Summer is officially over (in meteorological terms) and the Autumn starting to set in, with cooler nights and dew on the ground in the early mornings. Nature is beginning to wind down its activity, whilst offering us the annual fruits of its labours in the form of food to harvest or forage for. The autumnal equinox falls on 22nd September, marking the point when the Sun shines directly on the equator so resulting in equal lengths of day and night across the world.
Farmers have now harvested their cereal crops, and are ploughing the land and drilling it with autumn-sown crops. Many vegetables and fruits, such as beans and apples, are ripe for commercial harvest now. There’s also plenty of wild food foraging opportunities too, including heavy bunches of Blackberries in hedgerows and along road verges – perfect for making crumble!
Many plants are starting to shut down and die back for winter, with trees beginning to turn colour and lose their leaves. The bright fruits of Rose hips, Hawthorn ‘haws’ and Sloe berries stand out to demand our attention however. Shiny conkers also emerge from the split spiky cases of Horse Chestnut fruits littering the ground. Acorns from Oak trees are gathered up by Jays and Squirrels to be stashed away safely for their winter food supply, although some are inevitably forgotten and hence can sprout to become new trees. Ivy flowers in autumn with its often-overlooked yellow-green blooms, which are very attractive and important to a wide range of Bees and other pollinating insects. Mushrooms are starting to emerge spurred on by the cooler damp conditions, including noteworthy occurrences like the Giant Puffball in old grassland or foul-smelling phallic Stinkhorn in woods which attracts flies to spread its spores.
Many insects are still on the wing, such as the clumsy flight of Craneflies or ‘Daddy Long Legs’ which are abundant over grassland and lawns. Spiders too are at peak numbers, with their ornate webs seemingly glistening everywhere in the morning dew. Common species of butterflies are still on the wing, including large numbers of “Cabbage Whites” as well as Red Admirals that like to nectar on fallen fruits.
Autumn fruits also provide a much needed feast for birds and other animals to fatten up before the winter sets in. It’s time to say farewell however to any last migrant Swifts and Swallows, that return south to overwinter in Africa, although we in turn receive many of our winter ‘garden birds’ such as Thrushes from areas farther north. Plus keep an eye out in due course for winter wader birds such as Redshank arriving on our coast and estuaries.