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Culture: Summer makes way for autumn says Olly Clanford

wildlife (4164413)
wildlife (4164413)

Summer feels like it gradually ebbs away as each of our avian migrants depart; for me, the season begins to fade as soon as the screams of the swifts fall silent. They disappear as quickly as they materialise in May – by early August they seem ubiquitous, wheeling dramatically over the roofs of our towns and villages and then suddenly, they’re gone,

towing part of the summer behind them as they venture south.

Some of our visitors are still clinging onto the last vestiges of the sunny season; many swallows and house martins have already left, but those who remain are now gathering, impatiently whirling around above our heads as they await an unseen signal to depart.

But we can’t hang on to summer forever: it is now autumn, the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ . . . or is it? There are actually two dates which mark the start in calendars: one is defined by the earth’s orbit around the sun (‘astronomical’ autumn, this year commencing on September 23 in the northern hemisphere) and the second is a fixed date – September 1 – used by meteorologists to create neat, consistent spacing and lengths of the four seasons (‘meteorological’ autumn).

Semantics are irrelevant to wildlife of course – winter is looming, so many plants, insects and mammals are starting to wind down or shut down completely. Others are busy making their way to us: birds from colder northern areas pour into the UK every autumn to make the most of our mellower winter. Listen out on dark clear evenings for the thin ‘tszeep’ contact call of redwings as they migrate overheard, a true sign that autumn is with us.

Whilst it is easy to lament the passing of summer, autumn is a fascinating season of change and Lackford Lakes nature reserve is an amazing place to experience its beauty. Trees put on their yearly show of colour as they prepare for harder times ahead and fungi start popping up around the trails – look out for the fantastic earth star fungus which can often be seen right next to the trail near Ash Carr.

Striking winter wildfowl, including goldeneye, goosander and shoveler, appear on the lakes and starlings gather in flocks ready for their spectacular autumn and winter murmurations, which can often be witnessed at the reserve.

We are celebrating the season at our Autumn Discovery Day on Sunday, September 30. Head to Lackford from 11am to enjoy free activities for all the family. Grab an autumn spotter sheet and see if you can spot a late butterfly or dragonfly; borrow binoculars to scan the lakes for our returning ducks and geese; or go bug hunting to search for an array of creepy crawlies before they bed in for the winter.

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