Birds feast on rich au­tumn pick­ings

Kentish Gazette Canterbury & District - - Family Announcements -

Dur­ing a par­tic­u­larly cold au­tumn in the early 19th cen­tury Thomas Hood wrote the de­press­ing lines: “No shade, no shine, no but­ter­flies, no bees,

“No fruits, no flow­ers, no leaves, no birds, “Novem­ber!” For­tu­nately, our cli­mate has warmed since that bleak pe­riod and although the leaves are falling fast they open up new vis­tas in our an­cient woods, where we may see among the trees old crab ap­ples, still with small, yel­low sharp-tast­ing fruits, and butcher’s broom, an odd mem­ber of the lily fam­ily with stiff small spiky leaves and tiny flow­ers that oc­ca­sion­ally pro­duce a bright red berry.

Small branches of butcher’s broom were once bound to­gether and used by butch­ers to scratch clean their cut­ting boards. In the wild, those prickly leaves help pro­vide a sanc­tu­ary for many small crea­tures, in­clud­ing wood mice.

Beau­ti­ful yews in church­yards and else­where now bear deep red fruits, beloved by birds, which shed the seeds with their drop­pings, help­ing to spread the trees, but all parts of the yew are toxic ex­cept for the flesh, and the seeds ex­cep­tion­ally so.

In hedgerows spin­dle trees are at their most beau­ti­ful, with four-lobed bright pink fruits split­ting to re­veal orange seeds. The fruits are poi­sonous to hu­mans but eaten by birds and mice. The hard wood of the spin­dle tree was used to make knit­ting nee­dles and as its name im­plies spin­dles for spin­ning.

Dog­wood is also fruit­ing, pro­duc­ing small black berries that were once used to make ink and lamp oil. But, like the spin­dle tree, it is best known for its hard wood used to make skew­ers and dag­gers.

Chaucer called dog­wood a whip­ple-tree as its wood was also a vi­tal part in the con­nec­tion of the draw­pole of a cart to the har­nesses of horses. To­day it is widely ad­mired in the wild and in gar­dens at this time of the year for its young bright red stems.

If mild spells be­come a fea­ture of the pre-christ­mas weather, holly berries may ripen early and will no doubt be gob­bled up by hun­gry birds dur­ing any cold spell. Mistle­toe is al­ready bear­ing ripe berries.

Hawfinches are not a very com­mon bird in this part of Kent but have been seen tack­ling good crop of haws. Im­mi­grant red­wings, reg­u­lar au­tumn vis­i­tors, are al­ready here busy eat­ing berries.

Field­fares, an­other im­mi­grant thrush, have been re­ported in quite large num­bers by the ev­er­ac­tive mem­bers of the Kent Or­nitho­log­i­cal So­ci­ety. I haven’t yet heard of any re­ports of waxwings, birds from Scan­di­navia that some­times ar­rive at this time of the year to eat the berries of the rowan trees of­ten planted in su­per­mar­ket car parks.

Buz­zards are well es­tab­lished in east Kent to the an­noy­ance of crows, which see them as year-round com­peti­tors for car­rion and small birds. Mob­bing is the crow’s an­swer to this per­ceived threat, in a bid to make the buz­zards fly away, which they usu­ally do for a while be­fore re­turn­ing.

With the re­cent mild weather, badgers are still ac­tive build­ing up their win­ter fat, but they do not for­get the com­fort of their setts and can be seen tak­ing in brush and dry grass to cre­ate a deep warm home, well be­low the sur­face. Here fam­i­lies will group to­gether, shar­ing their body warmth, but they do not hi­ber­nate and will ven­ture out on warm days.

Thomas Hood was very de­spon­dent about the Novem­ber weather in the early 19th cen­tury. Per­haps it was the smoke-filled skies and black­ened build­ings. These days we may see red ad­mi­ral but­ter­flies, and per­haps a small cop­per, note the peacock but­ter­flies seek­ing a safe corner in our sheds, or small tor­toise­shells tuck­ing them­selves be­hind the wardrobe. We may hear the song and twit­ter­ing of the robin, and per­haps feel that we live in kin­der times than Thomas Hood.

A red­wing

Bright red spin­dle berries

Yew fruits

Black dog­wood berries

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