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’
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