Summer in Maryland was apparently a temperate, rainy affair this year. On our recent trip we saw the evidence of this everywhere we went. The Great American Lawn was resplendently lush and green, weedy vegetation was rampant, wildflowers were plentiful. A wetter than average summer in Britain can be bad news for insects since the average summer is wet enough to begin with.
In the often very hot and very sticky mid-Atlantic USA, rain is clearly a boon, keeping vegetation from drying out – which ensures a good supply of food for insect herbivores (and by extension their predators) right through the season. Insects were abundant this September, predominately big ones like the cicadas and crickets mentioned in my last post, and a superb variety of large hymenopterans which I admired but have not begun to identify, if you’ll excuse the uncaptioned photographs. The strikingly handsome Goldenrod soldier beetle seemed to be in the peak of its mating season. Add in warm and humid conditions that prevailed throughout most of our stay and it felt a lot like high summer still held sway.
Learning bird song is straightforward enough: go outside, listen to birds. Then watch birds. Start to put the senses together. Which bird says what? That sweet, happy-yet-wistful song any time of year is a robin, that harsh screech a jay, the strident chiff-chaff-chiff-chaff in March is – guess what – and the gentle hueets moving through a low tree canopy six months later are contact calls from the same species. Birds are only a part of nature’s soundscape, though. They’re often the dominant one, but it depends on where in the world and when in the day or year you happen to be listening.
At night, it’s often other creatures that rule the acoustic roost, inhabiting a secret world of sound that can be a little trickier to unlock. That might be because it’s a sound world predominately outside of human hearing range, as for super-squeaky bats. Fortunately, access to their secrets can be bought with a little help from a bat box, which I and the other Reading staff and students on the recent Devon field course very much enjoyed playing with. We started one evening by lying in wait for a roost of lesser horseshoe bats, which use very high frequency sonar they amplify through strange, leaf-like appendages on their nose. The sound is fantastical, an almost machine-like wavering whistle that is markedly alien. Making more conventional rapid clicking sounds were diminutive pipistrelle bats, accompanied by near identical soprano pipistrelles – a separate species mostly told by its higher frequency calls.
This coming weekend will see the first conference organised by A Focus On Nature, the network for young nature conservationists in the UK. The title and theme of the gathering – Vision for Nature – is a timely one. In a fast-changing world, we need some idea of what we’re aiming for: to paraphrase an excellent comment on my last blog, “we always need to be questioning what our vision is.” In the run-up to the event, a number of bloggers are tackling the subject. The two pieces I’ve read so far, from Peter Cooper and Ryan Clark, are both excellently written – exactly what I’d expect from alumni of the country’s finest secondary school and university respectively, though by happy coincidence I’m extremely biased on both counts.
What I’m about to say – hastily typed between preparing for a two-week trip abroad and tending to a cat with a dislocated toe – is more of a reaction to their ideas, amongst others, than an attempt to come up with an original vision of my own, but to be honest that’s my preferred style. This is a vision for nature, not mine alone, and I don’t claim ownership of it any more than I’d be comfortable changing the title of this blog to include my name – though I suppose every writer must stoop to self-promotion eventually!
The wild places.