Derbyshire Life - - People - WORDS AND PHO­TOS: Paul Hob­son

Au­tumn is of­ten a sea­son of plenty but some­times, be­cause of a pro­longed dry hot sum­mer, many trees sim­ply can’t af­ford to di­vert es­sen­tial en­ergy into berry and acorn pro­duc­tion.

This has a mas­sive knock-on ef­fect for many an­i­mals. Our wood­land floors won’t be lib­er­ally scat­tered with acorns so jays, wood mice and squir­rels will have lit­tle with which to stock up their larders. The ef­fects of a bare cup­board won’t re­ally be felt in Novem­ber but if the win­ter is par­tic­u­larly se­vere, then many of these species will have a

With win­ter on the hori­zon, trees glow with colour, mi­gra­tory

birds ar­rive and house spi­ders set off in search of a mate

hard time later on.

We are now halfway through au­tumn and many trees will be show­ing the de­light­ful yel­lows, oranges and rus­sets that make wood­land walks so en­chant­ing at this time of year. The colours are de­pen­dent on many fac­tors, such as the species of tree and when the first frosts ar­rive. Sy­camores pro­duce stun­ning, in­tense

‘A pro­longed dry hot sum­mer has a mas­sive knock-on ef­fect for many an­i­mals’

Star­ling mur­mu­ra­tion,


yel­lows in both our woods and towns. Birches are not quite so vi­brant but the im­pact of thou­sands of their small yel­low­green leaves rustling in the wind set against a dark moor­land will en­tice any land­scape artist’s eye. Oaks tend to colour up a lit­tle later and adopt a more som­bre set of burnt tones.

Most, if not all, of our sum­mer mi­grants have now left and the win­ter shift has def­i­nitely clocked on. Bands of thrushes (field­fares and red­wings) from North­ern Europe can of­ten be heard both day and night as they seek out new pas­tures to feed on. As long as the ground re­mains frost free they will look in our fields for in­ver­te­brates but if the weather takes a cold turn, and if they’re avail­able, they’ll go in search of rowan trees and hedges where there are still ripe berries.

Along with the thrushes, mil­lions of star­lings from

Eastern Europe will also be in­vad­ing our coun­try­side. They tend to set­tle in Bri­tain’s more west­erly coun­ties be­cause the ef­fects of frost are lower and the in­ver­te­brates more ac­ces­si­ble in the warmer soils dur­ing win­ter.

In Der­byshire we usu­ally have a fairly de­cent star­ling roost at Mid­dle­ton Moor. The ideal time to be there is in the evening, just as the sun sets, when groups of star­lings wing their way to­wards the reed beds where they will spend the night. If these small groups clump into one large wheel­ing mass of thou­sands – it doesn’t hap­pen ev­ery night – the sight in the twi­light sky is one of truly breath­tak­ing splen­dour.

Many birds change their be­hav­iour in au­tumn be­cause the de­mands on them have changed. They are no longer breed­ing so can flock to­gether and move around the coun­try­side far more. Small groups of long-tailed tits will be work­ing through wood­lands and gar­dens as they look for the many in­sects that are still abun­dant be­fore the on­set of the first frosts. Our larger eu­trophic (an eco­log­i­cal term that means nu­tri­ent rich) lakes, such as Cars­ing­ton, will now sup­port float­ing rafts of ducks such as wigeon, teal and shov­eler. Wood pi­geons, which are not ev­ery­one’s favourite be­cause of their in­va­sion of our gar­dens, will be roam­ing the fields and woods in the south of the county. Many of these will end up be­ing shot – a few pos­si­bly even mak­ing it onto the plates pre­pared by com­peti­tors in one of the gourmet TV cook­ery pro­grammes that cap­ture the in­ter­est of so many of us.

Novem­ber may seem an odd month to look for in­ver­te­brates but as long as we haven’t had a frost the num­ber of spi­ders

‘As long as we haven’t had a frost the num­ber of spi­ders in Der­byshire is prob­a­bly at its an­nual peak now’

in Der­byshire is prob­a­bly at its an­nual peak now. Many of these re­main hid­den from sight but can leave signs of just how abun­dant they ac­tu­ally are. A misty dawn walk across grass­land or moor­land can of­ten re­veal thou­sands of dew-span­gled webs draped across the veg­e­ta­tion and un­less you look closely you are un­likely to see the ar­chi­tects of these gos­samer in­sect traps.

How­ever, not all spi­ders spin webs. Many sim­ply hunt for their prey or lurk in dark cor­ners wait­ing for their prey to come to them. Late au­tumn is the best time to watch what is ar­guably the spi­der that cre­ates more havoc in house­holds than any other – the house spi­der. These have been liv­ing fairly un­ob­tru­sively, hid­den away in your house dur­ing the late sum­mer. In late au­tumn, how­ever, the long-legged males start to roam around the floors of your home, seek­ing the love of their lives, a fe­male house spi­der. These are fan­tas­tic, spec­tac­u­lar beasts but you can al­most hear the hor­ror film screams as one of these amorous males sud­denly ap­pears, run­ning across the car­pet as you sit re­lax­ing in front of the TV. How­ever, please don’t kill them. They can do you no harm. In fact they have been help­ing you all sum­mer by re­mov­ing un­wanted in­sects from your house. You may be tempted to be ‘kind’ and pop them out­side, which is not the worst thing you could do but it’s not re­ally kind as they live in your house. The best pol­icy is sim­ply to fall in love with them (per­haps even give them a name!), and learn to en­joy their nightly ram­bles across your pol­ished floor­boards or car­pet.

Dew-cov­ered spi­der’s web

BE­LOW, Wood mouse, Apode­mus syl­vati­cus, in wood­landRIGHT,Long tailedTit, Ae­git­ha­los cau­da­tus, perched on wil­low in the Peak Dis­trict

Gar­den spi­der, Ara­neus di­ade­ma­tus, in web with spun flies

Jay, Gar­ru­lus glan­dar­ius, Peak Dis­trict

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