It’s time to start feeding the birds. Colder weather will mean that there is not so much natural food about, so peanuts in hanging feeders will be welcome. Niger seed will attract Goldfinches but these are also better in hanging feeders as food on trays will be easily scattered on to the ground and encourage rats. If anyone knows of a truly squirrel proof feeder, please let me know. They seem to be able to work out ways of getting to the food no matter what cunning contraptions we devise. There are several videos on YouTube (Mission impossible – squirrel) showing how clever these animals are.
Autumn is also big spider time when they come into your house searching for females which will be sitting quietly in their webs in hidden corners somewhere. Although, as we’ve talked about before, all spiders native to the UK are venomous, most are harmless to people and only use their venom to kill their insect prey. Those that will bite usually come from abroad and probably arrived in containers. The most venomous of these is the False widow; its bite is painful and can cause quite severe reactions. There are some native spiders that will bite if handled and, believe it or not, the tiny Money spider is one of these but its fangs are seldom strong enough to pierce human skin.
If you live in the countryside you will be hearing the testosterone fuelled Red stags roaring as they vie for the hinds; the winner will be entitled to mate with all the ladies in the group. I haven’t seen the king of our area yet, but I’m sure he will be around, unless a younger stag has taken his place.
Chinese water deer are also very vocal at this time of year as they prepare for their rutting season next month; they sound a bit like foxes or dogs. East Anglia is the main stronghold in this country for these deer as they like wet, marshy habitats; they are in decline in their native countries in Asia.
There have been a lot of deer flies about this year and they don’t confine their attentions to deer, either. They can inflict nasty, painful bites with their scissor-like mouth parts on anything warm blooded and that includes us! Deer flies have a similar life cycle to Horse flies. The female lays her eggs on vegetation close to water and the hatching larvae drop to the ground and feed on detritus and small organisms in the mud. As with Horse flies they are a serious pest to horses and cattle; they are attracted to movement, carbon dioxide, warmth and shiny surfaces. Both the males and females feed on nectar but only the female will bite to obtain the blood she needs to produce her eggs. It is recommended that we should wear long sleeved garments that are dark in colour which will help to keep these flies at bay. Unfortunately, Deer flies are very persistent and even if brushed away they will hover around and try to land on their victims again. They are difficult to eliminate as the larvae live in what are often sensitive, protected areas where no spraying is allowed.
October is the start of the pheasant shooting season, so it would be nice to think that those that survived last year’s shoot may remember that when they hear loud bangs it means unpleasantness and will be hiding from the guns. I know some people are against shooting and the amount of birds that are reared and released, but estates that organise shoots provide jobs and food and some birds survive for years and become part of our wildlife population.
Autumn leaves are stunning, aren’t they. Some trees change to the most brilliant colours and if we don’t get too much strong wind the leaves can stay on for well into next month. Some fungi are also very colourful.
Autumn is the time when seeds start to move around. Some are heavy and rely on gravity to reach the ground where the impact will often break open the surrounding case and maybe they will be able to root themselves, germinate and grow into new plants. Among these are conkers, nuts and heavy fruits such as apples. We were told as children not to eat the pips in apples because if we did trees would grow in our stomachs! I don’t know, the things they told us – it’s a wonder some of us grew up to be normal human beings. Then there was the one about always having clean underwear in case we got run over by a bus! No doubt other kids got away with a motor bike or at least a car but it was always a bus in our house. But enough reminiscing, back to seeds.
Other seeds are housed in edible casing; berries and fruits are eaten by animals and birds and some pass through their digestive systems and are deposited in droppings. Some seeds are sticky and some have barbs and these will hitch a lift on the coats of animals and the clothes of humans and will be scattered in the process. Others rely on the parent plant being close to water and the fallen seeds float down stream and end up on a far bank. The Alder is one of these and its seeds have evolved to be cork-like and have air pockets, so they float easily. Then there are the explosive ones, like Gorse, where the pods burst open project their seeds often some yards away.
Airborne ones, like Sycamore, have winged containers that spin away and land where the wind carries them and they certainly know how to succeed, as you will know if you have a Sycamore tree near your house; new little treelets spring up everywhere! Members of the Dandelion family also have airborne seeds that float through the air. (Going back to childhood – we thought those were fairies!)
Great Britain is being urged to plant trees; they absorb one of the main greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, and give out oxygen. They help to prevent flooding because their roots penetrate deep into the ground and take up gallons of water, also these root systems prevent soil erosion and create pockets where ground water can safely drain. We can all do our bit here; even a single tree will help. But it is important to make sure they are the right ones. They should be trees that are suitable for the area, so if you are thinking of planting, it’s best to have a look around your neighbourhood and observe which native trees are doing well.
Things to take part in this month include: