Autumn is under way and the wildlife change sentry

As we slowly move through autumn, the wildlife we see changes but there is still plenty to be seen

Ripe Pyracantha berriesThe slow swing of the seasons is clear to see right now – a frigid north-easterly wind is blowing and all the leaves have suddenly dropped from the big lime tree at the back of the courtyard.

Most will be gathered and laid as a blanket over the raised beds, while the rest will shelter invertebrates and be left for the birds to forage through over winter. The missing foliage sometimes reveals surprises, such as an acorn wedged into a gap in a stone wall, revealed when ivy was removed. By the aged look of it, a forgetful squirrel must have tucked it in there last year, or maybe even years before. It was stuck fast, so I left it where it was.

The man from the Wildlife Trust I spoke to a few weeks ago told me that hedgehogs have generally tucked themselves up to hibernate by bonfire night (November 5) and he was only ten days out, for the dish of chopped suet ball has gone untouched since the 11th of the month. I've left the dish of food in the hedgehog shelter and the birds have been eating it, especially the blackbirds.

I see them in there early in the morning, pecking away at their fatty breakfast. We'll keep putting food out in mild spells, someone will eat it. The birds are still feasting on the many fruits to be found in gardens and hedgerows. The hawthorns are full of berries and there are still pyracantha berries to be had, though these are being eaten fast. It's always the same, the red berries go first, then orange, yellow and finally cream. The cream coloured berries are on a cotoneaster in the shared driveway here and they are always left until there's nothing else left, a last resort. I agree with the birds, for these pale berries look neither appetising nor attractive. 

A late red admiral butterfly suns itself on a wallFurther afield, there were still red admiral butterflies on the wing last week. Leaving aside the dog poo I saw one dining on recently, there isn't a lot for them to find at this time of year but the mahonia is in full bloom just now and some escallonias are still just flowering.

Bumblebees love mahonias and the plants I've seen have been covered with them. I'll be surprised to see any more butterflies this year, they're probably tucked up for winter by now.

We'll be in the woods more often now that autumn is well under way and there are no creatures nesting. There, you can see where deer have scraped aside the leaf litter to make a bed of bare earth. It does not look either warm or comfortable, but must feel better than damp leaves. I suppose it's also less likely to harbour irritating insects that might get into their fur.

The first of the fieldfares (Turdus pilaris) have arrived and they're quiet at the moment, yet to start their 'chack chack chack' chorus as they fly from one area to another. Once the flock fills out, as winter gets started, they'll find their voices and we'll enjoy the slightly sinister song. 
 



See also: RHS wildlife gardening advice

*Please note, the contents of this blog reflect the views of its author, which are not necessarily those of the RHS

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