In early April, not long after nightfall (around 9.30), I was indoors and had just turned off the television when I became aware of very loud trilling coming from outside. All the more extraordinary to be able to hear it with the double glazed windows and external doors closed. It seemed to be louder at the front of the house, and when I opened the dining room windows it was piercing! It had to be some kind of grasshopper or cricket. For the next half hour or so it continued intermittently and then silence descended once more.
It resumed for the next several evenings, always between 9 and 10 o'clock. Tramping about the garden, I finally homed in on an area of hedge at the front, close to a streetlamp. Even with the streetlight and a torch I stood no chance of seeing anything among all those leaves, however, and at that distance the decibel level was really quite painful, so I was forced to retreat, frustrated.
Excitement returned when, from a recording of the "song" on my phone, a member of the local bird group subsequently identified the singer: a species of mole cricket. I've only ever seen one or two of these - years apart - on early morning walks in the vineyards, and never expected to discover one in my front garden. After learning that they trill from burrows, not hedges, I duly found a hole around where I'd been tramping back and forth! I'd been told to look for two small holes close together but this was on its own and struck me as impressively large for a cricket's burrow. Nevertheless, since it was so conveniently positioned, I had to stake it out.
By mid-April I had not only heard but also seen him, several nights running. But it seemed I might not have been the only one on stake-out. At dusk one evening I crept outside with tripod, camera and torch, only to find a cat sitting right by the hole. Coincidence, or could it smell the cricket? It was certainly very reluctant to leave!
It was 27th April when I spotted two small holes, about a foot apart, in the back garden this time, on the edge of a border by what passes as our lawn. They were about the right diameter but the entrance to neither had yet been sculpted into an amphitheatre like the one in the front garden. I staked them out for a night or two at the witching hour between 9 and 10, but there was no activity or sound. Then we had more rain and one of the two entrances filled in with soil. If this had ever been a burrow, it seemed abandoned now.
Eight days later, when cutting the grass, I came across the body of a mole cricket within a few feet of the holes. At first I feared I'd mown him up (even though they are usually nocturnal), but closer inspection showed that he'd been dead for a while. Ants or other creatures had already had a go at him and he was in quite a fragile, desiccated state.
I should perhaps have been relieved, since mole crickets feed mostly on plant roots and are hated by vineyard owners and market gardeners, but this discovery made me very sad. Having never noticed them in my garden previously, it's perhaps unlikely I would suddenly find two, within days of each other, so I do believe this was "him". Come to think of it, that same cat had also been crouched near this part of the garden too, one evening. My hypothesis is that the rain forced the unlucky cricket out of his second burrow, whereupon he was predated by something. I don't think my dog is to blame in this instance, because he would have eaten the catch (being very partial to Egyptian grasshoppers). A cat, on the other hand, might well kill and leave it. Except cats don't like rain...
At least this gave me an opportunity to examine him more closely, especially those amazing, spade-like front feet, and it was a surprise to find him quite hairy! So I photographed and measured him (about 5cm from nose to the end of his abdomen, not including spikes), before giving him a dignified burial in the spot where he first set up home at the front of the house.
If you don't like to look at dead things, scroll down quickly and don't click on these photos to enlarge!
Sorry this phone video appears so enormous compared with camera video of cricket. Can't reduce myself!