Nature Notes: Waiting game for berries at their best

The recent warm weather has resulted in some spectacular sunsets and has attracted some unusual wildlife.
The recent warm weather has resulted in some spectacular sunsets and has attracted some unusual wildlife.
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THE UNUSUALLY mild weather has almost fooled us into believing that summer lingers on, but somehow we’re already midway through October. Don’t be deceived - the abundance of berries, the changing tones of the hedgerows and the damp, misty mornings are sure signs that autumn is upon us.

The recent good weather has resulted in some spectacular sunsets and, on a number of balmy September evenings, my family and I prolonged our evening dog walks to enjoy them, only returning home when darkness fell.

Butterflies also appear to have been deceived by the good weather and the autumn flowering plants in our garden are still attracting a wide variety of species. On the old railway line, the Speckled Wood - a pretty, cream and brown coloured butterfly - has been prolific during the latter part of summer and early autumn.

One evening in late August, I spotted an unusual visitor to one of our buddleia bushes. In flight it resembled a large bee, but it hovered in front of each bloom beating its wings like a hummingbird and large, eye-like markings on the sides of its body also gave it a bird-like appearance. I only wish I’d had my camera to hand before it flitted over the hedge, but a quick search on the Butterfly Conservation website - www.butterfly-conservation.org - confirmed my suspicions that I’d been lucky enough to spot a Hummingbird Hawk Moth.

Another interesting sighting came on a recent trip the Wolds. As we’d stayed overnight on a glamping site at Weaverthorpe, we were up and about early and spotted a Red Kite hunting. Usually, when I see Red Kites, which are increasing in number across Yorkshire, they’re soaring high in the sky, but this one flew alongside us as it followed the line of hedgerow in its quest for food, much to the delight of our three-year-old.

Closer to home, we recently observed two buzzards swooping and swirling through the air, taking it in turns to divebomb one another. We had assumed that one of the birds must be a crow and that it was ‘mobbing’ the buzzard; a common spectacle that occurs when crows, which are very territorial, feel threatened by a buzzard’s presence, but aAs the birds moved closer, we saw they were definitely both buzzards.

It’s a great year for brambles, sloes and damsons. Hedgerows are laden and I find myself munching every time I go out walking. If you’re planning on making sloe or damson gin, it’s best to wait until after the first frosts to pick them as this softens the skins, allowing the flavours to be released more easily. If you can’t wait, pop them on a tray in the freezer for a couple of hours to mimic the effect. Wash your berries, remove the stalks and then prick each one with the tip of a sharp knife. Fill a clean, empty bottle up to the halfway point with berries, add a couple of tablespoons of caster sugar (some people add more, but I prefer it sharp and fruity rather than too sweet) and then top the bottle up with gin. Pop the lid on and leave the berries in the gin for a minimum of three months - longer if you can - to give them time to infuse it with their unique flavour. Give the bottle a shake from time to time and you’ll see the gin turning a deep pink colour. When it’s ready, all you need to do is thoroughly strain the liquid to remove the berries.

As the owner of three cats, we’re often brought unwanted ‘gifts’. Cats can be very helpful when it comes to controlling mice and rats in stables and outbuildings, but ours have bells on their collars to protect the local wild bird population. I can cope with the odd dead mouse on the doorstep, but last week our little tortoiseshell Indie managed to bring home a grass snake. The snake was very annoyed and managed to give Indie a bite, forcing her to let go of it long enough for us to rescue it. Thankfully, neither cat nor snake were harmed, and we’re hoping Indie has learned her lesson.