Dabbler Country will be another recurring feature on the site, as our intrepid dabblers - headed by the web's leading nature-noter Nige - venture into the Great Outdoors.
For the debut, Nige on August and swifts...
Every schoolchild knows that August is the best month of the year. Every adult knows that it is one of the worst. Partly this is for the same reason - school holidays are good news for children, but bad news for anyone else wishing to go anywhere, as resorts fill up, prices rise and crowds proliferate. But there are deeper reasons for not liking August, and I'm feeling them rather keenly this year. The best of the summer is over - I'm sorry, but it's true: Summer, the real summer, was in June and July. By August, nature looks tired, faded and tatty (and, after this year's dry summer in the Southeast, dusty and desiccated), the butterflies are past their best while wasps and other noisome insects thrive, the air is stale, the default weather grey and breezy, oppressive if it heats up or chillingly autumnal if it cools down. The days are noticeably shortening and Autumn is clearly coming, but the glories of that season are still a long way off.
Meanwhile we have a kind of hiatus, when fading summer is suspended and nothing much is happening except a slow uninteresting decline. What's worse, this year the swifts seem to have already departed - at least from my neck of the woods, where I haven't seen one since Tuesday. This is always saddening - Gilbert White (who was amazed every year by the speed with which each brood of swifts grew from helplessness to mastery of the air) could hardly bear the departure of his hirundine friends and persuaded himself that many swallows, swifts and martins overwintered in England, hibernating in holes in trees or riverbanks, or even at the bottom of lakes. A pity he wasn't right - it's a cheering thought... As is the prospect of a really glorious autumn, with plenty of mellow sun and a fine show of turning leaves - that will make up for dreary August.