Autumn is increasingly evident around us with the shortening days and succession of weather fronts arriving on our shores. October is a great month however to still get outdoors and enjoy the changing season before the clocks go back at the end of the month, and we are plunged in to winter’s darkness! The partial upside of this is being able to enjoy the night skies at a sociable hour, including the meteor showers of the Orionids which peaks on the night of 20/21 October and the Draconids on 8th October (which is weaker, and also clashes with a full moon this year).
In the countryside farmers have now harvested and stored away their crops, and have ploughed and sown the next crop cycle including winter Wheat and Oil seed rape. Wild food foraging options continue to abound this month, including fat Blackthorn sloes in hedgerows and ripening Hazel nuts in the woods, as well as mushrooms starting to emerge from rotting wood and the forest floor.
Plants are now winding down for the winter, although a few wild species are in bloom such as the purple Scabious on the Downs and ubiquitous scrambling Ivy with its tiny flowers that serve as a magnet for Bees collecting pollen. The chalk-loving plant Old Man’s Beard is also much in evidence with its distinctive blooms evident scrambling over fences and hedges.
A number of animals are also starting to think about hibernation for the winter, such as Toads under stones and Frogs at the bottom of ponds. Some insects also over-winter in the nooks and crannies of buildings, including Ladybirds around window frames (especially the non-native invasive Harlequin ladybird) as well as a few butterflies such as Red Admirals.
Birds migrate rather than hibernate to cope with adverse winter conditions, with a reduced number of resident species remaining on our shores including the Robin with its melancholy autumn song. Other birds are arriving meanwhile from more northerly climes, such as the winter thrushes Redwings and Fieldfares that feast upon fallen fruits, and wading birds descending on our river estuaries. Beneath the sea, Herring are now coming in to our inshore waters in the Channel.
So savour the arrival of the autumn: ripe changing colours and falling leaves; crashing waves along the shoreline; new smells in the damp air; and wildlife fattening up before the onset of winter.