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Autumn 2004

After the record breaking wet months of July and August, the month of September was positively frantic for Lincolnshire's farmers. The cereal harvest continued through to the middle of the month and unlike last year, the hum of grain dryers provided a background that most of us became accustomed to.

As I write, October has brought more typical weather conditions with wet spells punctuated by dry periods, which have allowed the cycle of farming activity to resume. Our local dairy farmers; Mr. Dorrington and family, have harvested their forage maize, which will be fed as energy rich silage to their cows over winter. Today it seems that everywhere I look stubble is being ploughed and land is being cultivated ready for the drilling of winter wheat, beans and other autumn sown crops.

The smell of newly turned soil and the sight of flocks of gulls following the plough, to me, is one of autumn's more evocative experiences. Identifying the gulls adds another dimension. In this area, the most common inland gull is the Black- headed Gull, which, in winter plumage, at this time of year, does not have a black head. In fact, even in spring breeding plumage the head is chocolate brown anyway! Large numbers of these small gulls might well be accompanied by the slightly larger, and ironically somewhat rarer; Common Gull. Larger still are Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls which are also likely plough followers.

This October has been a month of high contrasts; wet, grey days that felt like mid November gave way to sunny days that clung on to the last vestiges of summer. In sheltered, sun kissed hedgerows Common Darter dragonflies still pursue gnats and other prey and berry laden hedges provide sunny perches for the odd Comma and Red Admiral butterflies. The occasional Hornet, a species that was particularly common this summer, can still be seen on the wing. Look out for an especially large wasp, with, thankfully, less aggressive tendencies. Chiff- Chaff and Blackcaps, generally regarded as summer visitors are showing increasing tendencies to over-winter. The Chiff-Chaff I heard on the 24th October is surely staying, and over wintering Blackcaps are regular in Rippingale, so lookout for them in your garden.

Another "migrant" visitor was George, the knife sharpener, who pitched up his splendid horse drawn gypsy caravan and peddle powered blade sharpener, in Billingborough. For 0.50 per knife we now have carving knives that really carve and pen knives which have regained their "really useful" status.

As we look forward to November there is much speculation that a hard winter lies ahead. There is, indeed, an abundance of berries but was this not also the case last year? However, there is a difference. Last years surfeit followed the stress of a summer drought when plants (and animals) that feel threatened, put all their efforts in to reproduction. This year no such stress occurred, so perhaps it is a sign of things to come?

Other observations may corroborate this prediction. A party of Bewick's Swans at Nocton Fen in mid October was particularly early for these winter visitors as was the Smew (a saw-billed duck) reported at Rutland Water. Closer to home, the 150 or so Fieldfares feeding at Dunsby Fen represent a large influx of these Scandinavian thrushes so early in the year.

Less unusual is the influx of tiny Goldcrests, augmenting our breeding population. These birds are responsible for the high pitched squeaking calls you may have heard emanating from the village conifers and leylandii hedges.

Although we have bade farewell to most of the summer migrants, the winter visitors that arrive in Lincolnshire, in vast such numbers, more than make up the deficit. Look out for flocks of Lapwings, Golden Plover, Redwings, Meadow Pipits and wildfowl - and if you spot a rarity, don't forget to tell me about it!


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