Monday, 9 August 2010

Introducing Dabbler Country

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.


  1. My Uncle Joe, a dedicated gardener and close observer of nature, used to describe July as a 'blowsy' month. I thought this was spot on but never wondered what this implied about August. Perhaps 'raddled'?

  2. August joins February and possibly March as my least favourite months of the year. In England, photographically, January and July can be a bit tricky too.


  3. The wife, and here I have to admit that, play her off against the met office and it's no contest, has a theory, a big one. Autumn now starts during the second week in July. bearing in mind the following, we are nearly 300 miles closer to the polar bears than you lot, we are ruled by the SNP, its Edinburgh Festival time.
    This leads to some anomalies that would crack even Oddies countenance, the cuckoos have buggered off, the geese are giving vee signs (I exaggerate) and the flycatchers are desperately trying to get out of their contracts. The heather seems to turn purple as the schools break up and the raspberries are ready for picking the week after lent.
    I sneakily suspect that she may be right. However as the current score for big theories, 2010 stands at wife 3, self 1 her theory will be disallowed.

  4. Hmmn, this is rather a metropolitan take on things. Yes, the zingy freshness of early summer is long gone; and there is a rather stuffy feeling of hiatus in the air as birds prepare to take their leave and flowers wither and brown. But out in the countryside ... another world is ready, a wonderful picture of ochre, brown, biscuit, yellow and gold dotted with greens as the harvest comes in. Market stalls are groaning with summer fruits and vegetables. There is still plenty of time for long, lazy picnics. So many people are away enjoying two weeks of stomach upsets, abusive waiters and sunstroke that London is easier for the visitor now and there are plenty of good exhibitions to see. I've always found August a rich and sensuous month, even if only for the pleasures of raddledom and tatfulness. I'll pass on February, that really is a gruesome time.

  5. Yes, I've always found August to be the saddest month: with most English summers, there's that sense of something starting to slip away before it's really quite arrived. Get to a certain age, of course, and the wider suggestions of that become quite melancholy, and not in any cherishable way.

    I read something saying that autumn would be late this year, but it doesn't feel that way here in Bucks: the grass is pale straw, the chestnut trees are rusting up, and the rowans are in full garish technicolour. Saturday, a great wedge of geese went over, honking in their doleful way.

  6. This is so beautifully written and I couldn't possibly be so eloquent in agreeing that August is an odd month - not so much a let down as a continuation of our disappointment. Our curiously British climate never fails to let us down - it's generally either too hot, or too wet, or too snowy. Too cold I haven't heard in a long time. But plants die down (very messily), and birds fly off, and nights draw in every year - so long as they all come back again, at least we've something to look forward to.

  7. I remarked on the absence of swifts to my dad while I was visiting these last couple of days. Their glee always lift my spirits.