Bleary-eyed and dressing gown-clad, I shuffled outside this morning to bring in the fresh milk. The weather was very mild, despite Autumn's changes, so we decided that after breakfast we would busy ourselves with chores in the garden, before any rain showers could hamper our efforts.
Following an hour's cutting, clipping and trimming, we drove to Clifton Reynes, a village above the River Great Ouse, a few miles downstream of MK. As we walked the paths towards the scarp along the eastern edge of the valley, the hedgerows were abundant with fruity treats as the flora tempted the fauna to help with seed dispersal. Sloes, hips, haws, blackberries, hazel nuts and elderberries, were all on display, together with the highly-polished snooker ball redness of White Bryony berries.
Despite the warmth of the morning, it was overcast with grey cloud and a blustery wind jostled the trees and bushes so that they seemed to be shaking their fruit in a frantic "Here it is! Come and get it!" manner. In sheltered spots, a few brave butterflies, bees and wasps were sipping nectar from Ivy flowers, but of dragonflies, there were precious few sightings.
Whilst trying to identify the call of an unseen warbler, we saw this Blue Tit, who was keen to show that it could look after itself in the big, wide world without regular trips to a garden bird feeder.
After finding a solitary Common Darter and a lone Migrant Hawker, we made our way to the next village for a spot of lunch (The Old Mill, Newton Blossomville. Very nice). Upon leaving the pub, the sun had decided to put in an appearance, so we sauntered down towards the river and, in a woodland glade, were pleasantly surprised to find dozens of dragons.
A couple of Common Darters were occupying the woody warmth of a fence rail and a bench respectively. The air was full of whirling wings and swift changes of direction, as Migrant Hawkers chased their prey, making the most of the heat and the plentiful food supply. A lone Brown Hawker was seen disappearing between the trees.
We parked ourselves on the bench to absorb the atmosphere and marvel at the aerial acrobatics, inadvertently depriving one of the Common Darters of his resting place. He didn't seem to mind too much however, and would occasionally land on our heads. When reviewing my photos later, I noticed that he seemed to be missing the end of one leg.
A Hobby flew overhead, proving that we weren't the only ones taking advantage of the assembled mass of dragonflies. Its feeding technique is referred to as 'hawking', though it belongs to the Falcon family, but as it was eating Hawker dragonflies, perhaps that's the reason.
As we crossed the footbridge over the river, a Kingfisher rocketed upstream, like a feathered Blue Streak missile. A pair of Mute Swans were sedately preening in the shallows and, sheltering out of the breeze, a Comma butterfly was sunning itself on a bankside leaf.
As dark clouds gathered to the south, we retraced our steps, pausing only to be alighted upon by the headstrong Common Darter. Then, as the rain drops began to fall, all parties took shelter in their own fashion: the dragons in the bushes and undergrowth; the humans in their truck. Despite the damp finale, the warmth of the memory still fires my neurones and warms my smile.