Tales from the Shack (our monthly blog focusing on the changes in nature across the estate): A Winter’s Tale

Posted by CDoyle on 03/09/2020

September is officially the first month of autumn, a transition season from high summer to deep winter, a season of adaptation by much of our wildlife to enable them to cope with colder conditions and a decreasing food supply.

Although September can be a month awash with fruit, nuts and seeds, already the number of flowering plants is dropping dramatically and consequently the number of insects available as a food source to other creatures.

Animals, therefore, have found different ways of coping with these changing conditions, some sensible and some quirky.

The first, and most obvious, is to go to ‘where the food is’ by migrating. We all think of our swifts and swallows leaving for sunnier climes but our winter visitors such as Redwings and Fieldfares are doing exactly the same, but from areas that will experience much harsher conditions than the temperate climate of the UK.  Think also of local migrations, Kingfishers and other water birds will move to coastal areas when inland waterway freeze for any length of time;  ladybirds and butterflies will migrate to sheds and caves to hunker down over the winter months and we’ve all experienced that moment that Mr Eight Legs charges across the floor when you’ve just settled down for an evening in front of the TV (but its only our common house spider migrating to somewhere warmer as his summer residence gets rather chilly).

Some animals pile on the pounds, laying down fat reserves to see them through winter, especially those that go through true hibernation, the hedgehog, dormouse and bats are our only mammals that do this. We’ve all seen grey squirrels dashing relentlessly between an oak tree and what it thinks is a safe location to hoard its winter bounty, but, it must beware of the ‘watchers’, other squirrels and most certainly jays, also a hoarder of acorns, will think nothing of stealing those easy pickings. As a mature oak tree can produce up to 50,000 acorns in a good (mast) year, there is plenty to go around, with a few spare for a successful next generation of oaks, along with those the squirrels forget…conveniently already planted!

Some creatures have a change in life style to help them through the winter months. It’s a time for getting together, flocking and herding, as starlings, geese and deer do. They now have lots of eyes to look out for predators and also spot where the best food is. Flocking has been taken a step further by the Pied Wagtail, now a frequent sight in towns and cities, they will roost in trees and bushes, in quite large numbers, making the most of higher night time temperature in the urban environment. Starlings and Long-tailed Tits will huddle in lines, when roosting, sharing their body heat. The ubiquitous and usually solitary wren will roost in numbers in old bird boxes, nests and hollows in trees for shared warmth… a huddle cuddle!

Some insectivorous bird such as the Blue Tit goes to even greater lengths, literally, to adapt for winter conditions. At this time of year they change their diet to seeds and fruit and to aid digestion, the alimentary canal (gut) will extend in length, the reverse happening in the spring, Note: this only happens in vegan birds.

Aren’t we the lucky ones with our supermarkets and central heating!!

Natures Calendar: September

Good news…on average September is warmer than May and nearly as warm as June.

Bad news…there’s usually less sunshine.

Good news…if you’re going to the coast the sea is at its warmest this month.

The 22nd of September is the Autumnal equinox, when day and night are of equal lengths, it’s also known as the Fall equinox and by this date the first changes in leaf colour can be seen, most notably on maples and birches.

Its harvest time for foragers with blackberries in abundance, but, pick before Michaelmas day, the 29th, after that the Devil has said to have spit on them!

Bird migration is in full sWing..sorry! and by the end of the month geese, lapwings and Whoopers Swans will be arriving. Thistles are now shedding their downy seed heads by the duvet load and Goldfinches descend on them in flocks, also called ‘Charms’, making the most of this abundance, thistle seeds can make up to a third of their annual diet.

An obvious insect to spot at this time of year is the Crane fly or Daddy-long-legs, they are one of nature’s hard done byes, they fly badly, have no sense of direction and have a habit of easily loosing those legs!

As the evenings cool and mists become more frequent, look out for the dazzling display of spider webs in our fields, picked out by the morning dew. One study, looking of a hectare of rough grassland, estimated there could be as many as 5.5 million individuals present…mostly money spiders, but their bigger cousins, the house spiders, are now making their way in doors… migrating to the warmer climes…and for all those arachnophobes out there, they are capable of covering a metre in two seconds!!

It’s not even Halloween yet…wait for next month!

Rob

Beale Wildlife Park is now open on a 'first come, first served' basis.  Please read our Covid Briefing before setting out.