Friday, 12 October 2012

Autumn morning

The edge of the wood is bathed in sunshine and I can feel the warmth of the sun’s rays on my face as I emerge from the shadow. At the same time there is just enough of a chill in the breeze to underline that this is autumn, not summer, the strength of the sun’s warmth diminished as we tilt away from her reach. The breeze also carries with it the sweet smell of a bonfire, seemingly out of sight behind the shoulder of land that separates this little valley from the larger one beyond. It is a fine morning to be out and enjoying the clarity of light that autumn always seems to deliver.

It is too early in the day for the local buzzards to be abroad but other birds are much in evidence. A jay, I think it is just the one individual, is transporting acorns across the valley, preparing stores for the months ahead. Up to nine acorns may be carried by the bird during a single flight, the bird having a specially enlarged oesophagus and a liberal supply of saliva, both of which aid transportation. Autumn acorns are also taken by woodpigeons and rooks, so it pays the jay to hide those it can find away from the prying eyes of others. The jay’s store will be tapped throughout the winter, often beginning within a few days of the unhidden supplies being exhausted, and it is amazing to watch the way a jay can pinpoint one of its cached acorns with such ease.

Turning south, I skirt the edge of the wood before tacking left down the slope to the gate at the bottom of the field. My arrival at this gateway into another field sends a scatter of rabbits to their burrows and prompts the noisy flight of a pheasant that had been tucked in close by. With the smell of the bonfire still lingering in my nostrils I can just about pick up the scent of a fox, perhaps an individual that passed this point overnight or just as the dawn was breaking. I wonder if it had been stalking voles in the thick grass that dominates this piece of rough pasture. Deer slots show that the fox was not the only large mammal to have passed this way. One or more roe deer have worked this edge since yesterday’s heavy rain.

The hedgerow still has plenty of green colour, strewn with the dew-sodden webs of many hundreds of spiders and echoing to the wistful notes of a robin. A distant tractor hints that this is a working landscape and that I don’t have it all to myself. It is time to head home.

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