Country diary: Week in which two dreams came true

Musk mallow
Musk mallow

Two dreams have come true this week. Whilst visiting Michael’s brother Graham, at Ganton, I spotted a rose-pink flower on a dry grassy area near shrub. It proved to be musk mallow, a plant I originally found as a child in Derbyshire. I believe it grew in Monsal Dale, I’ve never seen it since. Its relative, the common mallow, is frequently seen in waste places, and by the wayside.

While at Graham’s I was shown the nest of a spotted flycatcher. Graham has watched it sitting erect on a baugh, before launching itself out in pursuit of an insect and then often returning to the same perch.

A goldcrest, Britain’s smallest bird (along with the similar firecrest), had chosen to nest in a nearby hedge. Its tiny nest was a suspended cup of moss and cobwebs etc.

More recently we visited Filey Dams Nature Reserve. We’d heard that the water level was very low, and a good deal of mud was exposed where wading birds fed. Once again, we were in luck, for paying little heed to all the mallard, gulls and a coot on open water, our binoculars swept island embankments and mud for waders. A handsome grey heron stood motionless in the reeds beside the water. A very familiar sight, but one which never ceases to thrill. The large, dagger-shaped bill is a most efficient tool for fishing, and to watch one that’s succeeded in catching an eel is truly spectacular.

The fringes of the dams still flaunted blooms of the celery-leaved buttercup, forget-me-not, fleabane and water mint. We were told that two kingfishers were recorded there on August 19, and on August 21 from the East Hide were 24 dunlin.

During our visit, a green sandpiper was spotted by the edge of the water. It was a dark wader with white underparts, walking steadily along, pecking at surface items such as insects and other invertebrates it’s said to seek.

The day’s highlight has yet to come, and is one that Michael and myself had never previously observed at close quarters.

From the hide, between 9.30am-10am, we watched a party of 13 ruff feeding on the mud beside the dam. In the autumn, migrants from Scandinavia and Russia pass through Britain, with some staying for the winter. However, the majority winter south of the Sahara in Africa.

We were delighted to have excellent views of this unusually-shaped bird. The head seems too small and delicate for the longish neck and deep body. The males were much larger than the females, and our only disappointment was that the males had lost their huge ruffs which make them so colourful and extraordinary in summertime.

As autumn approaches, conkers may be fewer this year. A considerable number of immature horse chestnuts were shed throughout the summer.