A Mixed Change in Season...
Well this week has finally seen the temperatures drop with the arrival of single figures and even the first frost. The arrival of autumn this year, certainly on my home patch, has been a little muddled, with plenty of sightings of summer species remaining out and about for far longer than I recall in recent years; for much of September and October, it was at least mild, if not positively summery on many days and only really began to cool down in the later weeks of October.
In September and October, after the fields had been harvested, I had a few wanders on my local patch to see what was still about. One morning in mid September, I was up at dawn, as I knew there was a good chance of it being bright, but on the misty side. I also had a fancy to see 'who' was about that early! I took a stroll along the woodland margin and I could hear the birds singing, however, they were well undercover in lush foliage, it was a real mix of colours, with the burdock seed heads in shades of bronze against a backdrop of green.
Against the sun, along the edge..
As I walked, a few rabbits and squirrels a long way ahead of me scooted back into the woods and I could see a Dunnock or two keeping me under close observation fom the safety of a Hawthorn bush. A youngster had appeared first, before one of the adults came out for a closer look.
On reaching the 'meadow', or fallow field, which has been left unmown so far this year, there was a magical sight - the spiders had been busy!
Backlit by the misty morning sun, every last stem of Hogweed, grass and vegetation was festooned with dew-strung cobwebs and strands of gossamer. I never knew there were so many spiders! I wandered around amongst them, some encased the hogweed heads and there were plenty of orb webs, some quite large.
Here and there Garden Cross (Araneus Diadematus) spiders hung dew drenched in the middle of their webs, or as the sun warmed them up were busy repairing their webs.
Along by the stream at the top of the field, I could hear a Chiff Chaff calling and caught glimpses of Great and Blue tits flitting about. In the middle of the field, there are a number of short willow trees amongst the hogweed stems and Wrens favour them, being low to the ground and can often be glimpsed and heard, flitting between them. This morning was no different, with a number of them calling from deep undercover, however, one popped out in front of me, mid forage, low down in the hogweed stems.
After hopping about a bit, the Wren continued away into a big pile of brambles, so I headed over in that direction. Low down in the grass though, something a bit good caught my eye! The grass is quite long in the meadow and there must be allsorts living under it - when I walk across the middle, I follow rabbit or Muntjac runs, to avoid unnecessary disturbance. As I walked past the spot the Lizards frequent, there in the grass was....
the shed skin of a Grass Snake! I know what I shall be keeping a lookout for in the warmer months next year! The skin's direction was towards a big bank of brambles on the edge of the stream, there is plenty of food (they will hunt in water) and shelter there for it.
Coming to a grassy area, in the blackthorn across the stream were a number of Goldfinches chattering as well as a female Whitethroat. Low down in the grass a flash of orange caught my eye, a Small Copper Butterfly, warming up in the morning sunshine. Now butterflies, locally and elsewhere this year, have not done well, so I was delighted to see this perfect tiny butterfly so late on.
At first, the butterfly was settling for a few minutes here and there low down in the grass, but as it warmed up, it's flights gradually became more energetic and after a while quite aerobatic as well! Just before it finally flew off it settled and posed briefly high up on a grass stem.
As it was getting warm, many of the webs had dried off, however I found another large spider further along the path, busy, it appeared, constructing a new web, whilst others were busy making running repairs. This was a a slightly different one to the Garden Cross, an Araneus Marmoreus, which I've only seen once before up at Lakenheath.
After watching a while, I continued along to the western end of the meadow, where there is a huge bank of brambles under the eaves of the Oak trees. Along the path, and amongst buttercup foliage, I could see Nursery web spiderlings - there have been quite a few of their funnel webs about this year - the youngsters however, were soon scuttling into deeper vegetation as I passed.
Surprisingly, it had still been warm enough for crickets and grasshoppers to be about, as I wandered along I saw two Rosels sunning themselves amongst old thistles and on a few of my recent excursions have seen both Dark Bush and Speckled Green Crickets about.
On reaching the bank of brambles, I could hear and see glimpses of small birds, a couple of juvenile Blackcaps, a Goldcrest, Wrens and Tits. There was also a lot of noise from a nearby Corvid roost, accompanied by calling from a raptor. After waiting a while and watching, I was treated to a rare glimpse of the Sparrowhawk that stealthily frequents that patch of woodland! A brief flash out of the trees, a stall turn and off again! The smaller birds resumed their foraging activities and I was pleased to see both a Red Admiral and a Comma taking advantage of the blackberries.
