The downward slope – tree following, August.


Yes, my little downy birch was looking a bit tired at the start of last month; yes, the signs were clear that the year was turning. I’m not sure that I’d expected much more than that when I went out to take some shots for this month, but it’s definitely changing faster than I anticipated.

starting to change

We have had a great summer this year, and hopefully will continue to have one, even if it is now more temperamental than it was. This could be partly responsible for the early change in colour, of course – it has been quite dry – though I must be honest here and say that I have no idea if similar changes had begun by this time in previous years. I would never have noticed the insidious approach of autumn if I’d not been doing this meme – thank you, loose and leafy, for starting the whole thing. I would have passed by the tree, doing something else, and only really thought about it turning colour when it became much more obvious.

But I’m not the only one who has noticed. Various things have been taking advantage, snacking their way through the leaves and causing damage which I’ve not noticed earlier. In fact these are the first signs I’ve seen of any damage whatsoever:

chew toy

I’m not sure what has caused them, but probably not this birch shield bug, which I caught resting and pretending it wasn’t there (I’ve had to take the photos over a couple of days, hence the changing light – partly the demands of work; partly the demands of the weather, which has been distinctly changeable).

birch shield bug

You can also see, quite clearly, the fuzziness of the smaller branches – and the turning tips of the leaves.

And what, I wonder, has been doing this?

mystery trail

I did pull the leaf apart, looking for an answer, but answer (or bug) came there none. Any suggestions?

It’s interesting, too, how much clearer the pores on the leaves are. Again, something I’d not noticed before.

going, going

I’ve decided to try and keep a close watch on a few particular leaves, and I’ve marked them with wool (well, I am a spinner and knitter; I’ve plenty to hand. Too much, some would say, but some can – um, go away and do something else). This is one; I’m wondering if it will be reduced to a skeleton by next month. It’s probably more likely to be ripped off the branch by the gales we are currently experiencing, but I can try.

And the meadow around the tree is looking rather flat and autumnal, too.

meadow grass

I can’t blame the Hell Hound of Harlech for the seasonality, but I can blame her for the flatness, the random paths and the occasional turd (@!&xHG%%ew6!!!). From now on, following an unfortunate incident with a developing squash, she is banned. Hm… back to the tree, as yet unchewed by puppy teeth. That bark is definitely paler than it was at the start of the year. I don’t think it’s down to seasonality, and I can’t blame the dog, so I am forced to conclude that it is indeed finally changing colour and becoming a grown-up downy birch.

In the face of all this autumnal change, there are signs that the seeds of next year are being laid down. The foxgloves are shedding potential everywhere,

foxglove seed head

and on the birch there are catkins forming for next spring, again looking just like the downy birch illustrations in my Tree Guide. They are very small and awkward to photograph; I’ve just been out with a tape and the longest one was 150ml x 4ml at the widest point…

and for next year…

but they are there, and not just in one or two places; the tree is covered in them.

The almost-ripe female catkins are much larger, at 200-250ml x 75ml. They haven’t yet begun to shed the papery seeds I discovered last month when I cut one open; maybe that will be something for September. In the meanwhile, the tiny new ones are a sign that everything goes round and round. The leaves may be disintegrating, the meadow may be flat and tired and full of things literally setting seed, but the seeds are also being set metaphorically for next spring.

In a minute I’ll be speculating about what sort of winter we can look forward to, so I think I’d better leave it at that – it is still August, after all: it’s still relatively warm, there are still leaves on the trees, and the roads are full of mobile homes whose drivers are scared of stone walls and think passing places are for parking in. Oh, joy.


10 Comments Add yours

  1. Cathy says:

    You have made me look forward all the more to my foray into tree watching, Kate, as I rushed my inaugural post without actually observing – but you have been able to notice so much on yours that I am excited already about my next month’s post. Not that I want to find nibbled and deformed leaves of course! The Hell Hound of Harlech has a lot to answer for, doesn’t he…?!

    1. kate says:

      It’s great fun, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it enormously…
      While I’d love to blame THHOH for damaging the tree, I don’t think I’d get away with it. Playing catch your tail over the veg patch was bad enough…

  2. Pauline says:

    We too are enjoying the endless stream of caravans coming to the West Country, soon we will have to put up a sign on the M5 saying that Devon is full!
    Are you a member of the RHS, if so, you could send your leaves to them and they will tell you what is attacking your tree.

    1. kate says:

      I cancelled my RHS membership last year, as luck would have it – but I think it’s probably just suffering from end of seasonitis…

      Caravans! You mean there are some that aren’t in North Wales?

      1. coastcard says:

        A great post, Kate. I would suggest some kind of leaf miner for the lines, but am no expert. I wonder if our (different) birches are susceptible to the same things. Love the photo of the shieldbug!

        1. kate says:

          I couldn’t quite believe that the shield bug sat so still for me – normally I spot things and they fly/walk/run/crawl/slither away. My poor tree is getting more raggedy by the day, leaf miners or not… sniff….

  3. Anna says:

    Being a camper van traveler I had to smile at the conclusion to your post Kate 🙂 Be assured himself and I would not be so inconsiderate when it comes to parking. I’ve seen birch shield bugs in our garden but did not realise that is what they are. The markings on the leaves on the photo underneath looks as if they might have been caused be a leaf miner but I don’t know if there is one that’s particularly partial to birch.

    1. kate says:

      One of bezzie mates was an avid camper vanner, and she wouldn’t have done anything as bonkers either, so I know there are some knowledgeable fans out there! (The two cars, me and a neighbour towing a trailer full of stuff, had to shimmy up a hill and round a bend to find somewhere we could pass each other… as I disappeared uphill and backwards I heard him shouting – in Welsh so his message just possibly didn’t get through – but how daft can you get? Every year I think it will get better, and then someone will ask for a post code for the beach. SatNav fans: beaches, generally, don’t have postcodes.)

      Ahem. Two weeks to the Bank Holiday.

      I’m sure you and coastcard are right about the leaf miner, but I don’t know much about them – and I must admit that I only realised it was a birch shield bug when I googled images of shield bugs and clicked on a matching one!

  4. wellywoman says:

    Lovely post. Those tracks on leaves are normally left by leaf miners. Not sure I’ve ever actually seen one or how long they hang around for. It does feel like the descent to autumn has begun – I’m wearing a jumper today. It was so chilly at the plot last night that I wondered if I would need to fleece my dahlias. I have everything crossed in the hope that we’ll have an Indian summer.

    1. kate says:

      Thank you – and I know what you mean, I even switched the heating on last night (but then came to my senses and found a big jumper – I mean, it’s still August.

      It’s looking vaguely good for an Indian summer – round us, haf bach Mihangel, aka St Michael’s little summer. My tomatoes, though, are convinced that this is it, they might as well die. Humpf.

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