That feeling of the strength of the summer imperceptibly starting to wane comes stealthily every year through the back door of long late summer days.
First it is the subtle arrival of an earlier sunset from Mid August. August is for me more a moment of changing seasons than a main fixture in the school holiday rota. For many and I count myself amongst them the first week in August is akin to the warmest and longest of summer days, yet, by its end August feels decidedly autumnal, cool evenings, a creeping damp air and much shorter days. I've just looked up some facts to near where I live. On the 1st of August there was 15 hours and 19 minutes of day length, and of course much longer twilight. The sun rose at 05.37 and set at 20.57. As someone who spends time outdoors I can remember only a few weeks ago looking at the sun setting over Wales at 9pm. By the end of the month, there will be just 13 hours and 33 minutes of day length, close to a 2 hour difference. By then the sun will set before 8pm and not rise until 6.30am.
Why am I saying this? Well today was the first morning I have risen and it was dark enough to need a light. Admittedly it was a cloudy start to the day, but not until near 6am did it feel as though the day had begun. I know this as I was sat in the garden. Unable to get back to sleep, I made myself a cup of tea and headed onto the patio. Time, 5.30. All was still without. Overnight we had had heavy rain and through the gloom jewels of rain were across many of the leaves and flowers hard by. There was a glorious earthy aroma around me, mixed with wood smoke, from where I know not. Most noticeably however was the absolute lack of wind. It has been like this for a couple of days. Nothing stirred either, it was as if all sound had been switched off by some unseen hand.
Not long however the call of a wren erupted from the undergrowth closely followed by a robin. The robin I'm used to who has been calling his territorial scone for about a week now, a song that will continue into mid-winter. The difference in August however is that just a few minutes later the soft chittering of house martins was overhead and mixed beautifully with the robin song. At first I could not see where this was coming from, but then high high up in the sky a half dozen dark spots zig zagged around the sky in crazy circles. The day was waking.
The time around dawn is possibly the best time to be outdoors. From a near silent landscape, no matter the season, the landscapes offers subtle changes in sound and motion minute by minute as dawn breaks. Today was no exception as by 6.30 I'd been privileged to be under the flightpath of around 100 jak-a-jack jackdaws off to forage somewhere to the south, herring gulls coming inland from their roost to the west, and alongside a few other species such as blue and great tit, the comic circus of house sparrows cascading out of the eves and creating both a deafening din and a cartwheeling mass of brown splodges across the garden. I love these birds which have chosen to live alongside us in the roof space. Regularly we have 50 by the feeders and today it was no exception. They were everywhere and as I have often observed the males were gently feeding juveniles, who with gaping mouth and shimmering wings were attended most dutifully by dad with a soft morsel of worm, bug or grain.
I've been to many locations around Britain looking at wildlife but an hour or so in the garden matches many a trip to far flung areas. Despite the lack of sun drenched warmth there was still a feeling of summer joy listening to the martin’s overhead, but the autumn season was much in evidence, waiting in the wings. Aside from that scent of earth, the hedge behind the garden is now covered in red berries. Above my head a few gnats jostled for space but other than a single buff tailed bumblebee no other insects came into view. Turning a little too cold in the morning maybe and many will have finished their sexual phase thus larva are hidden from view awaiting their entrance in the years to come. I don’t mind autumn creeping through the back door, but as the day length shortens, I shall miss the long summer nights with screaming swifts around the house, those screams ended on July 23rd this year. May the 4th and they’ll be back.