As the light from the setting-sun diminishes, I sit in my August garden and recollect the delights of this sun-drenched season; the camping trips, the music and the adventures. My thoughts then turn to the magic of high-summer nights and to my last nocturnal escapade in late July to see the glowworms of North Dorset ………….
With the day’s demands far behind me, I was waiting for the crimson sky to recede and the turquoise blue to ebb towards darkness. Venus took her prime position in the early evening sky and Mars rose like a ruddy diamond on the horizon. I watched, and I waited a little longer until a night mood swept over the land and the moon began its steady ascent hanging like a large amber balloon over the trees.
Mounting my bike, I had skimmed effortlessly through the cool evening air down the trail-way that connects the north Dorset towns and villages.
July had passed swiftly and silently in the blazing sunshine and as my wheels crunched the gravel, I wondered whether it was too late to do my annual glowworm count. I consoled myself that if there were no glowworms to be seen, there would surely be the family of barn owls that patrol the trail and they alone would make it worthwhile.
Leaving the town behind me, it was not long, however, before a tiny circle of green fluorescence called my attention from a stretch of grass in front of the hedgerow. For any of you who have not seen a glowworm, they emit a bright green, ethereal light from their tails.
These small magical creatures are not worms at all, but beetles. It is always the females that light up the darkness like small beacons. Being wingless, they must climb to the top of a plant stem in order to attract a winged mate. Glowworms live on chalk or limestone grasslands where their grubs can take up to two years to mature. They are ferocious little beasts which feast on slugs and snails, paralyzing them first with one toxic bite.
They can be found along woodland rides, in hedgerows, in gardens, on cliff tops and heath-lands, but they only have a short mating period (June to early July) so I had felt extremely lucky to see one at all given I had left it so late.
Excited by their presence I carried on down the cycle path to discover seven more; each one bringing a thrill of discovery and wonder. Eventually I had arrived on the bridge over the River Stour where I shone my torch through the blackened still water to count the fish that vigorously paraded the bottom. A sleeping egret shifted down stream amidst the distant cry of tawny owls, the familiar twit twoo of the male and the screech of its mate.
Feeling content with my night-time sortie, I meandered homewards lingering by the barn owls’ nest to listen to the clicking and shuffling of the owlets in their old tumbled-down barn. The moon was high now and I hadn’t needed a torch as the white light lit up the path like a ribbon.
That was indeed a fine evening to remember.
Photograph courtesy of the Wildlife Trusts of Great Britain, April 2019