Wildlife seem to enjoy the sun as much as humans

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The few lovely days that we had last week were an unexpected treat, and all the wildlife seemed to be out enjoying it as much as the human population.

During the sunshine, the bird bath was a busy place, a queue of larger birds waiting to bathe; blackbirds, wood pigeons and one woodpecker took turns spraying fans of sparkling droplets into the air as they revelled in their bathing, before sprawling out on the lawn, eyes closed, wings raised, as they let the heat of the sun in among their plumage. They showed all signs of sheer bliss. I spent a lot of time refilling the bird bath.

Many of the smaller birds also used it, but mainly for drinking, nervously, alternately sipping and keeping an eye out for predators. They might well have been a bit on edge as the sparrowhawk has been about quite a lot recently.

The sparrows seem to like to indulge in dust baths rather than the wet variety and in a couple of places in the garden where the soil is very dry they fluff up their feathers and roll around, fluttering to create mini dust storms. They then fly up onto the fence or the branches of the apple tree or into the tangle of honeysuckle growing over the arch and give themselves are really good shakedown, fine dust drifting down in the rays of the sunshine as they do so.

Early one morning when I was watching them among the honeysuckle the sunlight behind them, I noticed just how many small insects were buzzing around the honeysuckle blooms- highlighted by the sun. There were dozens of them, each one a little flying speck of light and a perfect protein packed little snack for many of the small birds. The blue, coal and great tits were taking full advantage of this bounty as were a wren and a couple of young robins, their russety red chests just starting to emerge through their speckly fronts. A bit later on when |I was out in the garden, I went over to have a look at the honeysuckle and every highly scented, tubular bloom was full of little black flies and tiny beetles. There were also many spiders’ webs among the network of branches and I presume that the wren was seeking them out, picking them off with its fine, precise beak.

If you have been out and about, you will notice that the swallows are starting to gather in large groups and are frantically feeding, preparing for their migration. There is an excitement in their twitterings and flying that is almost palpable. Every year, I hope that I will see the actual moment of departure of some of our local swallows. I would love to know the answer to so many questions. Do they all fly off suddenly en masse at some secret signal, or do they drift away a few at a time? What time of day do they go? No doubt I could read up about it and find out the information, but I would like to see it for myself with my own local birds. All I know is that one day they are all there whizzing about, feeding like mad, perching together on wires and trees and then the next they are gone.

I think that we may be heading for an early autumn this year. The trees are already changing colour. I noticed that the chestnuts in particular are well coloured. In Dunecht, the line of them growing alongside the road is almost totally orange and golden. Many of the other trees are also showing large patches of autumnal tints. It was an early Spring, with the trees coming into bloom and opening out very quickly in the mild weather we had in March and April, so perhaps that is what is causing this - everything has its price.

Flocks of small finches, buntings, yellowhammers and sparrows are already grouping together in the countryside, taking advantage of spillage from the harvesting of grain and rape. I watched a couple of huge mixed flocks feeding in a filed where the rape was still being combined. They were skittish, constantly rising and falling in clouds as they moved across the field.

Near the active combine harvester, a male kestrel perched on top of a telegraph pole, no doubt looking for any easy meal in the form of small mammals that the combine would disturb. I have seen buzzards doing exactly the same and owls too when the combine was working through the night. If you are a wild creature, particularly a predator, I suppose that you have to learn to be opportunistic to survive.

This time of year is the silly season for pheasants, with young, newly released birds wandering over the fields and roads totally unaware of the danger and with a vacant, slightly confused expression I always imagine them thinking ‘OK, where’s the guy with the food?’ Just to prove that they really don¹t improve much intelligence wise as they get older, I have to tell you about an incidence last week at a garden centre near Stirling. My husband was in having some lunch; it was a warm day and the French windows were open. An adult male pheasant strolled in through the windows, but once inside, with all the people and noise, he had second thoughts and, as pheasants have a tendency to do, he panicked and started to run and flap all over the restaurant. The scene that ensued with staff and a few customers trying to chivvy this hysterical bird back out of the French windows was like something out of a Laurel and Hardy film. My husband said that it took them quite a while, by which time the pheasant was practically delirious and ran at great speed off through the garden centre, looking, for all the world, like Roadrunner in a cartoon.

In September, with all its lovely autumnal colours in the leaves, berries and plants, any sunny, mild days that we have should be seen as precious gifts and taken full advantage of. There is an old country wish ‘September blow soft Œtil the fruits in the loft.’ Lets hope we have plenty of soft September days to enjoy in the next few weeks.

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