Country Diary: Goodbye to the pageantry of colour

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The carnival is over! Nature’s pageantry of colour has been truly spectacular this year. We so often say a final goodbye to autumn leaves around bonfire night.

A solitary red admiral butterfly flaunted its glorious wings as it sipped nectar from the flowers of red valerian. It’s a butterfly that seldom manages to hibernate even through mild winters.

Red valerian was introduced to Britain from southern Europe in the 16th century. Its clusters of red flowers now adorn many stony and rocky places. Locally it’s common on Castle hill and walling near Scarborough’s Spa. During the First World War the juice from fresh valerian roots was used to calm people upset by air-raids.

Before that, the juice was used as a sedative for those with epilepsy or St Vitus’s dance. Even nervous headaches, trembling and hysteric complaints were so treated.

In France and Italy, the very young leaves of valerian would be boiled with butter as greens, or eaten raw in salads – though rather bitter used this way!

Our lawn has recently received its final trim of the year. Moss occupies 90% of it, but what a cushioned walkway it provides. Tigga loves to perform his roly-poly there, and a variety of fungi regularly appear which add interest.

Whilst removing a perfect circle of the fairy ring champignon, I discovered several earth tongues, which resemble the candle-snuff fungus. They were tough, black, irregularly shaped ‘fingers’ growing directly from the soil and through the lawn. Removing one, it very much reminded me of a tiny spoon or miniature tongue.

Michael was to deliver several bird tables, nesting boxes for robins and bluetits, along with wellie-pullers, to charity shops in Filey. I decided to go with him, so we took Tigga for the ride too. Being a high tide, we thought we’d park in Filey’s Country Park. We often find that shore birds leave the beach at high tide and frequent higher levels for food.

Whilst enjoying our cuppa and biscuits, a cormorant flew low over the silvered surface of the sea. Then – snack over – a pied wagtail, resplendent in black and white plumage, searched the area for insects. Wagtails are well known for their habit of wagging their tails up and down, and for their bounding flight.

Herring gulls rapidly pounded the grassland with their feet to raise tasty earthworms, and a solitary magpie passed by. Magpies are unmistakable with long tail and black and white plumage.

Just as we were leaving, 38 oystercatchers arrived and began probing the grassland for tasty morsels. They were very conspicuous large black and white shore birds with red bills and pink legs. This bird draws attention to itself with loud ‘kleep’ cries as it flies offshore.

‘Piping parties’ of several birds produce a haunting call I love to hear.