July arrives like a sigh of relief. The dawn chorus fades to the gentlest of murmurs, a peaceful hush interrupted only by the thin cheeps of those self-sufficient youngsters still cheeky enough to raid the home larder. In the hedgerows, verges and meadows, spring’s urgent growth has set and dried in the sun into an unruly brownish mess of woody stalks, fading flowers and seeds. The partying of spring is over, and the world sits back, puts her feet up, and feasts on leftovers. The clean-up can wait until winter.
Above, ravens. Stern black crosses in languid transit across the blue. Breaking off from a long glide, the pair forks – one south, one north – and intercepts a red kite apiece, seeing off the longer-winged yet gentler scavengers with a few deft twists of wing. One kite whistles in alarm, the ravens croak solemnly back and forth to each other; order is soon restored to the skies. In nearby scrub a marsh tit sneezes exactly twice, and is silent. No other bird makes a sound.
Down among the grasses the real stars of the season reach their peak. Now that birds are keeping a low profile it’s the insects’ turn to shine, yet they seem to carry off all their productive mate-finding and breeding with nothing like a bird’s level of noise and fuss. The song of a hundred Roesel’s bush-crickets – thin, unspooling fisherman’s reels – would be a poor alarm clock, unlike the birds’ more famous choral display, no; this is pure, blissful white noise, a perfect match for the sleepy air of an English summer afternoon. That’s despite the fact that the animal making them is a relative newcomer in this corner of the world.
Meanwhile, common red soldier beetles are doing what their more risqué, alternative moniker would suggest they do best, draped in pairs over hogweed and ragwort, striving to demonstrate the full fecundity of summer in a single day’s lovemaking. Perhaps it’s these beetles that have inspired the two woodpigeons that sit every evening on a gently curved poplar branch at the end of our garden, billing and occasionally mating. Not that they’re particularly out of synch with the rest of their kind, for unlike many of the small songbirds, pigeons often make a number of breeding attempts in a year, running right through into the autumn.
However many times they’ve already had a go at breeding this year, our garden pigeons certainly seem completely at ease in each other’s company. They sit in companionable peace like an old couple on a park bench. In the light and warmth of a summer evening this common, oft-disdained bird is fleetingly transfigured, all too briefly a bird of paradise. The soft golden light catches their feathers and they’re peach-hued, sparkling, glorious: two romantics basking in the contented eternal now of high summer.