As Summer Leaves Fall ….
The thing I notice most at the beginning of Autumn is that it is still dark when I get up in the mornings to let the dogs out. With Mists over the meadows and dewy morns. Rowan berries aplenty; Blackberry too. Red hips and haws colour the hedges a rusty red. And Rosebay Willowherb their tall spikes lit by the evening sunshine, followed soon by clouds of gossamer-soft seeds, floating like fairies on the balmy wind. The end of summer:
Quotations here from two essays by Richard Jefferies.
Autumn always brought him immense pleasure: the season of production and decay, of exploding colours and soft, enveloping sunbeams. He dwells on the size and profusion of berries and nuts, but also finds mystery waiting in the dimly-lit forest glades.
From ‘Nutty Autumn’:
“Haws are very plentiful this year (1881), and exceptionally large, many fully double the size commonly seen. So heavily are the branches laden with bunches of the red fruit that they droop as apple trees do with a more edible burden. Though so big, and to all appearance tempting to birds, none have yet been eaten; and, indeed, haws seem to be resorted to only as a change unless severe weather compels.
Just as we vary our diet, so birds eat haws, and not many of them till driven by frost and snow. If any stay on till the early months of next year, wood-pigeons and missel-thrushes will then eat them; but at this season they are untouched. Blackbirds will peck open the hips directly the frost comes; the hips go long before the haws. There was a large crop of mountain-ash berries, every one of which has been taken by blackbirds and thrushes, which are almost as fond of them as of garden fruit.
Blackberries are thick, too—it is a berry year—and up in the horse-chestnut the prickly-coated nuts hang up in bunches, as many as eight in a stalk. Acorns are large, but not so singularly numerous as the berries, nor are hazel-nuts. This provision of hedge fruit no more indicates a severe winter than a damaged wheat harvest indicates a mild one…
The atmosphere holds the beams, and abstracts from them their white brilliance. They come slower with a drowsy light, which casts a less defined shadow of the still oaks. The yellow and brown leaves in the oaks, in the elms, and the beeches, in their turn affect the rays, and retouch them with their own hue. An immaterial mist across the fields looks like a cloud of light hovering on the stubble: the light itself made visible.”
“The soft autumn sunshine, shorn of summer glare, lights up with colour the fern, the fronds of which are yellow and brown, the leaves, the grey grass, and hawthorn sprays already turned. It seems as if the early morning’s mists have the power of tinting leaf and fern, for so soon as they commence the green hues begin to disappear. There are swathes of fern yonder, cut down like grass or corn, the harvest of the forest. It will be used for litter and for thatching sheds. The yellow stalks—the stubble—will turn brown and wither through the winter, till the strong spring shoot comes up and the anemones flower. Though the sunbeams reach the ground here, half the green glade is in shadow, and for one step that you walk in sunlight ten are in shade. Thus, partly concealed in full day, the forest always contains a mystery. The idea that there may be something in the dim arches held up by the round columns of the beeches lures the footsteps onwards. Something must have been lately in the circle under the oak where the fern and bushes remain at a distance and wall in a lawn of green. There is nothing on the grass but the upheld leaves that have dropped, no mark of any creature, but this is not decisive; if there are no physical signs, there is a feeling that the shadow is not vacant. In the thickets, perhaps—the shadowy thickets with front of thorn—it has taken refuge and eluded us. Still onward the shadows lead us in vain but pleasant chase.”
Here family parties of Mistle Thrush feeding on the Yews in the Churchyard and noisily scavenging the fields. Their rattling call is unmistakeable. Starling absent from the fields and hedges for most of the year can be heard ‘murmuring’ in the trees as they start to gather in small flocks. Mostly young birds.
The Blackbird no longer sings morning and night – I hadn’t really noticed – but the Robin, after a very marked period of mid-summer silence, sings all day from early morning to late at night. There is a distinct break between the “ spring ” and “ autumn ” songs; but having recovered his voice in August, he will, in a mild winter, continue without interruption till the end of next June. The Robin is passionately territorial, and therefore our most persistent song-bird in autumn and winter.
While the odd non-breeding waders may turn up at inland pools and reservoirs as early as July or August, for many of us the first real sign of Autumn is the arrival of Fieldfare to our fields hedges and woods, en-masse towards the end of September: their “ chacking ” note alerting us to their presence. Viscount Grey saw the Fieldfare as one of the first of the Winter visitors from the North to arrive during the early part of Autumn. He wrote: The fieldfare has no bright colour like the Redwing; it is not quite so large and fine a bird as the Mistlethrush; but in variety of shades of colours it is the most beautiful of all our thrushes.
The Lapwing, sadly a rarity for many of us these days, also marks the changing of the seasons; the arrival of migrating flocks signal the onset of colder weather and the tumbling display flight and ‘peewit’ call note the arrival of spring.
