There is a good reason that the harvest festival is in autumn - and for animals it is a time to fill up on berries, fruits, nuts and seeds to prepare for hibernation. Autumn is a time of change with leaves turning stunning reds, yellows and oranges and with some birds arriving and others leaving on migration.
During Autumn the days are rapidly getting shorter and the sun is becoming lower in the sky. There are often spectacular sunsets in Autumn, the stars can seem brighter at night, and on some mornings mist hangs over fields and parks.
There are some fantastic things to do and see in autumn!
Find the Fungi
You can be forgiven for thinking that fungi are only found in woodlands, but alas no! They spring up all in lots of places - on grasslands, piles of wood chip and dead logs, on the ground and tree trunks.
The best time to spot them is after a good period of rain. I have been surveying waxcap mushrooms this month which are shiny and brightly coloured! They often have a smell such as pencil sharpenings (Cedarwood waxcap), fresh laundry (Oily waxcap) or honey (Honey waxcap).
Next time you are out for a walk you may see them poking out of the grass, on a sloping hill. A word of warning, although many fungi can be eaten, take care, some species are very poisonous and only experts can identify the ones which are safe to eat!
Why not look at your local Wildlife Trust website and go for a guided walk with your local expert!
See the squirrels
Autumn is a great time to see the squirrels gathering nuts and burying them in the ground. Grey squirrels aren't hard to find, you can see them in your local park or woodland, or even on the bird feeder in your garden! They are very skittish though so try and be quiet.
If you would like to try and catch a glimpse of the illusive red squirrel, the special spots are at the bottom of this page: http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/nuts-over-squirrel-nutkin
Collect conkers and sweet chestnuts
Be like the squirrels running around at the moment burying all their caches of nuts. There is something really satisfying about bringing home a bag of sweet chestnuts to roast on the fire. My favourite bit is splitting open the green spiky case of the sweet chestnut fruit to reveal the shiny brown chestnut within.
There's nothing like a game of conkers to take you back to your childhood. But make sure you don't confuse the two!
Sweet chestnut - edible! VERY prickly, nut has a point
Conker - not edible! Shiny case with few tough spikes, nut round
Marvel at migration
I'm not very knowledgeable about birds but autumn is when many birds form flocks – from parties of small tits to huge flocks of waders on coastal estuaries. Birds such as jackdaws, rooks and crows fly to their woodland roosts on autumn evenings. If you live near the coast look for great skeins of migratory geese which arrive from Arctic breeding grounds to spend the winter with us.
For more info on bird migrations visit the RSPB site: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/read-and-learn/fun-facts-and-articles/migration/which-birds-migrate.aspx
Things you can do to help
For the birds
Clean out nest-boxes
If your bird or dormouse nest-box has been used in the summer it’s a good idea to clean it out in the autumn. Take out any old nests so there is room for a new nest next year. This will also reduce the risk of parasites overwintering in the box, waiting for a new host. Wear gloves when you do this job and always work with someone else holding the ladder if you have to use one.
Feeeed the biiiiirds
Put out food and water on a regular basis. In very cold weather, try and feed twice a day in the morning and in the early afternoon.
Birds need high fat foods during the cold winter weather to maintain their reserves to survive the frosty nights. Use only good quality food and scraps.
Always adjust the quantity depending on how much is being eaten, don't allow uneaten foods to build up around the feeders. Once you establish a feeding routine, try not to change it as the birds will become used to it and time their visits to your garden accordingly.
Make a hedgehog a home
Hedgehogs are known as the gardener's friend because of their profound love of slugs! Unfortunately their numbers are in dramatic decline so need as much help as they can get!
One of the first things you can do in your garden is have hedging instead of fencing if possible. This provides shelter and food if you use native species. If you stick a bit of holly or Teton in your hedge it will provide a good source of berries over the winter. If you do have a fence, leave a 5 inch hole for your hedgehog to crawl through. If you encourage your neighbours to do the same then they can all link up :)
If you leave a corner of your garden unkempt, leave all the leaf litter, twigs and vegetation this can be used by hedgehogs to make their nests. In addition it will provide habitat for invertebrates which the hedghogs feed on. If you have some bits of wood, you can also create a log pile that the hedgehogs can hibernate in. Big clumps of ornamental grasses also make a great winter hideout.
If you haven't got any suitable spots or logs, you can make your own hedgehog house, find out how to do it here.
It's very important to give a hedgehog food and water, especially if they are born late in the season. NEVER give a hedgehog bread or milk, they are lactose intolerant the poor things. Leave out a bowl of water and one of the following:
- Chicken/turkey cat/dog food in jelly
- Boiled eggs
- Chopped nuts
- Cooked potatoes
- Crushed cat biscuits
- Dried mealworms
- Minced meat
- Sunflower hearts
Be careful not to use slug pellets (you shouldn't need them with hedgehog pest control!) as these are a common cause of death for hedgehogs.
Put a ramp in your pond - hedgehogs love to swim!
Check long grass before strimming or mowing for any curled up hedgehogs.
Try not to turn your compost heap before April, there are lots of wildlife (including hedgehogs) which may be hibernating in there.
For frogs and toads
Float a tennis ball in your pond to stop it freezing over and trapping gases which the amphibians would breathe in through their skin.
For invertebrates and small mammals
Put small piles of twigs at the back of borders and leave herbaceous borders.
Hollow plant stems and seedheads provide nooks and crannies for invertebrates. Seedheads are also a source of oil-rich food for birds which may visit to feed.
Leave stacks of plant pots in a sheltered spot to offer shelter for bees and other insects needing a cool, dry place.
You can make or purchase a bug hotel also for overwintering invertebrates
Some butterflies and ladybirds overwinter as adults and will enter our homes in autumn, for cool and dry conditions. Unfortunately if the central heating is turned on they wake up and waste energy flying around. If you find these in your house, transfer them to your shed or garage using an empty shoe box, but leave the ladybirds if you can and they are happy where they are as they often hibernate in large groups.
Bats often hibernate in lofts, it is actually an offence against the law to disturb roosting bats so if you find these in your loft, best to leave it alone.
For more information about living with bats, see this site: http://www.bats.org.uk/pages/living_with_bats.html
Thanks for reading :)
And that concludes my short autumn nature blog. I hope you have found it useful :)