My usual riverside walk on Saturday was not expected to yield much in the way of wildlife, down to the autumnal gale and fresh conditions.
The only bird of note I heard above the wind was a lone chiffchaff, still valiantly singing away - most of the others in the warbler clan having packed up and left for warmer climes long ago.
While in the area, I thought I would check on a blackthorn bush, which was one of the few last year to have berries. This year looks like another poor year for sloes, so I wasn’t too hopeful. Surprisingly, it was laden with berries, but someone had been before me, judging by the flattened grass round the perimeter of the bush. Luckily, it must have been someone of small stature as the higher fruit was untouched. Not being vertically challenged myself, I was able to reach the upper branches and luckily I had a poo bag in my pocket in which to gather my harvest – sloe gin for Christmas!
I know summer is at an end when my moth trap is full of ‘daddy long legs’. Attracted by the light, these crane flies, which I always release, always strike me as a bit sad. Their adult life is so short and they are so vulnerable to all sorts of predators, being completely defenceless. If attacked, they have to resort to shedding a leg or two to escape.
There are around 300 different species of crane fly in the UK. Females have larger abdomens in comparison to the males. The female abdomen ends in a pointed ovipositor which looks a bit like a stinger. Crane flies are harmless and the pointed tip is purely used for egg-laying. In September you can see the females bobbing up and down in grassland as they lay their eggs.
They have one pair of wings which are used for lift, and a pair of halteres (balancers) which look like a pair of tiny baseball bats just behind the wings. They work like gyroscopes, helping the fly to keep its balance in the air.
*I was shocked and saddened to hear last week about the sudden death of Borders ornithologist Ray Murray, while on holiday in Peru. Ray was the driving force behind many bird related projects with the local Scottish Ornithologists Club, such as the annual Borders Bird Report and the more weighty Breeding Birds of South-East Scotland. His knowledge about birds was encyclopaedic and he was never slow to help anyone with less expertise. His legacy will live on in these publications, but he will be greatly missed. Condolences to his wife and family who will miss him even more.