Well, what with the weather, The Lodge is starting to take on something of an autumnal feel. The breeding season is over for nearly all birds, and robins are starting to sing again - reminiscent of damp autumn mornings for me...
On Tuesday, a grand total of 37 mistle thrushes was counted in a field near the gatehouse. These smart, noisy thrushes become social after the breeding season and gather together in favoured feeding areas. A crossbill was seen flying over the car park and spotted flycatchers are calling from the trees.
Our prospecting swifts seem to have vanished for this year, but there have been occasional sightings of hobbies this week. They'll be around until the end of September, feeding on large insects like dragonflies.
There have been excellent numbers of butterflies around lately, including more than 25 painted ladies on the buddleias around the house and gardens. They're the offspring of insects which emerged in north Africa's Atlas mountains. Amazing stuff. You might also see peacocks, red admirals, commas and large whites.
Wednesday saw a true wildlife spectacle. If you looked up into the skies over the quarry, you'd have seen 250 black-headed gulls circling around.
The birds were chasing after swarms of flying ants. Black-headed gulls really seem to enjoy them, but so do swifts and hobbies.
What's remarkable is that the ant swarms were seen across the country, not just at The Lodge. What triggers this phenomenon off? Apparently it's the ants' mating behaviour which takes place in certain weather conditions.
The gardens are still full of butterflies - painted ladies, peacocks, large, small and green-veined whites, and small tortoiseshells.
On the heath you might see small coppers and common blues. Look out for dragonflies like the impressive brown hawkers, too.
Just when other birds have finished breeding for the year, some stock doves are displaying again. You might see them flying around the car park or hear their cooing.
Not far away, a family of young sparrowhawks are just about ready to leave their nest. Their loud mewing calls are their way of saying they're hungry.
It's a week on, and I'm still buzzing: The Lodge had outdoor Shakespeare for the first time. The performers were The Pantaloons, young, witty and fun. They really brought 'Twelfth Night' to life. We roared with laughter as Sir Toby Belch belched and grimaced through his comedy act with a neurotic, bowler hatted Sir Andrew Aguecheek. The audience loved it... even those members of the audience who sat too near the front and were picked to help in the duel, speak in defence of Malvolio (and be told to 'shut up' by everyone else), or kiss Sir Toby (yuk)! Poor Cathy! All this in the gardens of The Lodge headquarters, among the birds, butterflies and (probably) bats. It was fantastic. Everyone said how good a time they'd had.
I think it shows how far the 110+ years old RSPB has changed, now willing to let it's hair down and having a bit of fun. I sense our visitors are changing too: beginning to treat the RSPB as a friend, newcomers exploring our reserves and more willing to think about supporting the serious business of saving birds and wildlife. Over 400 people came to the performances, many were RSPB 'virgins'. They had a great time, and I suspect they'll be back. Next year, it's Macbeth. No doubt it'll be just as accessible, lively, and fun as Twelfth Night!
The warm weather's been good for flying this week. Last Wednesday, a young raven appeared over The Lodge. We heard its distinctive, deep 'cronk' call and watched it circling round and around over the gardens.
The warm air rising from the ground on sunny days is used by big birds such as ravens and similarly-sized buzzards for a free lift up without having to expend much energy. It certainly looks like fun...
Only a few years ago, seeing a raven in east Bedfordshire would be a rare event indeed. But their population is expanding and now ithey are seen much more frequently in local wooded areas.
Though summer is drawing to a close, there are still lots of dragonflies around. Take your opportunity to spot red-eyed and small red-eyed damselflies on the lilypads on the swimming pool, before it's too late. This is a great place to compare these two very similar species side-by-side. Or you can just watch the antics of all the other insects, or admire the fish...
There are plenty of migrant birds around at the moment. Swifts, swallows and yellow wagtails fly over The Lodge occasionally, while blackcaps, whitethroats and other warblers lurk in the scrubbier areas. Check any patches of ripe blackberries for hungry birds tucking into a high-sugar, pre-migration snack!
Everybody loves goldfinches, with their bright yellow and black wings, and scarlet faces. It looks like it's been a good year for them - come to The Lodge and watch these beautiful birds eating thistle seeds not far from the gatehouse and car park.
The south-facing slopes of the heath - or rather the insects they attract - seem to be a popular feeding ground for swallows at the moment. Now that breeding is more or less over, they're gathering in flocks in preparation for their big flights south.
On Tuesday, a male swallow (with long tail 'streamers') with an orangey belly flew over The Lodge. Though there are races of swallows that look like this in the Middle East and north Africa, our UK swallows can also look quite reddish or orange. So we don't know for sure where he came from. They are fascinating birds!
Stroll round the gardens and you might spot some unusual-looking creatures in the undergrowth. Rhododendron leafhoppers are out in force! They're tiny, bright pink and green insects that - as their name suggests - hop around the leaves. Of course, rhododendrons are not native to this country, and neither are the leafhoppers, which arrived in this country from the USA in the 1900s.
There are loads of plants in the gardens which are much better for our native wildlife and you can still see lots of painted ladies, peacocks, small tortoiseshells and white butterflies. Watch out for the dainty small coppers and maybe even a brown argus. Once you start looking, you'll also see hoverflies and bees of all shapes and sizes.
On your walk around the reserve, watch and listen out for noisy green woodpeckers, soaring buzzards and speedy hobbies.