Nature Notes

Spider and Quail  

If autumn has come early, it is a bountiful one; the blackberries thick and sweet on the brambles, sloes bunched like pieces of sky and rich umbrellas of elderberries drip like wine. Reaching out for a blackberry, a rosebriar catches my sleeve and for a moment, I am held. But as I twist to disentangle myself, among bright rosehips there is the most beautiful rose bedeugar gall, a Robin (Goodfellow’s) pincushion on the stem, a ruby-and-gold fireball of mossy filaments, like the birth of a star. Inside, the larvae of the gall wasp that caused it will be growing.

Indoors, the house spiders have caught me out, emerging several weeks earlier than usual. Indoors I am jumpy. I catch one on the wall under a pint glass chosen for its thick, wavy glass, to help hide what it has imprisoned. Similarly, the postcard I’ve slid under it is a dark coloured one. I do all this without looking directly at the spider, every nerve tingling and poised for flight. It patters its feet on the card and I can take it no further: it remains in its glass dome overnight, until my husband comes home to free it outside.

Outdoors, there can be no house spiders, and a wonderful sense of calm floods my veins. It is quiet and still and there is not a breath of wind, even on the hill. The sky is a soft September mauve. Most of the summer’s wild flowers are over, but there are still blue field scabious, toadflax and in the short grass, delicate harebells.

And quietly, our migrant birds are leaving us, without the fanfare of their arrival. Redstart and wheatear have been stopping off here. One night, four nightjars were seen hawking moths along the conservation headland below. In the evening I walk with my daughters along the edge of the hill among the thistle ‘fairies’. We catch them and blow them off the top with a kiss (and a wish), but with no wind they just rise in slow, cartwheels far above the dust from the combine harvester.

A covey of French partridge explode from the grass ahead, but with them, on longer, whirring wings are two or three much smaller birds; partridge-like but skylark sized. Quail! I’d hoped, but not expected to see these tricky, rare and mysterious birds that appear here for a few days each September. They are quickly back down in the grass, and I don’t want to disturb them further. But in the stillness, I hear just once, a quail’s three-note, distinctive call, ‘wet my lips’. A cranefly brushes my cheek with the seductive softness of thistledown. But it’s way past the children’s bedtime. I must brave the house again.

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