Results of a 
cold, wet spring

A bold fieldfare
A bold fieldfare

By Heather Elvidge

The great leaf transformation continues with some superb colours. And as the leaf cover thins, jewel-coloured berries glow in the low winter sun.

When it comes to berries and nuts there’s wide variation between trees this year, even trees of the same species and maturity. Some are bearing a reasonable crop while others have nothing — it could be a tough winter for wild creatures.

Winter thrushes are arriving, hoping to find berries. Fieldfares from Scandinavia are large, handsome birds, with grey-blue heads and boldly spotted breasts. Redwings are shy and more like our thrushes in size, with a cream stripe over the eye and a red patch under each wing. Flocks of these visitors gather in fields, though they also turn up in gardens.

The fields are mostly left to the birds now. Some are ridged with bare earth turned over by the plough; in others the seed already lies in the soil. Cattle are leaving their pastures, now that grass is scant and nights are frosty, and coming into winter quarters.

There are fewer crab 
apples in the woods, and apple growers and cider-makers are calling this year’s harvest the worst for 15 years. Apple Day on October 21 could be a subdued affair.

What we’re seeing is the result of a cold, wet spring. Trees and plants that were ready to be pollinated had their flowers spoiled by the weather, while those flowers that did survive waited in vain for bees and hoverflies to visit.

We all know about the wheat harvest, but just about everything that can’t be grown in a polytunnel has been affected this year. This is why supermarkets are falling back on less-than-perfect fruit and veg. The good news is that it tastes just the same as the show-bench specimens we’ve become used to. Random sizes, weird shapes, and skin with knobbly bits are not just for Halloween.

Night watch

In the twilight a shadow moves quickly across a path. It’s a hedgehog, on the trail of slugs and beetles.

Soon hedgehogs will retreat to their winter nests. To survive hibernation they need to get as fat as possible, and we can help by putting out food for them. Not bread and milk, because these are harmful — meaty cat or dog food is what they need. Leave the food where you last saw the hog.

It seems odd that such a commonplace animal should need our help, but hedgehog numbers are reckoned to have halved in the last 25 years.

October’s night sky brings more shooting stars. The annual shower that seems to come from Orion will peak on Sunday night, the 21st. The Hunter rises in the east around 10pm, but more meteors will be visible after the moon has set. The later you look, the darker the sky and the higher Orion will be.

In 12 month’s time we could all be getting very excited about a spectacular comet. Astronomers predict that comet Ison will be much brighter than a full moon, and could even be visible in daylight. Unless it breaks up as it approaches the sun, the giant comet will be in our sky from December 2013.