SFN Journal – Autumn Almanac: The Snail Bone-Yard

It’s been days since I heard the Swifts. July was washed away in a week of heavy showers, and the rain seems to have rinsed the cloud-cutters from the sky. Perhaps they have left us already; they are after all the first summer migrants to head south to their winter quarters. It does seem odd however, to witness their departure when summer still has her strength and the clean August sky is otherwise so complete and unmarred.

I went for a short walk in the woods during my lunch break; these purposeless strolls are a favourite part of my daily routine.


A Song Thrush flew up from the path ahead of me, melting into the undergrowth with a hurried brown flick of wing. I often see evidence of these birds activities; scatterings of smashed and shattered snail shells around stones or protruding tree roots that are used as anvils. The colour and variety of the snails is remarkable and the fragments lie on the leaf litter as if discarded there by a frustrated miniature mosaic maker.

My attention captured by the snail bone-yard, I spent my walk looking down and studying the patterns and textures of the woodland floor. Lumps of wood from fallen branches that have lain for unknown months between the bracken stems show a curious dark-turquoise staining. This is the result of the Green Elf Cup fungus, which has penetrated the softened wood and creates a green dyed effect. More fungi of other varieties can be found around the foot of an oak tree as a multitude of tiny parasols, or at the edge of the path as bulbous brown Earth Balls that let out a puff of smoke if nudged with the toe of your boot.



While searching for the fungi you might find other treasures. The Wild Arum (also Lords and Ladies, Jack-in-the-Pulpit) berry spikes are ripening, like flaming red torches to light the fairy paths in the old stories. The bright colour may be tempting, but don’t be fooled, their vivid scarlet hue warns of a dangerous poison within.

Other berries are more palatable however. Follow the trailing thorned stems up into the bushes and there you will find the first blackberries ripening. Most are still red and small, but the recent rains will soon swell them, and a few have already filled with their finger-staining purple-black juices.

Out in the fields harvest time has begun, but only time will tell how successful this years yields will be. To the untrained eye the field of wheat and barley may look ripe and golden and lovely, but the farmers have to wait for the optimum protein and moisture levels within the grains before they reap. But leave it one day too long, and the weather can turn and ruin the crop. Many a farmer has gambled for one more day of sweetening sun, and been dealt a week of soaking rain in return. Such is nature.

The woods are still quiet, only the passing squeaking of a flock of Long Tailed Tits, or the undergrowth rustle of the young Blackbird betray the presence of the birds. The skies are quiet too without the swifts. Just the Pied Wagtail balances on the gable end of the rooftop, like an uncertain punctuation mark.



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