Country Diary: A nip in the air as autumn approaches

Crane fly or daddy long legs are now tapping on windows.
Crane fly or daddy long legs are now tapping on windows.

I need no reminder that mid-September marks my birthday. The signs are there in the countryside! A nip in the air, and low, dazzling sunlight on early morning trots with Tigga. Leaf litter and erupting fungi; autumn tints and aromas; the harvest spider’s arrival, and the haunting call of geese flying in ‘V’ formation overhead mean it’s goodbye to summer!

We needed the heavy rain, but slugs and snails are seldom welcome visitors. How do you dispose of them? Please don’t use slug pellets. Instead, take a tip from someone I know, who collects them from the garden and transports them to the moors!

Another pest may be leather-jackets, the larvae of the crane fly, or daddy long legs. They may be abundant in grassland, and can be a serious agricultural pest. Feeding on roots and lower stems of a wide variety of plants they do considerable damage. Thankfully, they’re relished by rooks and other birds. The tap-tapping on your window may be the long-legged crane flies that have emerged. About 25 years ago, thousands erupted from our rear lawn, and a local field. I had a Yorkie puppy named Brett, and he delighted in catching them mid-air, and eating them!

Now’s the time to discover the weird and wonderful forms of fungi – especially the edible ones. On September 1, I was delighted to observe a quantity of large field mushrooms on a grassy roadside embankment. By September 3, I’d cooked them along with small pieces of marrow simmered in milk with a knob of butter and very little seasoning. Gorgeous! They accompanied scrambled egg too, and took just a few minutes to cook. Enjoy nature’s natural flavours. Why drown them in sauces, spices and wine?

This year we’ve noted an unprecedented number of the speckled wood butterfly – a lover of woodland shade. However, one was on our wall trellis, and I later caught one in the hot greenhouse, and released it outdoors. They must be from second broods which do appear in late summer.

Our friend Margaret was thrilled to have had a small blue butterfly in her garden. What was it? Having had no personal sighting, I suggested it may be the holly blue. It’s the only blue butterfly at all frequent in woods and gardens. Its caterpillars feed on the flower buds of holly, and later the autumn larvae feed on ivy buds.

Meanwhile, the solitary mason wasp in our greenhouse now has a ‘nest’ 10cm in length. It was seen entering it at the bottom, before finally sealing it up. No doubt it has laid an egg inside, and then stocked it with very tiny caterpillars. This ensures that when the egg hatches into a larva, it will have a good supply of food close by! Insects are so amazing.