My first Redwing this autumn was almost at the end of October, in shrubs in next door’s drive. They often feed here on the berries of Cotoneaster. I don’t think, however, that this was the first to get here. Almost two weeks ago, with a newish moon, there were some very clear nights, with the constellations showing brilliantly. On a walk back through the village on one such night I was looking for old favourites – Andromeda, Cygnus, The Great and The Little Bear (my favourite, Orion, was not yet up) – when I could hear bird calls overhead; the thin, high-pitched calls of Redwings. These thrushes often migrate at night, especially when the sky is clear, and it is a great experience to hear them in such a setting. Speaking of Redwings, the Holly berries that they seem to enjoy seem to be pretty well ripe already. We often find here that by Christmas they have all gone – if the Redwings don’t get them the Blackbirds (resident numbers much increased by extra arrivals from the Continent) will.
The Jays have also been very conspicuous this autumn. For weeks they have been making dozens of trips, flying quite high, from our neighbour’s oak tree to the fields a few hundred yards away. This is where they will bury their acorns, by pushing them into the soil. Jays have a pouch beneath the tongue, within which each bird can carry at least three acorns, apart from any held in the bill. Although the birds have a good memory for where their acorns are stored, it is not surprising that in some years there are dozens of small oak seedlings popping up in the fields.
With so many sunny days in late October, the flowers on the old Ivy have made a good show, coupled with quite a strong scent. By now many of them are over. The green berries (which will ripen and turn black by March) have started to form, but there will still be some of the yellow flower clusters into November. Ivy is not always welcome climbing up trees, probably rightly so, but our old clump is on a garden wall where it does no harm and is very welcome indeed. I have been watching the late insects feeding on it, some of which will probably be seen even in November. I have mentioned them before; various Hoverflies, Wasps and Hornets, and even some Butterflies. Most impressive were an enormous queen Hornet, and a couple of Red Admiral Butterflies. These last are a bit of a mystery. Red Admirals are a migrant species, arriving here from the continent, and breeding successfully on Stinging Nettles. There is a suggestion that some may make the return migration, but in autumn most feed up as if, like a few of the other Butterflies, they are preparing to hibernate. Sadly, they seem not to be able to survive our winter, so that the ones we see next year will probably be a new wave of migrants. However, see a crisp new Red Admiral early in the spring and it is just possible that it is one which has seen through the winter.
Also on recent sunny days we have had numbers of Ladybirds coming into the house through open windows. These were mostly the Harlequin Ladybird, a recent addition to our fauna which I mentioned when they first arrived. They are large Ladybirds, peculiar in coming in a wide variety of different patterns of black and red, although mostly with typical ladybird spots. They are coming inside in search of suitable spots to spend the winter, which they often do in groups. Since they first arrived there has been a regular group hibernating inside the church, as a large cluster in the frame of one of the windows. If they do this again this winter I will try and get a picture.
by Geoffrey Abbott