Signs of approaching winter are all around us

From hedgehog activity, hooting owls and spiders in the bath, the signs of approaching winter are all around us

The last time the hedgehogs visited regularly was the week ending Sunday October 14 and, since then, the food only been touched occasionally. It seems they are getting ready to hibernate and are probably making their winter beds. The weather has been relatively mild, though, and it surprises me that they've suddenly gone to ground, but my hedgehog-carer friend 'R' says they are no longer visiting the food dishes she puts out either. The five young hoglets she rescued in September are, as she says, 'still around and smelling terrible', even though she diligently cleans their beds on a daily basis. They now weigh around 400g and while they have put on a lot of weight, it still isn't enough to survive the winter and will no doubt over-winter in R's shed and be released in spring. 

Not having the hedgehogs around to look at means I've got to find something else to keep me entertained. The birds are always handy for that as many change their behaviour in autumn. Finches and (Aegithalos caudatus) long-tailed tits gather themselves into noisy flocks, robins are in full voice and tawny owls start to call for mates, hooting into the autumn darkness. The long-tailed tits seem to particularly favour the big lime tree at the end of the courtyard and send out their call from here, a repeating chorus of 'tsee-tsee-tsee'. These songs tell me that winter is coming. 

Ladybirds clustering for winterOther signs are ladybirds in crevices and the webs of orb-weaver spiders strung across garden plants or over arches. On dry mornings, the webs strung over arches are all but invisible and give an irritating surprise, clinging to skin and hair. You become used to making balletic arm movements, waving them in front of you to catch the sticky threads before you get a face full. In the early morning these webs are so beautiful when covered with dew. Seeing them takes me back to childhood, when I'd go into the garden early in the morning before infant school to stand and gaze, entranced, at the dewy webs. Those cobwebs were a much bigger attraction than a dusty school room. The last forage for bees, ivy, has almost finished flowering so we won't see much activity from bees now, though bumblebees will still be seen and heard on sunny days. 

Dewy autumn cobwebIndoor, autumn's arrival is signalled by woodlice in the bathroom and huge spiders (Tegenaria domestica) scuttling across the floor. We tolerate these – the woodlice provide food for the spiders and the spiders themselves, whilst a little untidy, can be quite entertaining. The males will be looking for mates and both sexes will be looking for water so cloths or towels are left draped over sinks and the bath, so they can get in and out at their leisure. 

There are many wildlife surveys being carried out these days so if you'd like to contribute to a winter-based one, The British Trust for Ornithology is asking members of the public to record when and where they've heard tawny owls hooting, or indeed where they haven't heard them hooting. Both pieces of information help to give an idea of tawny owl populations. Here in West Oxfordshire, we've heard males calling for a month now but have yet to hear a female respond with her 'kee-wick' call. I'd like to be able to add that to the survey, fingers crossed. 
Please note, the contents of this blog reflect the views of its author, which are not necessarily those of the RHS.

See also

RHS wildlife gardening advice

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