It was an amusing and quintessentially autumnal sight – a grey squirrel, her cheeks bulging with an outsize acorn, – streaking across the lawn, intent on finding a safe hiding place for her treasure. I can confidently say “her” as I’d been watching her earlier as she hung upside down alongside the supposedly squirrel-proof bird feeder, nibbling expensive sunflower hearts. Her white underside was clearly exposed and I could see she was lactating. No doubt my birdfood, together with the excellent acorn harvest, has enabled her to produce just one more litter before winter comes.
It has certainly been a wonderful year for wild fruits. This is not, as many older people used to tell me when I was a child, a sign of a hard winter to come – kindly Mother Nature providing for her creatures. It’s actually the result of the preceding seasons: that dismally wet but quite mild winter and good flying weather when pollinating insects were most needed. Now we see the benefits – heavy crops of rowan, hawthorn and holly berries, the best brambles I can remember and, of course, fat, shiny acorns.
I’ve been interested to see who ate what and, of course, when. We have two rowans in our garden and one, the skinny survivor when a thicket of laurel was removed, bore significant fruit for the first time and was stripped by blackbirds a couple of months ago. The other, older, bigger and much more productive, still has most of its lustrous red berries though, to me, they’ve appeared equally tempting for weeks. Obviously birds can judge exactly when fruit is at its maximum ripeness and, if possible, leave it to that point. It makes sense: ripeness means sweetness, and sugar means energy. This year, because of superabundance elsewhere, such a waiting game is possible. The crop may even survive till the winter thrushes, redwings and fieldfares, arrive from Scandinavia.
I have picked my fill of brambles and, now October has come when, traditionally, the Devil spits on them, leave the rest for birds and insects. A friend living on the edge of Ilkley Moor tells me there is a dung-pit on the edge of their garden, full of purple-black material. Clearly his visiting badgers have been feasting on blackberries. My pampered badger has so far preferred his peanut-butter sandwiches to the more natural fare on offer. And, though badgers can digest acorns as part of their mixed diet, he’s left mine to the jays and squirrels.