What to watch out for in Novem­ber

Skele­ton trees and piles of leaves. Bon­fires. Rov­ing gangs of tits scour­ing bark and twigs for morsels to eat. Frosty nights. Misty morn­ings. Hedge­hogs are tucked up un­der your shed or in your com­post bin. Frogs, toads and newts have hun­kered down in the

Gardeners' World - - Contents -

Look for star­lings mur­mu­rat­ing at dusk dur­ing au­tumn and win­ter. Our res­i­dent star­lings are joined by vis­i­tors from Eastern Europe es­cap­ing the harsher win­ters. Just be­fore roost­ing, they gather in huge, swirling masses to ‘dance’ into the sun­set. This is thought to be a tac­tic to ward off preda­tors – fly­ing en masse, their syn­chro­nised move­ments look like vast, mov­ing shapes in the sky. Some of the best places to see these mes­meris­ing dis­plays are at RSPB na­ture reserves, as well as on the Som­er­set Lev­els and at Brighton Pier, but they can hap­pen any­where. Star­lings usu­ally mur­mu­rate near a struc­ture they will roost in, such as a bridge, pier or tree. If you get close enough, you’ll hear the rush of their wings and their gen­tle chat­ter­ing. Star­lings are about the size of black­birds, and black all over but with iri­des­cent greeny-blue mark­ings. They walk with a sort of swag­ger, and feed in large groups on lawns or at feed­ers. Some gar­den­ers ob­ject to their noisy an­tics, which can scare off smaller birds. But it’s not their fault – they’ve evolved to feed and live in groups. Tra­di­tion­ally, star­lings eat soil grubs such as leather­jack­ets (crane-fly lar­vae) and earth­worms – their sharp, yel­low beaks are per­fect for teas­ing them out of the ground. Sadly, star­ling num­bers have fallen by 66 per cent in Bri­tain since the mid-1970s. Lack of food could be a fac­tor – wide­spread use of pes­ti­cides in agri­cul­tural ar­eas may have re­duced the soil in­ver­te­brates they rely on. Nest­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties may also have be­come more lim­ited.

Also be on the look­out for…

Un­usual over­win­ter­ing birds, such as hawfinches and waxwings. Fungi in lawns and on old logs. Gold­crests and firecrests – Bri­tain’s tini­est birds – dart­ing be­tween trees. Field mice, which don’t hi­ber­nate.

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