|This is the month of the equinox, a marker that highlights the changing seasons. Autumn is in full swing by the time October gets underway and although there can still be warm days, you may also see your breath on a cold morning for the first time since last winter.|
The blackberries are over for another year, but hazel nuts and acorns are now ripening. To get to the nuts you will have to race the squirrels and jays, who hoard them for the winter by burying them in the ground. It is said that many oaks, particularly, are derived from such forgotten stashes.
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penny bun boletus
A damp Autumn brings on many wonderful fungal fruiting bodies, e.g. mushrooms and toadstools. Woodlands, both deciduous and coniferous, and old pastures are the best places to find fungi. However they are everywhere and can be found on rotting wood and healthy trees, and in parks, gardens and on lawns for instance. One noticeable formation of toadstools is the fairy ring, formed by Marasmius oreades, although it can fruit from Spring through to Autumn. As the years pass the fungus spreads out further and further from the centre of the circle, and hence some examples can be proved to be decades old.
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beefsteak fungus (an edible species that grows on oaks and chestnut trees)
In October autumn colour spreads through the hedgerows and woodlands, with the hazel being one of the earliest native species to turn brown. Where the soil is alkaline old man's beard becomes particularly evident, swamping large areas of hedgerow with its abundant fluffy seed heads. Sloes start to stand prominent on the spikey branches of the blackthorn, as its tatty autumn leaves fall away.
Horse chestnut leaves have long since taken on their seasonal hues and quickly look shabby, but also are the first to create a wonderful bronze spectacle in the bright autumn sunshine. During October the remaining conkers drop to the ground to be gathered up for competitive reasons, or just merely picked up to enable their ephemeral to be admired that bit closer. Other trees such as ash are much more subtle in their colour change, turning light green then yellow. Often their leaves drop very suddenly and the bare branches give a stark preview of a winter landscape. The opposite extreme is beech which form spectacular shows in woods where they dominate such as across the Chilterns. Their leaves turn a bright, firey orange and bronze. The branches hang on quite tenaciously to their dying leaves. The field maple, which is native and common in hedgerows, has small lobed leaves which turn a wonderfully vibrant yellow. The weather can have a dramatic effect on the whole landscape at this time of year. One stormy night can strip hedgerows and woodlands of leaves, and some branches, in a flash. A sharp frost will bring out the colours. Across the Scottish glens hairy birches provide a golden leaved spectacle, whereas on more southerly heaths silver birch takes its place.
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red deer stag in his prime
October is a special time for our largest native land animal - the red deer, as this is the start of the rut. The normally quiet male deer (the stag) seeks out a group of between 10 to 20 females (a harem), which can he call his own and with which he can mate with. During summer he has been preparing for this period by growing a totally new set of impressive antlers, having shed the old ones in spring. The antlers go through a set of maturing phases, including when they lose the velvet covering, until the point when they are fully hardened and ready for battle. This battle is the tussle for dominance between adult males competing for the ladies (the hinds). However in reality red deer try to avoid direct contact and instead emphasise their superiority to each other by bellowing and strutting along with their new shaggy mane of fur around their necks. Very serious clashes are therefore relatively uncommon.
The males which are at around eight years old are the most successful, as they have the size due their their age and still retain the strength over their seniors, who may be in decline. Mating with the hinds occurs when the hinds have reached two or three years old. The calves are born in late May or June in the following year. Red deer can be found in Scotland and some of the national parks of southern England such as Dartmoor, Exmoor and the New Forest.
In autumn very few birds can be heard singing, although they do call to one another as they move around in flocks. The exception can often be robins with their melancholy autumn song. A spell of warm weather sometimes persuades song and mistle thrushes to sing from some lofty perch, and this is always welcome.