After a bizarrely warm October (no opportunities to get my woollens on – devastated!), November has arrived. The temperatures are definitely beginning to take a dip – perhaps a hint at the hard frosts ahead. The soft light of November is lying pretty on trees still populated by colourful autumn leaves. The oak tree has waited until November to reveal it’s gorgeous autumn colours but, by the end of the month, most of the trees will be bare. The winds get the final say on when the trees will be stripped of their leaves. One good thing is that the empty branches make it easier to spot birds!
We were given garden vouchers as a wedding present earlier this year and have bought a new bird feeding station. Up until now we’ve been feeding the birds from a bracket on the shed roof. This played into the paws of my neighbour’s horrible bird-eating cats. This new feeder is able to stand alone in a position where the birds feel much safer and the cats can’t reach. It’s been a huge hit with the birds. My favourite thing is sitting at the kitchen window and watching the activity on the feeders and the complicated queuing systems. So far I’ve learnt that coal tits are surprisingly messy eaters for such neat little birds. As yet we have mostly attracted the classics – blue tits, great tits, house sparrows, dunnocks, chaffinches, robins, starlings, coal tits – but I’m hoping for some more unusual visitors as the winter progresses.
The starlings are squabbling horribly over access to the fat treats. They are such joyful noisy birds. It is this time of year that birds begin to flock together. Starlings are the most notable of these ‘flockings’. They gather together as the sun sets to create dramatic displays, weaving and dipping and circling in the sky together in the form of a ‘murmuration’. These displays are mostly a mystery to ornithologists – the whys and the hows – but it is general agreed that it is for protection from predators. All of a sudden the flock of starlings drop together to roost and all is quiet.
Another gorgeous early evening sight are the rooks gathering together to roost. This is a drawing I did a few years ago called ‘4pm in November’. It depicts the daily late-afternoon flight path of rooks to their roosting site.
It is definitely worth keeping an eye on the sky in November as this is the month when the UK becomes host to the winter migrants. A particularly loved spectacle is the skeins of geese drifting across the sky in perfect formation. Often you can hear them before you see them. I’m too big a feardie, but Ross walks the dog in the dark after work, and he describes the awesome sound of the geese above him in the dark sky. The UK is host to 360,000 wintering pink-footed geese. Also beginning to arrive are the whooper and Bewick swans from the colder north, alongside other waders and wildfowl arriving to populate our estuaries. Look out for redwings and field fares, too, as they begin to join our resident thrushes in the trees and gardens.
One final November mention goes to the 5th of November and the humble hedgehog. It’s hibernating time for these bizarre beloved creatures, so check your bonfires before lighting them, especially if you have used brushed up leaves.
If you’d like to see more autumnal loveliness, the most recent series of Autumnwatch is on the iplayer! Episode one features badgers, foxes and the harvest mouse. Delightful!