A perfect autumn day! The leaves are changing colour and curling their edges. The berries are turning orange, red and purplish black. The swallows have left us here at Stempster. We miss you - haste ye back! This morning a single crow chattered away to us as we turned the corner by the broch. I wondered if he, or she, is a direct descendant of the crows who watched the broch being built in the Iron Age. Sometimes I think it would be a good idea to revisit my childhood playground in the Isle of Axholme and introduce myself to the little creatures which live there now. I would explain that their antecedents and I were very close and that, for example, the robin visiting our feeders here in Caithness is compared with the one hopping, skipping and jumping through the hedgerow in my grandparents' garden down Belshaw Lane in Belton.

It was there and the area between Burnham Beck and Studcross in Epworth, where I lived as a small child, that I became familiar with all the small things and the growing things and the wonder of our natural world. The smell of fruit in the orchard, the glorious mixture of leaves on the damp earth and the mist in the morning ahead of the sun, are all etched in my memory. I shall never forget the blackberrying with Granny Ivy or Grandad Bobby showing me the mounds of leaves where hedgehogs bunked down for the winter months.

Now my little granddaughter observes the butterflies, the beetles and the bats in our northern home. She looks to the heavens to see the stars and the bright moon above her. I watch her watching them and I find a marvellous peace. 

Because we live here in Caithness, we sometimes are given vouchers for presents as we are so far away from many family members and friends that an exchange of gifts is difficult. We put ours together - there are five of us living here - and bought trail cameras and batteries. At first we saw birds, then moths, then bats and then something unidentifiable close up to the camera. One misty, rainy morning earlier this month, we caught a beautiful female deer and the pointy ears of something close by. We have seen deer on the camera since then - on the roadside and in our "wildwood". Once there were three together and one jumped over the flagstone wall into our garden. But, going through the footage one September weekend, the conversation went something like this:

"It's a cat!"
"Is it a cat?"
"No, it's not a cat!"

You can imagine the excitement - a pine marten in our wildwood! We had, thanks to the trail camera, a wonderful night-time view of it - its massive tail and it was clearly scenting its territory. Then it turned round and walked back past the camera with its little face towards us! The footage is now on the Crowvus YouTube channel.

As the willow leaves turned yellow I thought I heard a goldcrest - with its song so high pitched it was almost piercing. I've seen them a few times but I didn't see this one - there is still plenty of cover for them and they are so tiny as to be easily missed. It used to be called the golden crested wren and it does look quite a bit like a wren.

At the beginning of September, when the swallows had started to line up on the roofs and wires, a redpoll, and possibly its little redpoll friend, flew out of the Sitka spruce and over the front garden. I haven't seen them since. On the same day I saw a chiffchaff busy-busy-busy in the still untidy back garden which will be my responsibility. I'm needing a bit of help to get it manageable though. I think the chiffchaff will have left our shores by now although there are believed to be some who are brave enough to stay over winter. I love to watch them flit about with nothing on their minds but catching and scoffing unfortunate insects.

It has been an interesting month for birds. It's so obviously a time of change. A single meadow pipit came into the yard. I don't think I've ever seen a meadow pipit on its lonesome before. When we lived in Orkney there were so many little flocks of them around us - all day every day! I was very fond of them. I often would have missed them had they not been startled into flight.

The barley harvest is in now. Orlando did not like the metal monster which scoured the fields to gather in the grain. He really was affronted by its size and its noise. The hen harriers were unperturbed however and hung around the barley fields like backstage groupies.

We are so lucky to have our own hen harrier here. We call her Henny and she seems happy to have us on her patch. Sometimes we see her by the river as we cross the valley. She's not at all shy and frequently brings a friend along - the friend is smaller but doesn't have the plumage of a male hen harrier so we wonder if it is her daughter.

Today I spotted fresh feathers near to the mystery hole in our boundary. There are always feathers there but this was new and unaffected by the frequent showers we have been having recently. A little further along is an area of grass which has so obviously been flattened. Curiouser and curiouser! 

We call the area for sitting outside, "Toad Hall". Toad Hall now supports families of mice, shrews and voles. Last night I looked out and saw two farm cats just sitting next to the wall and waiting. Fortunately Keith was heading out to the garage so he persuaded the cats to go back to the farm!! I love all the small things and I never stop wondering at how perfect they are - down to the tiniest beetle. I can't identify them with certainty but I certainly care that they remain a part of this wonderful tapestry. Autumn is a good time to think around everything which goes together to make the whole. We live on a rich and fascinating planet - from the tiny newt we spotted on our walk last week to the colossal blue whale found in every ocean but the frozen Arctic. The moon shines bright on them all as it makes silhouettes of the trees outside my bedroom window. The swallows have gone until next Spring but, in the morning, I shall look in amongst the trees to find newly sprung fungus to fascinate this inquisitive Child of the Earth! One morning last week we had wind and rain and I looked out to see, in front of the windmills, lines of sheep. There were several lines - so straight as to be uncanny. Why is this?

For me, the natural world has more questions than answers. I love that. I'm signing off this September blog on Michaelmas. For supper we had apple cake. I made it this evening from the apples picked for us by the dear little granddaughter who loves the moon and the stars and can already identify the bats and the bees. How reassuring is that?

The mist in the morning,
the sunshine at noon,
the chill of the evening
beneath harvest moon.
The swallows in line
on the telephone wires,
golden cones on the pine,
the smell of bonfires.
The yellowing willow
as leaves flutter down
to Earth, moist and waiting,
a religious in brown,
and, on grass, green and still growing,
through days calm and mild,
in lanes and in gardens,
ever wayward and wild.
The willow, a tangle of new and of old,
has a story to tell
as the year turns cold:

"I bend and I listen
to Earth's complaint;
she tells me she loves me
but her sad voice is faint.
She tells me I'm welcome
as I've always been
but she warns of a future
shaded grey over green.
She cares for all-comers -
she gives and she takes -
she invests in the future
while her core quivers and quakes
at the damage that's done
through careless power.
She whispers to me
of that sad hour
when my yellowing leaves
will be memories sweet
as she struggles to breathe
through increasing fierce heat.
I heard her cry
but what can I do?
You've worked me for years -
now it's up to you.
Shout out from the summits -
political clout -
shout out that big change
is coming about.
Make people change lives
in favour of peace -
you must -
or you'll suffer
termination of lease.
My green and my yellow
are tokens of living,
I bow to the sun
and, forever, I'm giving
to man, woman and child
and ask no return.

Please tell me Our World
will remain steadfast,
cared for,
Don't leave it to burn.


  1. Love hearing about all the creatures visiting your garden and living nearby. How lucky to be able to experience nature at close hand, write about it and be kind enough to share it with us. Thank you, Susan.


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