Summer Growth

Orchids in the long grass
Orchids in the long grass

With the weight of work over the past fortnight, the Chayne has taken a back seat and I have been forced to miss much of the interest of midsummer.

I headed up yesterday morning for a wander over the hill, slowing the car on the final approach to watch a feisty young roe buck standing up to his chin in a stand of bracken. He blinked twice, then bounced his red, humping back away into the rising bracken, which has swelled and expanded beyond all recognition since my last visit. The fiddle ends are still folded into tight yellow balls, but the lower fronds seem to thicken and broaden with every passing day. Drifts of ragged robin and buttercups foamed into the verges all along the glen road, then tiny clouds of pink valerian reared up above the simmering meadowsweet, which is still packed into tight green bundles. After weeks of holding back, the irises have burst into life like damp origami; yellow bursts of colour over the sombre vertical leaves.

It was disappointing to see how poorly the insect-eating birds have fared this year, and in a two hour visit, I saw a single wagtail chick and just one young wheatear. I can’t helping comparing this with last year, when the tarmac road was littered with young birds; broods of wagtails came together to form little flocks of thirty and forty, marshalled by the adults in the evening sun. The long, cold spring has held back the beasties, and many of the wheatears seem to have abandoned all hope of breeding. I sat down in the long grass to watch three adult female wheatears foraging together, all moulting into crumbly anonymity; white flakes of breeding plumage lying unattractively over their duller, fresher feathers.

The hill has become home to a million lanky, flowering thistles to form a black-stemmed jungle of purple fuzz. Four mature oystercatchers stood together without issue by the freshly-clipped sheep, and a dozen barrel-bellied cows lounged in the hayfield below the house where there would usually be all kinds of life among the rabbits. The lambs have come on until they are hook-horned and sassy amongst  their mothers, and the tups lay farting in the buttercups as I passed their paddock by the buchts. Their massive horns dipped as they snoozed, nodding their wrinkled noses down into the grass in the warm air. With their fleeces off, they are strangely skinny and small, and they nurse their fond memories of autumn adventures with the ewes as the summer rumbles slowly past.

I went around the back hill to explore one of my new plantations and found it thick with foxgloves and a warm, dry haze of seeding redshank. I followed the path in the grass where a roe had wandered and came at length to the flattened bed where it had lain up in the deep vegetation; a more comfortable, aromatic corner it could hardly have found on the entire farm. There were orchids and still more ragged robin amongst the seedheads, although the quantity of cuckoo spit is almost nothing on last year, when gobbets were found on almost every viable leaf. Further up the hill, the rosebay willow herb is running rampant three years after I felled the spruce trees which used to shade it out, and pigeons clattered out from the remaining pines which still stand darkly on the horizon like a row of houses.

A huge carnival of rooks has been stravaiging across the glen for the past three weeks, serving their mewling young with beakfuls of dark, ambiguous matter. I trapped out the rooks a few years ago, and for several seasons there were none in the glen, but now they appear in June when the youngsters are strong enough to fly and set up their gypsy camps in a stand of isolated ash trees by a ruined shed. I don’t know where these birds breed, but it’s interesting that they should cast off their association with the rookery and become vagrants as soon as the wobbling, scowling chicks are strong enough to travel.


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