A visit to Waldridge Fell and Daisy Hill right now tells you that autumn is approaching, the acorns are ripening and the dog days of summer are over. What an odd expression that is – until you know that its origin dates back to the Greeks and Romans and is connected to the rising of Sirius (the dog star). Sirius appears just before sunrise in July and the days that follow it through until early August, when temperatures and humidity in the northern hemisphere are generally at their peak, were known as the dog days.
And what a strange summer it has been with extremes of heat and rain in equal measure – as different as you can imagine from the drought conditions we experienced in 2018. The ponds on Daisy Hill are still lush and buzzing with dragonflies as we go into September – in contrast to this time last year when they were craters of cracked, dried mud. The grass and vegetation is also thick and abundant (to the point of being impenetrable in places) and the Exmoor ponies are looking very fat and content. They have a lot more eating to do yet though, but in the winter they usually get help from some Highland cattle. The changing climate is presenting a lot of challenges to our wildlife, let’s hope it can adapt.
The meadows are looking quite brown and gone over now, but signs of summer cling on. There are still wildflowers in evidence like scabious, harebells and hawkbits, butterflies will be on the wing for a few more weeks (if the weather stays warm anyway), the tiny Small Copper is one of my favourites and always a pleasure to see – and while some summer migrants like the swift and cuckoo are long gone, the willow warblers and swallows are still here.
The changes in colour and atmosphere that take place at this time of year are always keenly anticipated. Crisp, misty mornings with dew-laden cobwebs draped over gorse bushes and soft golden light are just over the horizon. Watch this space for the next instalment!
By Vivien Kent