Red Admirals rarely survive the winter months by hibernating (although a few will in the Southern parts of the UK), however, they are known to fly on milder days through to November. Comma butterflies on the other hand will hibernate in some cases and emerge the following year. During the autumn months, blackberries, rotting fruit and ivy flowers are all good sources of food.
Towards the end of that stroll, I saw a Common Darter sunning herself before starting the day's flying.
I know that these can carry on flying until quite late in the year, but was surprised to see these, Ruddy Darters and even Migrant Hawkers still flying about in October during a trip to the Forest of Dean.
This year, despite many trees coming into blossom very early, it still seems to have been a good year 'fruit' wise - there are plenty of Hawthorn berries and rosehips about and the blackthorn bushes seem laden with sloes. Towards the end of the summer, there also appeared to be plenty of Rowan and Elder berries too, although these have mostly been eaten now!
There have also been quite a few wildflowers remaining in bloom, thistles and various kinds of Hawkbit, which bees and late butterflies, as well as late hoverflies have been taking advantage of. Unfortunatley, along the woodland margins, this year the farmer has completely removed all the nettles, brambles and burdock as well as having flayed the trees - removing many of the fruits lower down. This was a valuable habitat for numerous insects, small birds and mammals, so the effect, for next year remains to be seen. There really needs to be a better balance between intensive agriculture and the surrounding habitats - the crops benefit from pollinators and from the insects, the whole 'chain' benefits upwards. It all can work together and benefit both the farmers and the wildlife by not stripping the land bare.
Within the woodland areas however, the Squirrels have been getting busy with hazelnuts and acorns, on one afternoon's walk, I saw a rather clever squirrel who was in a hazel tree, bouncing up and down in the branches as though to dislodge some of the nuts!
The Jays have all been squawking their way around many of the Oak trees as well, squabbling over acorns and one which traverses the end of my garden has started to appear again, going back and forth with beakfuls... The branches within the woods are regularly rustling with scampering squirrels, some guarding their 'stash', enroute to hiding food or others chasing in courtship.
The woodland floor, after a rather rain free spell, has remained very dry, so as with last year, there has been very little fungi - previously I have seen Russulas and Amethyst Deceivers growing, however, that which has appeared is somewhat later (late October) and all growing on trees and mossy stumps.
Of an evening towards the end of October, I had still been seeing bats flitting around over the back garden - these have various roosts hidden within the woods and also the local Tawny Owls have become extremely vocal as they sort out their territories. Where it had started to turn slightly cooler, particularly in the mornings, I have been filling the birdfeeders in the garden. The little flock of House Sparrows are now returning regularly, as are Starlings (there is a small flock, three dozen approx, which also seem to do a mini-murmeration of an evening, practising before they disappear off to join a larger one maybe?). The Coal Tit, as well as the Great and Blue Tits are all coming back and a few times we have had a troupe of juvenile and adult Long Tailed Tits through as well.
In mid October I went out for a short afternoon stroll on a surprisingly warm day and was treated to unexpected views of some of the local Common Lizards. Through the summer months, the log which they use to bask on has been so overgrown, that despite peering carefully on many an occasion, I had not seen them for sometime.
On this particular afternoon it was hot! so I had a careful look and initially saw 'someone' moving under some of the dead grass, then I could see, on one part of the log, that I was being watched very carefully!
Further along, there were another couple, one large adult and a smaller Lizard which was part way through shedding it's skin. As I watched them, the one that was mid-shed often rubbed itself against some of the grass and at times dislodged pieces of old skin - I watched a few others doing this as well.
I crouched quietly nearby for quite a long time, watching them bask, climb over each other and move around in the surrounding vegetation. (Common Lizards are protected, so only ever watch and never ever attempt to touch) . After a while, there was quite a family gathering basking in the sunshine - some with, others without tails, but all looking in good condition. This was very late to be seeing them - last year despite it being mild a while, my last sighting was in September, against October of this year.
Another late sighting in October, one of a few I heard and saw, was a Chiff Chaff although these do now seem to have departed. Goldcrests are also making regular appearances - previously I've only seen them in November / December time.
The woodland itself has gradually been changing from rich greens to varying golds and the floor is now littered with leaves; the season has definitely changed though - today was cold and blustery, with leaves swirling through the air across to our garden, so no doubt about it - autumn is here and winter is on it's way!
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