Autumn is the favourite season for many, when the winter jumpers begin to come out, and we can enjoy walks through woods that are akin to New England, when green leaves turn to beautiful orange and red hues. Shorter days means there is not enough sunlight for photosynthesis, and this reduces chlorophyll. Just like the Americans, we used to call this season ‘fall’ (after the fall of the leaf) until we adapted the French ‘automne’ in the 18th century. Years ago before electric light, farmers would harvest crops around the Autumn Equinox.
Conkers are abundant in autumn, but don’t let dogs near them (however tempting to play with them) as they are highly toxic and choking hazards. If your dog has chewed or eaten a conker, take immediately to the vet. The chemical aesculin is found in chestnut trees (including bark and leaves).
Don’t be a tidy gardener in autumn. Goldfinches in particular love to feed on seed heads, as the males take these from the steam with their long pointed beaks. This is the also the time to start planting wildflower meadows, to produce insects next season to feed the birds. Make your garden safe for pets, to know toxic plants and flowers to avoid.
Which Birds Migrate in Autumn?
It’s like Piccadilly Circus in autumn, as many of our birds start flying south (some journey up to 6000 miles to South Africa which takes 6 weeks), while others start flying here from Scandinavia and Iceland, to take advantage of the warmer winters. The Eastern Coast has a huge avian spectacle of pink-footed geese who ‘whiffle’ (suddenly stopping and then turning upside down, only righting themselves to land). This is thought to help them slow down safely, others think they do it just for fun!
One bird species that makes the epic journey here is the Whooper Swan, which often can be found eating leftover potatoes and grain, preparing for their nonstop journey back to Iceland in spring (no wonder they get hungry!) Despite their large size, they are very good fliers. Before the migration, they honk to each other and bob and shake their heads and flap theier wings, deciding which swan will start first. Learn how to help our beautiful swans (and why throwing leftover bread on ponds, can do more harm than good).
Squirrels Storing Up Their Food!
Squirrels use autumn to search for food, in order to fatten up for winter. There is huge disinformation on why grey squirrels ase not to blame for the endangered red squirrels. In fact, the main reason why red squirrels are at risk is due to logging of their natural pine tree environment (they can’t digest acorns unlike grey squirrels) and actually help ‘clean their teeth’ by chewing on antlers of dead deer (did you know squirrels can find food buried in snow, and can tell if a nut is good to eat or not, without actually opening it?!)
The answer to restoring red squirrel population is to plant pine trees, to naturally help them build up immunity by providing homes and foods they can digest. Grey squirrels tend to live more on the ground (nature then takes care of itself through natural predators like pine martens). Feeding any squirrels artificially is not good, as greys then depend on humans, and red squirrels get ill as they can’t digest acorns (don’t use squirrel-proof bird-feeders, as clever squirresl get inside, then get trapped).
The Autumnal Deer Rut
In autumn, we see the male stags begin to battle for a mate, locking antlers. Keep well away (including dogs) from deer at this time, as they are likely to be aggressive due to testosterone. If they begin to walk parallel to you (or look at you from the corner of their eye), back off slowly, but don’t run. Also do not roll into a ball (this may increase the likelihood of attack). Also in September you’ll hear muntjac (‘barking’) deer, who mostly live in the woods.
Use Up A Glut of Blackberries
Autumn fruits that thrive in England include blackberries (they contain natural xylitol so don’t let pets eat them). Hedgerows are ideal for autumn foraging where you can also find wild raspberries, elderberries, rosehips and sloe berries. Leave some for wildlife, who also feast on these fruits, many in preparation for colder months and hibernation. Find nice plant-based recipes to use up a glut of blackberries, if you’ve gone overboard at the PYO farm!