, but before we'd left it's grasp, we were startled to see a small wader on the gravel track in front of us. Despite all hopes to the contrary it proved to be a juvenile Dunlin, but was one of those birds which is remarkably confiding: it pottered along in front of us, then turned back and tentatively approached almost to touching distance. Eventually, after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, it decided we were alarming enough to warrant flight and promptly flipped over the hedge to the neighbouring field. Presumably on its way south towards West Africa and bamboozled by the conditions into landing for a while in an apparently unsuitable area - lets hope it makes the journey successfully.

Lost and perhaps a little confused: Dunlin

For no particular reason other than I quite like the image - and it's a tough life being a limpet.

And again, for no particular reason except that it's a new species for the garden: Oak Bush-cricket.