Friday, 19 October 2018

Fauna feeding

LOOK up! If you are stuck in that traffic in Henley, look for the swifts nesting

LOOK up! If you are stuck in that traffic in Henley, look for the swifts nesting under the eaves in Reading Road, between Station Road and Friday Street.

When you come out of the cinema, restaurant or theatre at night, look up! There may be a small band of screamers still touting for partners but a huge cloud of swifts is hawking for flies much higher up, depending on the humidity.

Why should they fly so far when they could nest in France a month earlier? Because it is still light here and they have longer insect-filled days to feed themselves and their young.

Driving our country lanes has become an exploration into a tropical jungle with nettles and cow parsley flopping over the tracks, frothy white elderflower, blackberry tendrils and spiky dog roses reaching out to snag you.

There are many different varieties of wild rose but the name dog rose comes from the constellation Canis Major, prominent in the night sky when they flower.

Take [very cautiously] the tiny unmarked lane to the left at the end of Middle Assendon and follow it to the muddy end at Bix Bottom, where you will find a nature reserve full of slugs in every size and hue, from creamy white with a delicate orange foot to shiny black, probably all arion ater, the black slug which crawls out on to the paths in wet weather.

Their colour varies according to their diet — omnivorous it says in the book but chiefly faeces, so be grateful to them for without slugs we would be in a pile of ....

White-lipped hedge snails are about as well. With no two shells exactly alike, five or so bands decorating a white, cream or yellow background, they will be sliming up the vegetation to reach the tenderest leaves at the top.

Out in the open on the rides there is a profusion of wild flowers and butterflies when it is not raining.

The upright yellow toadflax competes with horseshoe vetch (or is it meadow vetchling?) to set off the incomparable pyramidal orchids which are the glory of our chalky hills.

Check under bushes, too, where their shapes and shades of purple vary, but do not touch!

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