Such a dry month and all that sun: am I really in Swansea?
The unusual weather has led to one of those early autumns which you usually associate with the south and east of England rather than with Wales. We have been able to watch the leaves on the trees gradually turning, the flower beds full of autumn insects and butterflies enjoying the early autumn sun. The park is looking wonderful.
The purple cone flowers just above the tennis courts have been my “flower of the month”. With their swept back petals, they are not the most beautiful flower, but, give them a moment, get close to them and you can see the wonderful cone shapes which give them their familiar name. A bed full of these gives a wonderful purple haze which is filled with late insects feeding up. As I watched, they were proving particularly attractive to speckled wood butterflies.
These are a butterfly of the scrub land and the edge of a wood that you can often see round the gardens which surround Cwmdonkin Park. After a couple of barren years for butterflies, it has also been great to see Red Admirals in and around the park. These are migrants and tend not to survive our winters, I was able to catch one on some late flowering ivy.
September is perhaps the best month to see a lot of birds in the park, though you will have to crane your neck to catch them as they move amongst the trees. You can glimpse mixed flocks of finches and tits if you look up into the canopy. My favourite are the gangs of long-tailed tits behaving like the tropical birds you might see on a BBC wildlife programme. If you are alone in the park, you can hear them twittering to each other, reminding you of the crocodiles of children who come down from Oakleigh House, or who visit from other schools at this time of year. I have been specially taken by the two grey wagtails which have moved in and settled on the Dylan Thomas’ garden stream. Stay still and you can see one or the other flutter up to gather an insect, watch them as they walk or stand with tails bobbing in their distinctive way. The couple are a beautiful lemony colour underneath and will stay with us until the supply of insects dies down.
What has been missing has been the conkers of previous years. Horse chestnuts are having a hard time of it. In previous years, my children used to collect great quantities of conkers, but the ones I have seen have been small – hardly enough to put around the house to keep the spiders away. The trees themselves appear to die back earlier than other species, leaf blotch disfiguring their leaves and turning them brown before the fall to the ground.
Late in the month, we got some overnight rain. At certain times of the morning and evening, Cwmdonkin Park lets in a wonderful light during the autumn and winter. The sun stops glaring down at you and starts to filter in through the branches and leaves. The mix of wet ground, fallen leaves and early morning light provided an irresistible picture. I learned soon after that the Parks department has plans for replanting the water gardens (what used to be the Dylan Thomas memorial garden). We look forward to seeing how the planting will revive this slightly neglected area at the centre of our park hoping that they will plant for others to appreciate the wonderful dappled light and shade of an early autumn day.