Friday, 6 November 2015

In awe of autumn....

Along with a personal quest to learn to better identify wildflowers I decided autumn would be a good time to make a similar effort with shrubs and trees. What better time than when they are bearing their fruits and seeds, and the leaves are turning various hues of yellows, reds and golden browns. A mild start to November has even brought out a few of the hardier insects before they hibernate for the coolest months as well as some of the straggling survivors which will undoubtedly be seen off once the cold weather arrives in earnest. The images below have all been taken in my 'local patch' over the past two weeks.
The female flowers of Common Ash trees develop into distinctive single-winged seeds known as 'keys' or 'spinners', named after how they spin as they are blown from the tree.
Ash 'keys'
Rose hips are the fruits of the Dog rose, our most common wild rose. They are considerably larger than the berries of Rowan or Elder trees, and so tend to be eaten by larger birds such as Blackbirds and Fieldfares. They have been used by people in recipes to make (amongst other things) syrups, jellies and wine.

Rose hips

The berries from Elder trees - 'elderberries' were traditionally used to make wines and jams. They can also be used to make a delicious sounding liqueur! Mixed with other autumn fruits they can apparently be used in pies and crumbles. They are also enjoyed by many birds, particularly Blackbirds and small warblers such as Blackcaps and Whitethroats. Historically they were also used to make a purple dye - if you spot a purple poo you can hazard a guess that a bird has probably been enjoying this wonderful berry!!!   

Fieldfare on Rowan, just showing the distinctive snow-white feathers under the wings

Another winter lifeline for birds are Rowan berries which hang in clusters of typically bright red berries. They are particularly enjoyed by all thrush species. Whenever I have spotted Redwings and Fieldfares - our winter visiting thrushes, it has more often than not been in the context of them feeding on Rowan berries. Nicely illustrating my point, Fieldfares have been visiting a Rowan tree near our house this last few days. (Unfortunately the light was really poor when I took these photos!) These striking thrushes breed in Scandinavia and Russia, and migrate south and westwards for our relatively mild winter.

Waxwings will also strip Rowan trees of their berries, and will move from tree to tree as the berries are consumed, much to the annoyance of Mistle thrushes who will often adopt a tree as their own and do their utmost to defend it from allcomers.

Fieldfare on Rowan

Sloe berries
Sloes are the berries of Blackthorn. They are very bitter and are traditionally used to make 'sloe gin'. Apparently the weather conditions this year have made for a bumper crop of sloes - and that certainly seems to be the case locally. I'm really not a fan of gin, but do sloes improve the taste of it? I'd love to know if anyone can tell me! Of course birds prefer the alcohol-free option, and these berries are consumed by Mistle and Song Thrushes.

Insect life, unsurprisingly for November, is getting rather thin on the ground, though the sunny start to the month has brought a few out in the open. In the garden last weekend were 7-spot and Harlequin ladybirds, a handful of hoverflies and also one each of Carder and Tree Bumblebees. 

On a visit to the Quinta arboretum over the weekend, insects were mostly represented by flies and a handful of small parasitic wasp species. Of the more easily recognisable fly species were 'Noon flies', large black flies with yellow/orange wing bases. Also enjoying the sun on the leaves of a Sycamore tree was a 'Forest bug', a type of shield bug that feeds on small insects in a variety of deciduous trees.

Forest bug

Of course many of our common wildflowers are also still bearing seeds. Below are the seeds of Common Hogweed.

Common Hogweed seeds
Silver Birch
Silver birch is one of our most distinctive trees with its beautiful silvery-white bark. From each female catkin develops hundreds of tiny seeds which carry far on the wind (and get everywhere - our house is full of them!!!). These seeds are enjoyed by finches such as greenfinches, redpolls and siskins with their beaks perfectly adapted for extracting seeds.

And finally... I have no idea what this vibrantly coloured tree is but having found it in the local Quinta arboretum (and I didn't see a name label for it), it could originate from anywhere in the world. I couldn't resist trying to capture some of this striking display of colour!


Postscript; I think the colourful tree above is Red Maple (Acer rubrum)  which is native to North America and is common and widespread in the central and eastern regions - one of the trees which contributes to the spectacular display of autumn colour places such as New England are so renowned for.


  1. Absolutely gorgeous photos Jan - I've been on a similar, autumn colors photo quest. Love the Fieldfare too

    1. Thanks very much Phil. :) I really love the colours of autumn (who doesn't?) and it feels like this has been a particularly colourful year. (Maybe it's just that we've had more sun accentuating the colours?) The Fieldfare images were taken from a bedroom window - the best of the berries have been polished off now with only a few on the most precarious extremities of the tree remaining!

    2. Yes I think it is particularly colourful this year. btw - you mentioned The Quinta - that was one of my favourite places to visit when I lived down there. Because Swettenam is on a longish no through Road, it feels likely slightly like the land time a good way. Also the bench where you can sit looking onto the Dane Valley, is possibly my favourite picnic spot.

    3. I know what you mean about Swettenham, it's a great place to visit with the arboretum and the two CWT reserves - I've done lots of macro there. (Sadly it's not the land the estate agents forgot - I think I'd need a lottery win to buy anything there!) Gorgeous views too as you say.

  2. Lots of interesting information and excellent images, as always Jan. we've had lots of rain here over the last few days, maybe tomorrow will be better :-)

    1. Thanks very much Dougie. The weather here has turned distinctly more autumnal the last few days, at least in terms of wind and rain, though it's still very mild for the time of year (barely touching the heating yet). Hopefully some calm and sun will return soon! :)

  3. I've been a naturalist all my life (near to 40 years!) and I still struggle with plants :) I keep trying but they just don't stick for some reason, so good luck with your goals here.

    Lovely warm photos (seems odd that as the temperatures cool the colours in nature seem to warm a little).

    1. Thanks very much Ashley. :) I'm improving slowly but surely with plants/flowers, but much the same as you by the sounds of it, I find plant names just don't stick that easily!

      The last few images above were all taken in that lovely golden afternoon sunlight that really brings out the warmth of autumn colours. (I'm looking forward to the sun's return - nothing but grey cloud here (and all that comes with it!) for the past several days!)