Time for harvest and first flights

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AUGUST is the first of the harvest months, when holidaymakers and farmers hope for a run of fine weather.

But this is turning out to be a typical summer, so we must all make the most of any sunny days.

With school holidays in full swing, children are doing just that. And it’s a fair bet that none of them is asking why their holiday lasts so long.

The original purpose of the long summer holiday was so that children could help with the harvest, as many hands were needed in the fields before the advent of the combine.

The giant machines are out now, bringing in this year’s harvest. In parts of the East Riding, winter barley and oilseed rape were cut at the end of July.

Further north, farmers are expecting to harvest oilseed rape and wheat this week, weather permitting of course.

Most are reporting that yields look better than expected.

There’s a chance of fine weather around the 12th to 15th, one of Alexander Buchan’s “warm periods”. But as we’re still under the influence of St Swithin, it will probably turn out to be warm and wet.

The saint’s 40-day prediction continues until St Bartholomew’s Day, August 24, when St Bart is supposed to “dry up Swithin’s tears”.

It’s hard to believe that we’re now in the Dog Days, traditionally the hottest part of the summer.

According to the ancients these are the days between July 3 and August 11 when Sirius, the Dog Star, rises in the east with the sun.

Sirius is our brightest star, familiar on winter nights as it follows at the heels of Orion.

But Dog Star and sun together were said to bring heat, lethargy and disease.

This was truer in the past, before marshes and wetlands were drained.

In England, it was possible to contract malaria; just imagine the midges and mozzies there must have been in the Fens.

Luckily, The Husbandman’s Practice of 1729 knew how to survive the dangerous Dog Days. Men should “take heed of feeding violently” and “abstain all this time from woman”.

Summer visitors

On fine evenings the twittering of swallows is heard as they perform their aerobatics in pursuit of flies and midges.

Young swallows are following their parents and they’re easy to distinguish because they lack the adult’s long tail.

It seems too soon for our summer visitors to be leaving, yet some of them are.

Swifts are first to disappear and the youngsters go before the adults, making their way to Africa without any help. Cuckoos are heading off too, though in this species the adults leave first.

They’re fresher than the swifts, because other birds have done the hard work of raising their young.

On the cliff tops at Bempton young puffins are leaving their burrows, so visit the RSPB Reserve now for the last chance of seeing them.

When the youngsters have perfected their skills of flying and diving the family will leave the cliffs and head out to sea, where puffins spend the winter.

Young gannets are making their first flights now, though lots of them are still in the nest.

Guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and fulmars are the other species on the high chalk cliffs.

While the thousands of seabirds are the stars, it’s worth a visit to enjoy the stunning sea views from the cliff top trails.

Bempton RSPB Reserve is open at all times: the visitor centre and car park are open from 10am to 5pm daily.

In August’s night sky there’s a fine meteor shower, the Perseids.

These shooting stars are debris left in the wake of comet Swift-Tuttle, which last appeared in 1992.

Unfortunately, this year the peak of the Perseid shower will be spoiled by the full moon on the 13th.

But a few shooting stars are always visible during the build-up, so take a look on any clear night if you’re out after midnight.