We all love autumn don’t we? It’s that special time of year when the weather begins to get discernibly cooler and the nights noticeably longer.
Autumn heralds the transition into the cold, dark and desolate winter months, and the natural world puts on a final flurry of amazing activity before slowing down until the warmer sunshine of spring returns.
And the UK is no exception, boasting some world-class wildlife spectacles.
So if you're not too hot on autumn, here are ten fantastic reasons why you should be.
After the warmth of summer and dampness of autumn there is an explosion of mushrooms and toadstools happening right across the country, from woodland floors to decaying logs and meadows. What we see on our fungal forays are the fruiting bodies preparing to release their spores that give rise to the next generation of ecological recyclers.
Fungi are quite different to both plants and animals and have their own kingdom. Here in the UK there could be as many as 15,000 species, with a great diversity in size, colour and shape. However, many of these are extremely poisonous and should only be identified with a reliable guide, or better still, an expert guided walk which will help you get the most from this seasonal highlight. Find a fungal foray with the Wildlife Trusts.
One of the perks of the cooling temperatures, longer nights and increased moisture in the air is a walk in the countryside on a misty autumnal morning. The UK has some stunning fields, parks and open spaces just ripe for an early morning excursion. So there’s no excuse for not heading out before the sun has had time to burn off all the lovely mist! Visit one of the UK’s 15 National Parks early one morning – your early rise will be worth it.
The pulsating clouds of hundreds of thousands of starlings all swirling and turning in jaw-dropping unison can only be described as an ‘awesome wildlife spectacle’. These murmurations happen during autumn and winter over fields, woodlands and reedbeds as they seek out their communal roosting site for the night and so are best viewed just before dusk.
Why do they put on this magnificent display? It’s certainly not just for our delight; it’s thought that starlings gather together for protection from predators, as it is harder to pick out individuals from within an amorphous, hypnotising cloud. They may also congregate to keep warm at night and pass information about good feeding sites. There are great places for spectacular views throughout the country, including Brighton Pier of all places. Find out where to experience a starling murmuration near you with the RSPB.
Autumn could be described as the time of plenty with fruits, nuts and seeds everywhere. There is a dazzling array of colours, shapes and methods that plants employ for spreading the next generation for the following year. These delights are gratefully harvested by many species looking to build up their fat reserves for migration or hibernation – and they’re also popular with us!
But don’t worry as there’s usually enough to go round. Many animals and birds love fruits such as blackberries, rose-hips, sloes, crab apples, elderberries and haws, while acorns are a firm favourite of jays and squirrels, which they store, or 'cache', for the winter. Don’t forget the school yard classic, the conker. The rich brown coloured seed of the horse chestnut tree provides hours of childhood fun. Discover the top nuts, seeds and berries to forage for in September from the BBC Countryfile magazine.
Like the weather, this time of year can also be quite violent because it’s the deer rutting season. Rival males fight each other with wicked-looking antlers in order to attract a harem of females. The top stag then gets to mate with as many of them as possible. The most impressive antlers belong to either the large red deer or the slightly smaller fallow.
Woodlands, parks and country estates are good places to catch a glimpse of these majestic battles. But with the stakes so high there can be some very serious injuries among the combatants, so when observing keep a safe distance. The best times are at dawn and dusk, so listen out for those bellows and grunts before the contest begins. Find out more about the British deer rut from the BBC Wildlife magazine.
Seas of change
There is no doubt that the reds, golden-yellows and browns in British woodland at this time of year are simply stunning and one of the highlights of the season. Simply put the shorter days and cooler temperatures trigger the leaves' green photosynthetic pigment (called chlorophyll) to break down, allowing other yellow and orange pigments to show through, before the leaves are finally lost in preparation for winter.
You’ll find these beautiful colours in most UK woodlands that have deciduous trees such as chestnut, oak and beech. Follow autumn’s blaze of colour across the country with the Forestry Commission.
We are familiar with birds such as swallows, swifts and cuckoos leaving the country in autumn for warmer climates and escape our winter. As these are departing, however, tens of millions of birds are arriving from places such as Scandinavia, the Arctic and northern Europe, where winters are far harsher than ours. The UK offers milder weather for them and food is easier to find.
Our overwintering birds include colourful thrushes such as fieldfares and redwings, swans, many kinds of duck, geese and wading birds, and water birds that spend winter on the sea around the UK coast. Look out for mass congregations on fields and estuaries, which are our most nutritious habitats. Find out why Britain is a wildlife migration hotspot with BBC iWonder.
Beauty all around
Take a look round any meadow, hedgerow, garden or car on a cold autumn morning and be rewarded by the sight of delicate spiders’ webs outlined in dew. This time of year really highlights just how many spiders we have; with favourable breeding conditions that number could be in excess of 750 million from approximately 600 different species. Here are some of the many reasons why we should all love spiders from BBC iWonder.
Autumn is not a time usually associated with flowering plants, but for ivy it is its time to bloom! The clusters of inconspicuous yellow-green flowers are a valuable source of nectar for bees and butterflies before they hibernate. While the black berries in winter and spring are important food sources for birds when most other fruits have disappeared.
Because ivy is such an important food source for wildlife, recording the timing of flowering and fruiting need to be monitored to help assess the effects of any changes in climate. Find out more about ivy recording and how you can take part with Nature’s Calendar.
Some of the most extraordinary sights and sounds of autumn come from a grey seal colony because this is when thousands come ashore to give birth to pups. Baby seals can be incredibly cute and very noisy when calling for mum, but please observe them from a safe distance so as not to disturb them. The bond between mother and baby is very fragile and the pup is dependent on its mother’s milk to survive.
Once pups have been weaned it’s time to mate again and leads to another of nature’s great spectacles: bull seals fighting. Males take part in vicious and bloody fights for territory and access to harems of females. Find out more about where to watch marine wildlife.
Recording seasonal signs with Nature’s Calendar can help scientists assess the impact of climate change on our wildlife and track how the seasons are developing across the country.
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