Dear Readers, as you’ll know by now it’s the little things that keep me happy, so I am absolutely delighted to report the arrival of new litter bins in Coldfall Wood and on the adjoining Muswell Hill Playing Fields. There are signs on the top asking people to take their rubbish home if the bins are full (as opposed to letting the crows and foxes strew everything about), so let’s see how that works. At least these bins have a lid on the top, and I watched at least one person dispose of their litter correctly, so it’s an excellent start.
I love the way that the spiders are becoming more and more apparent as they grow into adulthood. We usually only notice them in the autumn, but if you look closely there are already lots of tiny orb-webbed spiders about, some of them smaller than a child’s fingernail. Whoever made this web, on an oak tree, has lots of ambition. I think it’s most likely a little guy called Drapetisca socialis (or money-spider to you and me), who has a fondness for tree trunks. The unsuspecting prey ‘trips’ over the lateral threads securing the web to the bark, and falls onto one of the ‘sheets’, whereupon the spider leaps out and dispatches it. What a life.
I love the shadows of the leaves on the forest floor. It’s nice and cool in the shade, but soon we are out on the edge of the Playing Fields, being blasted by the heat.
It’s only when the seeds are mostly gone that you can see that the spear thistle is actually a member of the daisy family.
And someone has been brushing an enormous white dog, by the look of it. Shame the nesting season is over, this stuff would have made a lovely bed for some newly-hatched birds.
I am ostensibly marching around the fields to get to grips with the whereabouts of the Japanese knotweed, following a visit by the Environmental Officer from the Council last week. There is certainly a lot of it about on the border between the cemetery and the fields, though it’s a good long way from the wood at the moment.
When I get home, I read the email thread properly and realise that the question is really about the knotweed in the cemetery. As this is still closed during the week, I will have to do a special expedition next weekend. Still, any excuse for a walk is welcome.
I notice that it’s been a very fine year for yarrow, and there are rather more pink specimens than usual. In some places, the absence of footballers has meant that the yarrow can start to take over the field itself. I don’t suppose it will survive the return of the sportsmen though (whenever that is).
And then, some real excitement. I am busy looking at the plants, but fortunately my husband is looking at the sky.
‘What’s that’? he asks.
Could it be?
Yes, it’s a buzzard, riding the thermals over the cemetery and the fields. People have been telling me that they’ve seen one for about six months, but this is my first proper look. What a treat!
I wonder if it’s feeding on road kill along by the North Circular Road, or if it’s found some other source of sustenance – they eat small rodents, rabbits and even insects if there’s nothing else about. They are all-rounders, and it’s no wonder that they are among the first big birds of prey to start to make a living in urban-fringe areas. Plus, in East Finchley they are less likely to be blown out of the sky by a trigger-happy gamekeeper. Buzzards have a wingspan of about four feet, which is not eagle-sized but is plenty big enough to attract my attention. This one was probably lucky that the crows further up the field didn’t notice, or maybe the corvids aren’t so jumpy once their youngsters have fledged. Normally, birds of prey spend a lot of time being harassed by crows. It must be very tiresome.
We decide to cross the boardwalk over the ‘everglades’ part of the wet woodland. The plants have grown back vigorously since the floods of the spring – there is common and amphibious bistort, water plantain and some lovely water mint. The bistort species are in the same family as the Japanese knotweed, but are much better behaved.
And here is a Common Darter dragonfly (Sympetrum striolatum), patrolling a tiny piece of the stream. They don’t breed until late summer, so this one could be looking for the arrival of a female.
And something has turned these leaves to lace.
As we brace ourselves for our return to the hot streets, I find one more excuse to linger. A speckled wood butterfly (Pararge aegeria) is beautifully backlit as it waits on a leaf. The male often sits on a leaf waiting for a female to pass, and drives away any other males who encroach on his territory. Interestingly, butterflies in the north of the species range (they extend from Yorkshire southwards) are chocolate-brown with white spots, but the London ones that I’ve seen have much creamier, orange spots. Whichever colouration is present, if you see a small butterfly that seems to mimic the play of shadows in the woodland, chances are you’re looking at a speckled wood.
And as we stride out into the heat, and take a small alleyway between Creighton Avenue and Durham Road, we are hit with the most fabulous, heady aroma of figs. Someone has a magnificent fig tree, and somewhere under those leaves, the fruit is ripening. How I would love to bottle that scent and save it for the winter months! It seems like the very essence of these long, hot, languorous days.