By October we are deep into the most wonderful season of the year. Autumn is definitely the season I feel most at home in and October is her crowning glory. The colours are magnificent – reds and yellows and pinks and browns, the air is fresh and clean, the days are still a decent length with gorgeous late afternoon sun, and there’s plenty to see as the wildlife is working hard to prepare for the long winter ahead. It’s time to get the woollens out as there might be frosty mornings, but we’re not yet into those months of winter coats and thermals. Before Autumn happens every year I think I must have romanticised it and it can’t really be this good but then it arrives and it is as good as I had hoped!
Buddy dog and I have been out collecting signs of Autumn together. He snuffles and scampers and I take photographs! Here’s our guide to what to look out for this month:
October is a great month to have a closer look at the hedgerows along the roadside. There are sloe berries on the spiky branches of the blackthorn and elderberries nestled in the hedges. There are colourful leaves and tight little red hawthorn berries and bright red rosehips and delicate seed heads. Teasels and thistles will attract finches such as the majestic goldfinches who balance precariously on the spiky heads of the teasels to feed.
In the woodlands there are still plenty of food sources for our resourceful critters. The blackberries are past for this year, but there are hazelnuts and acorns ripening. Squirrels and jays race to collect them to bury as a store for the winter months. From these forgotten stashes the oak trees of the future will arise. Horse Chestnuts drop their final conkers by the end of this month, and their huge leaves will have become tatty and brown.
Fungi provide endless entertainment for a keen-eyed woodland walker in October (and are in fact the topic of the 2018 Wildlife Calendar for October). Look out for them in particular on the rotting wood of fallen trees and on the day after rainfall. Fruiting fungi are an essential part of our ecosystem. They process all the decaying matter – leaves and dead animals – and recycle them. They also help the plants access essential nutrients. We definitely shouldn’t overlook the mushrooms with their fanciful names and strange appearance!
For those further north, October is an important month for the maginificent red deer. This is when they begin the annual ‘rut’. The males have grown an impressive new set of antlers and they are ready to compete for the right to mate with their chosen group of females. To be honest, there’s a lot of bellowing and strutting, and not as many violent clashes as you’d imagine, but it is still a hugely impressive spectacle.
Now is the time to clean the bird feeders and bird baths so they are disease-free for the winter season. You can find more tips for preparing the feed the birds over the winter on the RSPB website. Leave seed-heads on plants and don’t be too tidy in the garden. Leaf piles and hollow stems provide food sources and shelter for all sorts of creatures. Look at these beautiful snails enjoying these seed heads: