It’s the time for seek­ing warm win­ter­ing quar­ters

Kentish Gazette Canterbury & District - - Bridge Place -

Oc­to­ber is an un­pre­dictable month, of­ten stormy and wet but oc­ca­sion­ally sur­pris­ing us with days of beau­ti­ful sunny per­haps frosty weather as the trees and berries as­sume their au­tumn colours.

It is the month of mi­gra­tion and sleepy hi­ber­na­tion – mi­gra­tion as the re­main­ing birds that ar­rived in spring and sum­mer fly south to­wards Africa and other birds be­gin to ar­rive from the colder north and east to win­ter here.

Among the last to leave are the chif­fchaffs and wheatears, among the first to ar­rive are con­ti­nen­tal chaffinches.

Most rep­tiles and many small mam­mals are now seek­ing warm win­ter­ing quar­ters. Slow-worms look f or bur­rows, holes or old com­post heaps where num­bers may con­gre­gate to­gether and from where they will re-emerge in the spring.

Grass snakes may also hi­ber­nate in groups but ad­ders are more soli­tary. Both will seek warm hol­lows un­der trees or hedges, usu­ally with plenty of leaf cover.

There have from time to time been ru­mours of smooth snakes in Kent but I know of no def­i­nite records – the near­est are said to be in Sur­rey.

Com­mon and great-crested newts also hi­ber­nate, of­ten un­der large stones or in con­ve­nient green­houses if they can get in. Pal­mate newts usu­ally re­main low down in their ponds as do some frogs, but I of­ten find win­ter­ing frogs shel­ter­ing against house walls or the sides of sheds.

Most dormice will have now fat­tened up after an ex­cel­lent crop of hazel­nuts and are about to live up to their name by hi­ber­nat­ing in­di­vid­u­ally from late Oc­to­ber un­til April.

Wood mice, or long-tailed field mice as they are also known, set aside food stores for the win­ter. I have watched one hard at work be­neath my cob­nut trees where they also have a bur­row. They can leap like kan­ga­roos but use all four legs.

If you hear mice scrab­bling about in the attic the chances are that they are yel­low­necked mice, slightly larger than the wood mice.

They are great climbers of walls, find­ing a way into the house in the win­ter to raid any food and even bringing their own – beech mast is one of their favourites. They are noisy crea­tures, play­ing games when you are try­ing to sleep, but they usu­ally leave again in the spring. But the great­est beauty of Oc­to­ber are the au­tumn colours.

The Bish­ops­bourne au­thor, broad­caster and botanist, Jo­ce­lyn Brooke de­scribed the month as a kind of sec­ond spring but as dif­fer­ent as dusk is from dawn – in spring one watches for the first flow­ers, now the process is re­versed.

One flower that seems to defy the cold is red cam­pion, some­times bloom­ing un­til Christ­mas. But a star per­former is ivy. It at­tracts late fly­ing bees and tough but­ter­flies such as the red ad­mi­ral, even into win­ter.

There used to be a be­lief that red ad­mi­rals could not sur­vive our cold win­ters but they reg­u­larly en­dure much colder con­di­tions in France.

Damp­ness may be a prob­lem, but I have seen two emerge from ivy-cov­ered wood­land on a sunny lane in late De­cem­ber and very early Jan­uary. Hawthorns now bear rich red haws, win­ter food for the birds. In wartime they, like rose hips, were once made into Christ­mas jel­lies by knowl­edge­able village ladies when nor­mal gela­tine was un­avail­able.

An­other star of the hedgerows is guelder-rose with its bright red translu­cent berries, poi­sonous to hu­mans but food for bullfinches and mis­tle thrushes.

In the years after the 1939-45 war I used to wan­der around a huge flooded crater near the old Sturry al­lot­ments colonised by newts and grass snakes.

It was there that I saw my first thorn ap­ple, an odd­look­ing mem­ber of the night­shade fam­ily whose fruit is a bright green pod with prom­i­nent spikes.

Thorn ap­ples come from south-east­ern Europe and are hal­lu­cino­genic.

They have been given a num­ber of other ap­pro­pri­ate names in­clud­ing devil’s snare, devil’s trum­pet and devil’s weed. Re­cently one was found fruit­ing in El­ham. It prob­a­bly came from bird seed. They do not usu­ally sur­vive our win­ters.

A wheatear – a cor­rup­tion of its old English name, white arse; bright red haws

Guelder-rose berries, left, and a thorn ap­ple

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