Nature Notes

Midsummer Nocturne

In recent weeks, I have found myself going out just before dark, after the children have gone to bed. I can’t go IMG_1434far – just as long as the spooled out ties-that-bind allow, my ears alert to any sounds from the house. The evenings are scented with honeysuckle and I creep about, pausing often, listening with intent. At this late hour (although it is only just past sunset) jill hares and roe does are returning to the secret places in the long grass, where they left their young, hours earlier. They will feed and settle them again before leaving, and will not go far, either. I come across roe on their own, and several little forms or nests where their dappled fawns have lain.

And then bats seem to unfold rapidly from the wood, like a pack of cards flicked into the violet blue, fading-to-orange sunset. Seven or more separate out to circle the sky alongside the belt of trees, looping, performing figure-of-eights and flying as if tethered to some invisible spot, like kites. Bats are very hard to identify – but, their wingspan more than that of my outstretched hand, they are much larger than our two species of pipistrelle. They quarter the air above my head, but it is too dark to discern any detail – they are black paper cut-outs, night swallows too fast for binoculars. Possibly Natterer’s? It is certainly the right habitat for them. Sometimes, they’ll disappear against the bulk of the dark copper beeches, presumably plucking insects from leaves, before springing out, low above the grass, past my naked knees and between the gate posts. I stand in the centre of the field, then, until they are all around me, cartwheeling above my head. I am mesmerised, dizzy with bats. Then there is a rout, when three converge on one moth, to clicker loudly past my face with the sound of flour sifted onto a board.

My legs and feet are wet with dewfall, and at knee-height, against the cow parsley and the blue borage, male ghost swift moths appear and reappear like a trick of the light. Low in the long grass, white as the rising moon, they hover, swinging metronomically, hypnotically, like a sales ticket in the wind. Only it is still – they too seem tied, imperceptibly.

The little owls are calling somewhere in the oaks. And in searching for them, I can see big, cockchafer beetles zooming about among the uppermost branches. A big, melting, cream pot of a moon, watermarked with an indecipherable message, clears the wood and seems to hover there.

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