While I’ve been caught up in the throes of more shooting, stalking and Heather Trust advisory visits, autumn has suddenly come looming into the foreground. It’s cold at night, and the thick dew at first light has a deep, smarting chill to it. The stove has been burning, and the house is remembering the smell of peat smoke. Outside, the larches are turning and the blaeberry is more red than green – a change which seems to have taken place over the course of hours rather than days.
I took the chance to join a friend sailing on the Solway last night, finding hoards of dunlin and redshank on the merse beside the yellowing samphire. It won’t be long before these slimy strands are packed with wigeon, and the mass of curlews gave the cold evening a winter’s cast against the silhouette of Screel. Afterwards, we stood in the yard on the last spark of light and a bat coursed past overhead with half a dozen idle swallows mobbing and coursing on behind it.
The swallows are extremely boisterous, and they give over much of their time to mobbing and attacking passers-by. I’ve seen them hurling themselves at sparrowhawks over the last few days, swirling around in great clouds and taking turns to ping down like pinballs. The last of their chicks are still in their nests, and they will have to go at it if they intend to make it South in a few weeks. Wheatears are already trickling out of our hands, discreetly decked out in autumn clobber.
But even as the blackbirds raid the first of the rowans and the robins “tit” in the gloaming, my wife and I found a fine, lusty old lizard in the garden yesterday afternoon as the heat shimmered off the stones. He was hunting bluebottles, and he darted after each one in turn as they landed on the chunk of granite by the burn. A summer beast making the best of these last few dog days.