We’ve now had our first frost – quite a heavy one – though I was relieved to see that our garden remained unaffected. Even the last few blackberries were surprisingly delicious: I was brought up to believe that the devil spat on them on October 1st, rendering them inedible!
The autumn colours are particularly good this year: perhaps the result of plentiful winter water and prolonged summer sunshine. It’s always a delight to see what is essentially a closing down for all deciduous trees being so spectacularly beautiful, as chlorophyll is withdrawn from the leaves, unwanted substances discarded there and then each leaf sealed off to free fall to the ground – food for fungi, insects and bacteria which recycle them to provide nourishment for next year’s growth: a wonderfully elegant system.
I used to hate the autumn as a time of absences. I now realise this is a foolish attitude: it’s a time of lively activity on the woodland floor and of countless new arrivals to replace the departed warblers, swallows and martins.
In fact, the skies are as busy as Heathrow in autumn. There’s something wild and beautiful in spotting a skein of geese against a grey wintery sky, keeping their sense of community with frequent contact calls and periodically replacing the lead bird in their arrow pattern – the one that takes the full force of their progress as they maintain that best of aerodynamic formations. They were already passing overhead in September – probably pink- footed geese en route to Martin Mere on the Lancashire coast. This reserve is well worth a winter visit. Hundreds of whooper and a few Bewick swans come there too, to feed and to roost in a protected environment. Family groups keep together, snow-white parents and fawny-brown well-grown cygnets. Apparently, it’s an advantage to belong to a family when the roost huddles together: singletons get pushed to the edges where it’s colder and more dangerous.
Many migrating birds travel by night, using the stars as navigation aids. Large flocks of winter thrushes (redwings and fieldfares) are currently passing overhead. Redwings keep in touch with quiet, high-pitched contact calls so, if your hearing is still good, stand outside on a clear night and listen for their silvery whistling. They can also be seen in gardens and the countryside clearing up any berries the resident blackbirds have left, especially on hawthorn. This year’s crop of haws is magnificent so they should do well.