The times they are a-chang­ing

There’s a new sea­son on the way and it’s one that brings colour, flavour, sounds and smells, as our na­ture

Let's Talk - - Contents - writer Barry Mad­den ex­plains.

The sea­son is turn­ing. Our senses tell us; we can see the hedgerows ablaze with hips, haws and ripe fruits of el­der­ber­ries, black­ber­ries and sloe, we can smell the damp earth and the tang of moul­der­ing leaves re­turn­ing their good­ness to the soil, we can hear the robin’s mourn­ful au­tumn lament and the chuck­ling of newly-ar­rived field­fares. You can some­times smell and feel the sub­tle changes.

Af­ter the won­der­ful but some­times sti­fling sum­mer we have ex­pe­ri­enced it is al­most re­fresh­ing to re­turn to cooler days. I al­ways think there is some­thing spe­cial about the at­mos­phere of crisp au­tum­nal morn­ings when the rays of a weak­en­ing sun shine golden through multi-hued fo­liage, or per­haps when the ground is blan­keted with shim­mer­ing gos­samer spun from count­less small spi­ders.

We may have hopes for an In­dian sum­mer, but the nat­u­ral world is get­ting ready for win­ter. Apart from the afore­men­tioned robin, birds have stopped singing; no need now to ad­ver­tise your prow­ess and claim a breed­ing ter­ri­tory. In­stead the cast is chang­ing; there is a marked move­ment north to south. Our sum­mer vis­i­tors have largely

de­parted to es­cape the rigours of a north­ern hemi­sphere win­ter and spend six months un­der African skies. Con­versely those species elect­ing to breed in the Arc­tic will be ar­riv­ing on our shores to spend their win­ter in rel­a­tive balm.

Geese, wild­fowl, waders, to­gether with many smaller birds will flock to our East Anglian coast and marsh­land to plun­der that fruit­ful bounty of­fered by our shrubs and trees, to feast on dis­carded su­gar beet tops, gorge them­selves on mol­luscs, crus­taceans and in­sects and de­light us on gar­den feed­ers.

Keep an eye on black­birds in your gar­den, one morn­ing you will look out and see sev­eral chas­ing one an­other; the lo­cal birds have sud­denly found them­selves in­vaded by overnight ar­rivals from Scan­di­navia or be­yond. Keep your ears tuned on over­cast evenings for the con­tact notes of red­wings and star­lings mi­grat­ing un­seen over­head. Small signs all around that fore­tell big change.

Some of our mam­mals will be stock­ing up ready for their hi­ber­na­tion or en­forced shel­ter. The wood mice in the gar­den will raid the hazel and cherry plum, grey squir­rels will cre­ate a larder of buried acorns in the lawn along­side jays. Hedge­hogs will seek a safe, dry spot un­der the com­post heap or a suit­able pile of logs to curl up and see out win­ter’s chill snug and warm. Bad­gers will take to their setts.

Like­wise, am­phib­ians will be chang­ing their habits. Frogs will spend the win­ter buried in mud at the bot­tom of a pond or at the bot­tom of log piles where their bod­ies will en­ter a state or tor­por. Toads will find a favoured nook to squeeze into and al­though they do not hi­ber­nate as such, will slow down their ac­tiv­i­ties, only be­com­ing ac­tive dur­ing milder spells. Newts will sim­i­larly seek out a frost-free spot away from wa­ter to see out the worst of the win­ter weather. Sev­eral smooth newts use tiny gaps in a pile of dis­carded bricks at the bot­tom of my own gar­den. Here they are still able to keep rel­a­tively warm as well as hav­ing a ready sup­ply of small spi­ders and other crea­tures to snack on.

In the in­sect world it is a dif­fer­ent story. Many will sim­ply die hav­ing com­pleted their adult task of mat­ing and lay­ing eggs. The vast ma­jor­ity of moths and but­ter­flies will rely on over­win­ter­ing eggs and larva to prop­a­gate the species the fol­low­ing year.

Some, how­ever, will hi­ber­nate, small tor­toise­shell, pea­cock and brim­stone for ex­am­ple. Time was when these in­sects would spend the win­ter se­creted away in cup­boards and pantries of houses not fit­ted with mod­ern day cen­tral heat­ing. In my youth it was a com­mon sight to have a few in our house in Nor­wich. Each March there would be fran­tic beat­ing of wings against the win­dows herald­ing the re­turn of spring warmth. Not so in our 21st cen­tury homes; this con­nec­tion with na­ture is sadly missed. It is nonethe­less im­por­tant to en­sure any hi­ber­nat­ing in­sects in sheds and out­build­ings are left undis­turbed. Cru­cially leave ivy alone; not only is it a su­perb source of late nec­tar but it also pro­vides ideal hi­ber­na­tion con­di­tions for brim­stones and other in­sects. Your re­ward will be to see them colour­fully flut­ter­ing around your patch next year.

The sea­son is ir­re­press­ibly turn­ing, but what bet­ter time to get out and ex­pe­ri­ence the op­por­tu­ni­ties au­tumn can bring. Red deer are rut­ting and can be seen at such places as RSPB Mins­mere, fungi will pro­lif­er­ate and can be en­coun­tered any­where.

Maybe you can get your­self to one of our bril­liant coastal na­ture re­serves to see the mass­ing of wild geese or a roost of rap­tors. Maybe even con­nect with an un­usual Siberian stray bird or watch star­lings and thrushes pour in from the North Sea. There is al­ways plenty to ex­pe­ri­ence in the nat­u­ral world, use your senses and cel­e­brate.

You can read more of Barry Mad­den’s bril­liant na­ture notes at his on­line blog site at www. east­ern­

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