A rewarding discovery in the early hours

Purple loosestrife
Purple loosestrife

Do you have problems sleeping or waking up at all hours? We do, and hot humid weather doesn’t help. I get up, make a small cup of tea, and sit by the window. This can prove rewarding, as Michael recently discovered.

Arising at 1.20am what did he see rolling across the lawn? Maybe a discarded dark-grey bag blowing in the wind? No – there wasn’t a breath of wind. It rested – then off it went again. Out with the binoculars, and to his surprise it was a fox! It had caught a juvenile herring gull and was cradling it in his fore-paws and rocking and rolling it in play. The gull was dead and partly eaten, whilst its distraught parents watched from above. At 2.30am the fox leapt a 6ft wall and disappeared.

Michael looked out again at 3.40am – curiosity getting the better of him, and there was the fox carrying the gull’s wings to complete his meal!

Muston’s Scarecrow Festival proved a great success as always, attracting thousands of visitors as the weather improved. This wonderful communal event started in 1999. The money raised is ploughed back into the village, helping finance the village hall, its kitchen, the cricket team, and Muston-in-Bloom.

Being late summer brought an added attraction to the village pond’s water margin. What a regal display of the tall purple loosestrife with its rich, reddish-purple flowers. There are actually three varieties of purple loosestrife, its flowers differing only in the position of the male and female’s stamens and stigma. Yet examine one spike, and all flowers are identical. The stout, erect stems are square in section, and hairy. Surprisingly the juice is rich in tannins and has been used as an alternative to oak bark for tanning leather!

Leaving Muston, we noticed an uninvited visitor in the car. Pulling into the roadside, we opened a window to release our occupant.

It was a moth – a magpie moth, found in the whole of Britain, but the numbers vary considerably from year to year.

It flies from mid-July until mid-August, so look out for it. The colour of the caterpillar is like that of the moth, spotted black, white and yellow, and feeds on currant and gooseberry bushes, blackthorn, garden euonymus or heather.

This hot, dry summer has been the hottest I’ve known rivalling 1976. Despite frequent watering, the dry soil has produced smaller flowers on many shrubs.

Barley and wheat were harvested very early, and combine harvesting is over. Pasture land is so parched that farmers are reporting serious food shortage for sheep and cattle. Some are having to resort to providing them with next winter’s fodder.

Trees are already shedding many of their leaves in an attempt to conserve what water they have. Nature knows best, and adapts to prevailing conditions.