Monday, 8 September 2014

A hint of autumn

There is a slight chill to the air this morning and already the rank grass by the river is turning brown, signs perhaps that summer is nearing her end. The grass, no longer plump and green with life, looks scruffy, with flowering stalks bent at sharp-angled kinks that bear testament to the lack of life within. The sward itself still reverberates with the sound of a maturing insect community, as bush-crickets reel and grasshoppers chirp.

Rising above the knee-high grasses stand the even taller spires of goldenrod; not the native Solidago virgaurea but the introduced Canadian goldenrod Solidago canadensis, which was first recorded in the wild in 1888 and which has since become widespread. Our native species is now a scarce plant in Norfolk, restricted to a number of moist grassland and woodland edge sites, while its introduced cousin runs rampant on disturbed ground and roadside verge. Like many other established non-natives, Canadian goldenrod is a plant that has successfully jumped the garden wall. Late flowering, it adds some colour to a palette that is shifting from fecund blues and greens towards dry browns and harvest golds. Small flies, evident on the golden yellow flower heads, suggest that the plant may at least be providing some nectar for late season insects.

Many of the grasshoppers and crickets share the colour palette of the changing sward. Each is well camouflaged and it takes a careful eye to pick the grasshoppers out from the stems on which they are perched. Here and there are the larger forms of roesel’s bush-cricket, their tough exoskeletons deeply polished with rich browns and a swipe of cream that edges the side of the pronotum. Despite their camouflage, these engaging insects remain wary, quick to halt their song when you approach and quicker still to dive deeper into the sward when you lean in for a closer look.

I always look forward to seeing and hearing these grasshoppers and crickets, creatures whose nymphs I have encountered throughout the summer now in their adult form and performing a last serenade to the long days of summer. There is something poignant in this marking of the changing seasons and it seems fitting that it is they, rather than singing birds, that proclaim this change.

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