As we ease into the holiday season and creep closer to the closing of the year, it is time to contemplate and reflect, be thankful for what we have, and celebrate what is important to you. Looking outwards during this time, to the world beyond the window, autumn has now also made its departure. Skeletal trees, howling gales, freezing temperatures, and dormancy characterise the landscape, though there are hidden gems to be found. As you cuddle up in your home on this cold winter’s evening, let us now remember back to those golden days of autumn.
Autumn as it happened
When I think of autumn, the first thoughts that come to mind are dazzling colours, falling leaves collecting in drifts on the ground, bountiful fruit, and migrant birds passing through. Though my favourite season tends to be blossoming spring, autumn is a time that is often the favourite of many. Each season has something special to offer and autumn is no different!
This year autumn has been a bit more unpredictable and turbulent in its advancement than many other years, being the 5th wettest english autumn since records began. Despite this, it has mainly progressed in the traditional fashion.
September saw evening temperatures drop, the start of misty mornings with spider webs shining with dew, ripening fruit and nuts, grey squirrels beginning to cache food, the emergence of the first autumn fungi, and the start of birds moving through.
October saw the trees beginning to change, becoming decked out in resplendent colour, fungi in abundance, the buzz of late insects such as wasps and honeybees, goldfinches harvesting seeds from thistles and teasels, fallen acorns becoming available as a valuable food source, the squawks of jays collecting nuts, and by the end of the month most migrants had moved on.
As the season of decline and decay moved on also, November saw oak trees in colour, other trees losing their leaves on mass, cackling fieldfare in the hedgerows, withering bracken, plentiful ripe seeds and fruit, redwings making their return, wildfowl and wading birds settling in for winter, thrushes and blackbirds harvesting fruit, winter flocks forming as they scavenge in bushes and along hedgerows, and lengthening nights.
By the end of November, most of the trees and hedgerows were bare of leaves, conditions were cooler, frost and fog were more common in the mornings, and winter was on its way.
A day in the woods
As part of my celebration of autumn this year, I made a visit to my favourite local woods. On this October trip, I spent time being mindful, capturing the world around me through words and through a lens.
‘As I step into the woods, it is noticeable how the vegetation is beginning to die away, though the ferns still stand sentinel over the woodland floor. Looking closer though, fungi is dotted everwhere. Small capped mushrooms stand only a couple of centimetres tall, whilst larger and more exquisite shapes stand taller and hang from the trunks of trees.
A nuthatch lands on a branch above my head. I look up and see that autumn is already in full swing, with the trees working at different paces, creating a spectacular mosaic of colour from fading greens to copper and gold. The trees are beginning to lose their magnificent mantels in spectacular style. Berries adorn holly and hawthorn bushes, shining scarlet in the strained autumn light.
My other senses are also stimulated. To my nose, the forest smells fresh, though with every step the woodland floor releases an aroma of damp decay and rotting vegetation. On my exposed skin, a gentle cool breeze plays, whilst midges crawl and bite.
My ears are most active though. Long-tailed tits flit from tree to tree around me, making high-pitched calls as they feed as a family, characteristic of autumn. Robins and tits also sing their songs in the trees around, before a wren sounds its alarm call and the other birds join in. Further away, still in the forest, pheasants fight, a collared dove coos, and a jay caws its raucous call as it goes about its way, storing food for winter. Outside of the wood, I can also hear farm sounds along with crows and rooks cawing.
Though the buzz of woodland life is beginning to slow, decay and slip away, the landscape is still full of life.’
The science of autumn
Why do leaves change colour?
- This process is triggered by changing day length and is sped up by increased sunlight and cooler temperatures. It occurs when pigments, such as chlorophyll, is broken down, and then transported back into the branch. The colour is produced by the remaining degraded pigments in the leaf. Different amounts of pigment left in leaves creates the different colours.
Why do birds migrate?
- Birds migrate from areas of low or decreasing resources, such as food, to areas of high or increasing resources. It can be triggered by factors such as changes in day length, temperature, or is simply a genetic predisposition. Migration can vary from short within-country movement to long-distance migration. It is still not fully understood how birds navigate during migration, but suggestions include using landmarks or an inbuilt magnetic compass.
How do mammals survive the winter?
- A variety of adaptations are used during the winter by different mammal species. They grow longer, thicker coats. increase food intake to produce fat reserves, and create underground nests where they can sleep through colder days. Mammals that find it difficult to cope during the winter, such as those that eat mainly insects, instead slow their body processes down nearly to a stand still to survive. This is called hibernation with common examples being seen in hedgehogs, bats and dormice.
The end of autumn’s glory
This year’s autumn has been fantastically colourful trees and woodlands, incredible wildlife displays and cliche autumnal moments.
One of my highlights has to be experiencing some of the more interesting migrants that rock up on the British shores during autumn. For me these included wacky wrynecks and marvellous marsh warblers giving some exciting moments.
Now autumn 2019 has come and gone in a blaze of glory, though it was a little wet at times!