There’s a sense of endings everywhere you look: roadsides are drab now – just dusty leaves and seeding willowherb, horse chestnut leaves are already changing colour, and a path-side bank in Strid Woods was speckled with tiny white toadstools. This weekend we reach the Autumn Equinox. It’s a time when I feel melancholy. But I shouldn’t!
The swallows and martins may be leaving us, but wildfowl (swans, geese and over-wintering ducks) are on their way. Soon winter thrushes – redwings, fieldfares and additional mistle thrushes – will arrive to share in this summer’s abundant crop of wild fruits. Trees and flowering plants may be closing down, but we just need a little rain and woodland floors will be bright with fungi of every colour and shape imaginable.
Meanwhile, it’s a busy time for those that stay. My badger visitor is intent on gaining as much weight as possible: he’s already stout and getting more like a barrel on legs every time I see him. Badgers don’t actually hibernate, but they don’t care to exert themselves in bad weather so stay below ground living off their fat. Getting into the best possible condition is important – and not just for mammals. The other morning when I went to get birdseed from the shed I found a huge spiders web across the doorway. Constructed overnight, it was so elastic that it adjusted to the opening and shutting of the door without damage. Webs are appearing over our windows too – cleverly placed to catch flying insects attracted by the light from inside. Once it’s had a good meal, a spider can last a long time before needing another. Our spider-neighbours seem to be doing well.
Except for soft contact calls, most of our resident birds are silent now, but not all of them. It’s about five weeks since I first heard our garden robin tuning up. He sat on the fence about five yards from me, opened his beak and gave voice to a sweet cascade of notes. “Lovely!” I exclaimed, whereupon he did it again just as melodiously. I say “he” but it might be “she” as female robins also establish and maintain their territories over the autumn and winter by singing. Since this first encounter I’ve heard the singer every morning. Perched in our neighbour’s holly tree or up in our oak, s/he sings at regular intervals from first light to dusk. The trickle of sound has developed into a lengthy aria of whistles, trills and wistful pipings. For the songster, newly come into his/her estate, this is a beginning.
Wharfedale Naturalists Society
Badger image by Mark Robinson (Flickr: Foraging Badgers)
[CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)