August is with us and it is a time when birds become harder to find with many starting to moult and hide away skulking in the hedgerows. Now you need to get up with the lark for the best chance to catch up with our feathered friends as they are more active at the break of day. This week I took a number of young assistants for a camp out on Beckhithe Meadow to make the most of the dawn activity as well as the nocturnal stuff. Our first surprise was no however a bird but a very striking spider.
The wasp spider is a relative newcomer to the UK and is spreading slowly North but predominantly found in the South of the country. Male wasp spiders are smaller than this female and have to tread carefully around their mate choosing only to mate when she is emerging into adult form and her fangs are hopefully too soft to eat him. After the spider we sat down to campfire and marshmallows with an evening serenade of tawny owls and little owls.
In the morning the local birds were all active moving from tree to tree and around the meadow as they found their breakfast. The most common bird was not the expected Village classic the woodpigeon but the Goldfinch with a charm of 30 flitting around the meadow and feeding on thistle down. Other finches were well represented with linnets and bullfinches although the latter stayed out of sight most of the time.
Some of the summer visitors were on show with families of whitethroats and calling chiffchaff amongst the trees. In one of the large oaks a robin sang and a songthrush sunbathed. Flocks of blue, great and long-tailed tits foraged and a great spotted woodpecker flew in to the tree tops and also foraged with them appearing not to be a threat to them now they are all mobile and grown up.
As well as some morning meadow watching I have also carried out this months WEBS surveys locally and the highlights have been close up views of hunting kingfishers but the images of those will be mine alone as I hadnt taken the camera. I had hoped pehaps to see a passage wader or two but only a single common sandpiper showed itself. in fact there was very little to show at all with no ducks or geese other than a couple of sleeping Egyptian geese.
With the many birds missing (although I did later find 180 missing lapwing on some local fields) I thought I would try my hand at Identifying some flowers which are much easier to see in August. My ID’s are beginners so if they are wrong let me know and I can get them right next time.
Arguably the prettiest little flower was what I believe is herb Robert used traditionally to treat headaches, nosebleeds and as a tonic for a stomach upset as well as an antiseptic and a mosquito repellent.
This delicate stem of flowers if I have correctly ID’d is agrimony a herb apparently ideal for healing musket wounds and warding of witchcraft. Perhaps its most useful folklore property is that if placed under the pillow of a sleeping person they will not wake up until it is removed. Worth remembering for new parents I imagine.
My final offering of the post is knapweed which is a very robust yet attractive flower with a variety of medicinal uses including assisting with bruises, sores, scabs and sore throats. According to folklore a woman could also place it in her blouse and use it to detect the man of her dreams when its petals opened. Moral for August is if you fail to see the birds, have a look and see what else is lurking that may do you some good.