A perfect Autumn morning, colours glowing and a definite nip in the air – and a friend working early in an Ilkley garden! Suddenly he looked up and saw a skein of about twenty geese coming from the east and sharply veering south over the Moor. Then, a strange yelping honking noise alerted him to a second, much larger, group – still in that classic V-shaped skein. This lot came from the west but, again, veered south over the Moor. It was, he said, as though Ilkley Moor was a known way-mark to these birds as they navigated south from their summer breeding grounds.
October is the time when these great bird movements peak. It’s as though the skies above our globe are patterned all over with their purposeful flocks, day and night. Yes – they don’t necessarily need to see their landmarks. Great clouds of winter thrushes, redwings and fieldfares, pass high over our heads by starlight. If you stand outside and listen, you may hear the soft whistling contact calls that mark their passing. My hearing isn’t that good these days but, about a fortnight ago, as I lay in bed enjoying the view of the reddening bracken on the Moor and the Autumn tinges of bronze in our neighbour’s lime tree, I spotted a party of about 30 redwings, twelve of which landed in our larch tree. They looked like an RSPB Christmas card as they perched there, all facing into the sun that highlighted their cream eye-stripes and the russet flush along their flanks. They didn’t pause to sample any garden fruits, but soon took off again to join the rest of the flock.
The berry harvest in our garden is patchy, owing to the poor weather earlier in the year that kept pausing the pollination process. The blackberries were fewer and smaller. Apparently every segment in one ‘blackberry’ is the product of a separate pollination. But, cotoneaster, pyracantha, berberis and holly are all richly red. The BTO is conducting a survey of this harvest: asking members to record the sequence in which fruits are eaten and, most importantly, by whom. It’s too late for our rowan-berries – they’re long gone. The holly-berries, usually a draw to redwings, are being rapidly gobbled by wood pigeons, and a cock blackbird is patronising the evergreen honeysuckle – squatting safely among the tangled foliage, knocking back navy-blue berries with relish!