Category: Phil Barnett

Fómhar is here

Migrant Hawker

I’ve always  thought the seasons were wrong. Mid-December feels  a lot more like  Winter  than Autumn . Early March and even February, in some years, feels like spring.

So too with the beginning of Autumn.  The 21st of September –  the equinox  –  the Astronomical and Cultural start – seems much too late in the year. The meteorological Autumn starts at the beginning of September which is more like it.

I personally like the Gaelic calendar – Fómhar – Harvest  is – August, September, October.  Birders often see signs earlier – July or even June sees the start of the ‘Fall’ migration.

I’ve been away on holiday for the last 10 days and on returning to the patch it seems the year has turned. The Swifts have gone, flowers have been replaced by seed-heads.

A Willow warbler was singing – but around this time of year it becomes quieter and much less enthusiastic.  This could be sub-song from a young bird – but it always seems to me to express a slight balefulness – a touch of sorrow that Spring has gone and summer is fading fast.  A Grasshopper warbler on the other hand was still reeling away.

The most noticeable thing that had happened, however was  – ‘thistleworld’.  Several of the derelict fields had turned white and downy with the seeds of Spear, Marsh and Creeping Thistles. It was quite a sight and was obviously being appreciated by the Goldfinches. A very large charm of around 150 wind-chimed their way through what seemed like a thistle-down blizzard.

An Emperor Dragonfly patrolled its empire – the center of the lake –  while Common Darters and a Southern hawker stuck to the margins. Fleabane had burst into flower and Birds-foot trefoil was now demonstrating how it got its name with chicken-claw clusters of black seed heads.


Common Vetch seed pod with interesting herring-bone pattern

Britain’s three Commonest Thistles – Spear, Creeping, Marsh –  (in July)
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Meet our new alien overlords

This is Leiobunum rotundum – a harvestman – on a wall this morning.That’s all very well, but why don’t you furnish us with an all-time top 6 of Leiobunum rotundum facts – I here you say. Well here it is:they:can self-amputate their legs if in dangerpro…


Over the past few weeks I’ve attempting to compile a plant list for the patch. The grasses, sedges and rushes have been challenging – there are a number of very similar species and some can look very different at different stages of their growth.

Meadow  Foxtail
Created Dogstail

There’s a whole grass glossary as well that you need to be familiar with.  You have to know your  awns from your auricles, yours glumes from your lemmas, ligules, panicles, racimes, and rachilas. 

These and many other grass-based words just trip of the tongue and I have been weaving them into everyday conversation like some kind of  Bob Flowerdew, Pippa Greenwood and Bunny Guinness rolled into one big botanising bundle of botany.

False Oat-Grass

That list in full

Red Fescue

Tall Fescue
Perennial Rye-grass
Annual Meadow-grass
Floating Sweet-grass
Crested Dog’s-tail
Common Soft-brome
Common Couch
Common Bent
Bread Wheat
False Oat-grass
Wavy Hair-grass 
Sweet Vernal-grass
Wood Millet
Meadow Foxtail 
Reed Canary-grass
Lesser Bulrush 
Hard Rush
Heath Rush
Compact Rush
Slender Rush
Pendulous Sedge
Common Sedge
Common Spike-rush 

Reed Canary Grass

*Other members of the Gardener’s Question Time team are available.

Continue Reading » Graminology...