Wildlife Column: Walking in the woods in late August is indeed interesting

I feel fortunate to live so close to many accessible ‘ancient woods’ and to be able to walk to them in almost any direction and in only a few minutes time.

Thursday, 2nd September 2021, 12:00 am
Updated Friday, 3rd September 2021, 1:35 pm

Nature on the doorstep allows you to get a good feel for the seasons and the inevitable changes throughout the year. A walk in the woods in late August is indeed interesting, especially for its absences. Spring and early summer are dominated by experiences of swathes of bluebells and sweet heady scents, and then later by pungent aroma of garlic-dominated glades. All around, are birds singing and calling to announce territories or to defend them. In the autumn period, the woods are characterised by leaf-mulch, vibrant colours of leaf-fall, and richly-biodiverse shows of fungal fruiting bodies. Winter has the long-distance migrant flocks of Scandinavian thrushes and finches like bramblings, and roving flocks of titmice, or else of siskins and redpolls.

However, August is deathly quiet almost as if a thick, soft blanket has covered the landscape and extinguished all signs of life. The flowers are gone and even the woodland grasses like creeping soft-grass are deciduous and have died back and withered with onslaught of late-summer drought. Some trees are losing their leaves already and the birdsong has ended. A solitary robin makes a half-hearted attempt but even this seems lost in a wave of all-enveloping apathy. An occasional blackbird flies low between dense holly bushes, but otherwise nothing calls and nothing moves. The exception to all this is perhaps the ubiquitous grey squirrels as they scurry across the woodland floor or clamber through the higher tree branches in search of food. Nevertheless, they really are the only signs of life in an otherwise uncannily silent universe of the dark woodland. The period from late July through August and into September has always been known to birdwatchers as a ‘quiet time’ before the excitement of the autumn migration begins. What we do know of the seasons is that they always come around again.

Contact Prof Ian Rotherham, researcher, writer & broadcaster on wildlife & environmental issues, at [email protected] or follow https://ianswalkonthewildside.wordpress.com/ )

Moss Valley Woodland taken by Prof Ian Rotherham.