A return to the river

September is a kind of natural no man’s land along the Riverside Walk, with the spring migrants long gone and the winter arrivals still in their northern european breeding grounds, while most of the flowers are now over, the ground largely covered in a thick carpet of nettles and bramble.

This doesn’t mean there is no life of course – while the Martins, Swifts and Swallows have now headed south, the resident birds are still there, albeit mostly hiding from cameras in the dense foliage, and butterflies still fly – most of the more colourful ones are gone, but a few Whites still flutter about the woodland edges, as do the Speckled Woods, ever, it seems, the first in and last out.

Large White
Small White
Speckled Wood

The odd Red Admiral is still around too, and I saw a solitary Comma the other day, as well as, a first for me along the river, a Small Copper.

Red Admiral
Small Copper

Excitingly, one of the regular walkers told me he saw an Otter just along from the steps to the lower river path, but needless to say I haven’t managed to see it, nor have I ever managed to see one in the eight years I’ve been walking here – I think I may call the retirement project book I intend to write about the walk ‘Hoping For Otters’. All I got that day was a Wood Pigeon drinking from the river!

All this aside, I realise I haven’t posted anything here for several months – there are various reasons for this, but chiefly because most of my free time was taken up with helping my father look after my mother, who sadly has advancing Alzheimer’s. The summer concluded with us finally accepting that she had to go into a home, where on balance she seems much happier, and she couldn’t be better looked after.

At the same time, our two dogs had started to become a little aggressive – the vet thought this may be down to them working like a pack, and being over protective towards one another, so we decided to get them neutered. So far we’ve only had Riley done, the little Yorkie/Pug we rehomed from a work colleague eighteen months or so ago, and this does seem to have calmed both of them down. Another theory was that they were picking up on my own anxiety, which of course was in turn increased by their aggression – a bit of a vicious circle really. Of course, during the summer, the Riverside Walk is a lot busier, with many more dogs, some of them not so friendly (to put it mildly), which didn’t help our collective anxiety levels either, in my case also fed by worries about my parents. The net result was that we hardly went down to the river at all over the summer. I missed it a lot though, and so tried my hardest to regain my inner smile as it’s known in Daoism while walking them, but whatever the root causes, the dogs seem much calmer now, as do I, and we have started walking along the river regularly again.

In our absence, the walk has grown thick and green, with the usual nettles intertwined with even more bramble and bindweed than usual, almost completely enveloping what few flowers remain.

Bindweed in the Hawthorn
A solitary Campion peers out of the greenery

But the biggest invader this year has been the Himalayan Balsam, which was almost completely gone last year, but you can’t keep a ‘good’ invasive down, and this year it has returned with a vengeance, especially in the recently revived reedbed.

The recently extended boardwalk, and the Balsam-infested reedbed.

Of course, the insects love it, and don’t care whether it’s invasive or not!

Honey Bee on Balsam flower
Tawny Mining Bee on Balsam flower – this one was actually taken back in July, but I love the photo, and couldn’t resist adding it!
Common Darter – I was about to take its picture on the Balsam when it flew out and caught a fly on the boardwalk.

The insects are also loving the last remaining Cow Parsley, and of course the autumn thistles.

Drone Fly on Cow Parsley
There’s always a bigger fly…

Soon though the nettles and the Balsam will retreat, the leaves will fall from the trees, and the Long-Tailed Tits, Goldcrest, Chiffchaffs, and (hopefully!) Yellow-Browed Warblers will return for another winter. I hope by then that I will have a little more time to write about it.

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