“Hardy October has an especial charm to those who love the open air. The winds rush forward with a bluff freedom, and welcome you to the fields with hearty rudeness. Something seems to prepare the frame to stand the coming winter. The footsteps would fain wander farther and farther through the woodland, where the sward is hidden under fallen leaves. The scene changes with the hour of the day. Come to the hedgerow here, beside the stubble, early in the morning, and the mist conceals the other side of the field; the great hawthorn bushes loom out from it, and the grass by the ditch is white with heavy dew. By-and-by the mist clears, and the sky gives its own grey tint to all things. All sounds are hushed, and all colours subdued. Yet later on the breeze rises, and as it sweeps past throws a golden largesse of leaves on either hand. The monotonous grey sky resolves itself into separate clouds, which hasten overhead, with gaps where the sun seems nearly to shine through. These places are brightly illuminated from above, and yet the beams do not penetrate. After a while there comes a gleam of sunshine, and the eyes that have been bent on earth instinctively look up- The hedge is still so green with leaves that the wind is warded off and the sunshine is pleasantly warm. The rays have immediately found out and lit up every spot of colour. In the hawthorn the dull red haws, very large this year; on the briar the scarlet hips; a few flowers still lingering on the gambles; a pale herb of betony under the bushes, a late knapweed, a few thistles yet blooming—these catch the glance along the hedge. The short stubble is almost concealed by a rank growth of weeds, above which rise the fading yellow heads of the camomile, heads from which the white petals have drooped and fallen. The boughs of yonder horse-chestnuts have been thinned of foliage by the wind; but every leaf that remains is bright with tints of yellow. One tree especially stands out above the hedge; the leaves are almost crimson, so deeply has the frost touched them. It is not often that the foliage of the horse-chestnut takes so rich a dye as may be seen this autumn. The leaves commonly fall before their first pale yellow has reddened. The elms and oaks are still green, and show but little apparent change, though in truth much of their foliage has dropped. A brown oak leaf lies on the sward; it glistens with dew as if the colour laid on it was still wet. Along the shore of the pond a broad fringe of fallen leaves—from the elm that overshadows it— undulates on the wavelets that roll into the rushes and are lost. Up the slender rushes a tint of yellow is rising; the pointed flags that lift their green swords so proudly have bent, and their tips rest in the water. In the corner by the copse the thick growth of fern has become brown, and the tuffets of grass are streaked with grey. Overhead, the sky is now a beautiful blue; and if you look into the shadows of the trees—as in the copse where there is an open space—you will note that they are very soft and delicate. There are no sharply defined dark edges—the shadow between the tree-trunks appears like an indistinct mist. The eye as it gazes becomes conscious of undertones of colour for which there is no name. A cloud passes over the sun, and instantly they are blotted out. The beams fall again upon the wood, and the glow as immediately returns.
The acorns are full on the oak boughs, but they are still quite green, and none have dropped. Glad in the sunshine, the greenfinches troop along the hedge calling to each other sweetly. Larks rise and hover just above the trees, wheeling round, and returning to the earth. Now and then one soars and sings. On the top of the hawthorn bushes in the hedge the hedge-sparrows utter a single note from time to time-Not now, but early in the morning, the song of the robin comes through the mist, and the lively ‘fink’ of the chaffinch sounds in the tree. Thrushes sometimes sing in October; but hitherto the sharp frosts at the dawn have silenced them. Two or three swallows still float to-day in the blue sky above the wood. How slowly the plough goes through the stubble; the horses scarcely seem to move! Yet by degrees the space between the furrows becomes less, till nothing but a narrow path remains; and that is finally upturned by the share. They who live by the earth must be patient, and content to move slow like the seasons. Passing the gateway the shelter of the hedge is for the moment lost, and the northern blast rushes with all its force full in the face. This is the pleasure of October—the deep blue sky, the glowing colour of the leaves, the bright sun that lights up even the grey lichen on the oak bark, and with it the keen invigorating breeze that strengthens every limb. Travellers tell us of the wonderful colours of tropical forests; but then the moist sweltering heat renders the explorer incapable of enjoying them. But in English woodlands autumn colour is accompanied by a subtle change in the atmosphere which braces the wanderer.”
Jefferies wrote this article for the Pall Mall Gazette in 1879, which formed part of a seasonal series. The entire article can be found in the collection ‘Chronicles of the Hedges’
Grey November skies
Cold driving rain with sleet and biting northerly winds
November – John Clare
The landscape sleeps in mist from morn till noon;
And, if the sun looks through, tis with a face
Beamless and pale and round, as if the moon,
When done the journey of her nightly race,
Had found him sleeping, and supplied his place.
For days the shepherds in the fields may be,
Nor mark a patch of sky – blindfold they trace,
The plains, that seem without a bush or tree,
Whistling aloud by guess, to flocks they cannot see.
The timid hare seems half its fears to lose,
Crouching and sleeping ‘neath its grassy lair,
And scarcely startles, though the shepherd goes
Close by its home, and dogs are barking there;
The wild colt only turns around to stare
At passer by, then knaps his hide again;
And moody crows beside the road forbear
To fly, tho’ pelted by the passing swain;
Thus day seems turn’d to night, and tries to wake in vain.
