It's early August and Warwickshire is hot. Hot and desert dry.
Although the weather of the last few months seems to have involved a lot of rain, it clearly hasn't been enough to counteract the effects of the record-breaking dry spring we had.
The soil is dry and cracked. Lush green grass has been replaced with impressionist smears of yellow, brown, khaki, ochre and every imaginable variation thereof. With the birds lying low after breeding, the fields around me are eerily quiet, with a silence broken only by the occasional tweet, the flap-flap of a wood pigeon taking to the air and the low, persistent hum of a million grass-bound insects. Often the only sign of movement on my lunchtime strolls comes from the few butterflies and bees that are willing to brave the midday sun.
Unsurprisingly, the waterways are low, slow and gin clear. The narrrow, shallow brooks which criss-cross the countryside are currently a great deal more narrow and shallow than normal. I lingered by one today, finding a pool which was just a touch deeper than elsewhere along that stretch. Sure enough, there were the fish - a dozen chub lazily holding position against a soporific current, the largest of them perhaps 10 inches in length. Resisting the urge to rush back to the car for my ever-handy travel rod, I instead stood stock-still and simply watched them.
They were entrancing and calming, and in the bright midday sun they were as clearly visible as wild fish ever become to us land-dwellers. Of course that in turn made me equally visible to them - and with one slight turn of my head I sent them dashing upstream, downstream, hither and thither in search of cover.
However low it might be, water is the key to nature watching at this time of year. While the fields might be empty, sites such as Brandon Marsh and Draycote Reservoir (and dozens of smaller, less well-known waterways) will be home to big numbers of dragonflies, butterflies (and moths), a wide array of birds including migrant waders and raptors, and (of course) those fish.
So water is always worth seeking out in high summer - just don't forget to glance into the water as well as looking all around it!
Bird of the week: Red kite (Milvus milvus), the most graceful bird of prey we have (in my ever-so-humble). Not that I got round to mentioning it in this post, but one flew low over an Oxfordshire campsite at the weekend and give us our own personal display, not long after a Spitfire fighter plane had very generously done very much the same thing.