The owlet leaves her hiding-place at noon,
And flaps her grey wings in the doubling light;
The hoarse jay screams to see her out so soon,
And small birds chirp and startle with affright;
Much doth it scare the superstitious wight,
Who dreams of sorry luck, and sore dismay;
While cow-boys think the day a dream of night,
And oft grow fearful on their lonely way,
Fancying that ghosts may wake, and leave their graves by day.
Yet but awhile the slumbering weather flings
Its murky prison round – then winds wake loud;
With sudden stir the startled forest sings
Winter’s returning song – cloud races cloud,
And the horizon throws away its shroud,
Sweeping a stretching circle from the eye;
Storms upon storms in quick succession crowd,
And o’er the sameness of the purple sky
Heaven paints, with hurried hand, wild hues of every dye.
At length it comes among the forest oaks,
With sobbing ebbs, and uproar gathering high;
The scared, hoarse raven on its cradle croaks,
And stockdove-flocks in hurried terrors fly,
While the blue hawk hangs o’er them in the sky.
The hedger hastens from the storm begun,
To seek a shelter that may keep him dry;
And foresters low bent, the wind to shun,
Scarce hear amid the strife the poacher’s muttering gun.
The ploughman hears its humming rage begin,
And hies for shelter from his naked toil;
Buttoning his doublet closer to his chin,
He bends and scampers o’er the elting soil,
While clouds above him in wild fury boil,
And winds drive heavily the beating rain;
He turns his back to catch his breath awhile,
Then ekes his speed and faces it again,
To seek the shepherd’s hut beside the rushy plain.
The boy, that scareth from the spiry wheat
The melancholy crow – in hurry weaves,
Beneath an ivied tree, his sheltering seat,
Of rushy flags and sedges tied in sheaves,
Or from the field a shock of stubble thieves.
There he doth dithering sit, and entertain
His eyes with marking the storm-driven leaves;
Oft spying nests where he spring eggs had ta’en,
And wishing in his heart twas summer-time again.
Thus wears the month along, in checker’d moods,
Sunshine and shadows, tempests loud, and calms;
One hour dies silent o’er the sleepy woods,
The next wakes loud with unexpected storms;
A dreary nakedness the field deforms –
Yet many a rural sound, and rural sight,
Lives in the village still about the farms,
Where toil’s rude uproar hums from morn till night
Noises, in which the ears of Industry delight.
At length the stir of rural labour’s still,
And Industry her care awhile foregoes;
When Winter comes in earnest to fulfil
His yearly task, at bleak November’s close,
And stops the plough, and hides the field in snows;
When frost locks up the stream in chill delay,
And mellows on the hedge the jetty sloes,
For little birds – then Toil hath time for play,
And nought but threshers’ flails awake the dreary day.
Four Raven overhead yesterday morning, as the rain cleared a bit to let a bit of weak sunlight through. Just like the absence now of Blackbird song I suddenly realised I haven’t seen any Great Spotted Woodpecker in a while in the garden. When did they go … Plenty of Great Tit and Blue Tit, House Sparrow, a few Chaffinch and a regular Nuthatch and Coal Tit.
After a night of heavy rain and strong winds day turned into one of blustery winds and heavy squalls with some sunshine in between.
Swallow very low over the fields early morning skimming the grass in the field – almost like it was a pond – seemed to be picking insects off grass stems. Even coming into the garden.
Later Starling and Swallow gathered on the telephone wires – like musical notes on a score.
Greenfinch back after I put black niger seed out yesterday. Usual Great Tit, Blue Tit and two Coal Tit. Chaffinch and Dunnock too. Young starling on the feeders.
The resident Swallow are now gone – just a few birds on passage flying over.
One of the most awe inspiring sights is the gathering of hirundines, mostly Swallow, at dusk just before roosting. They would cloud the air,in their hundreds and thousands during late summer evenings over the regular reed bed roosts at Chew Valley Reservoir, occasionally split asunder by a marauding Hobby, swerving and swirling en masse before swooping low over the reeds, and dropping into the reed beds in small groups until the last ones when they would drop as one.
The hoot of the Brown or Tawny Owl, while not peculiar to Autumn, is however, now very noticeable – Viscount Grey in his book ‘The Charm of Birds’ has described it thus: The normal hoot consists of one fine, smooth long note ; then a pause of about four seconds ; then a long note, quavering at first and ending smooth and full. Sometimes the bird will give the first long note without following it up by the quavering note, but this is a broken and imperfect performance. The hoot is, I suppose, the note peculiar to the male; it is often answered by another bird at some
distance, and appears to be, like some bird songs, a proclamation of territory.
The day started overcast with a slight ground mist. It cleared by mid-morning turning into a glorious Autumn day. Very warm.
A good day for butterfly – after a poor year. Red Admiral and Painted Lady all feeding well on the late flowers of the Buddlea Globosa.
The resident pair of Raven seemed very territorial- seeing off a single bird passing through on a few occasions.
A small party – 7 – of Long Tailed Tit passed through the garden just before lunch. Nuthatch and Coal Tit regulars at the feeders.
Great Spotted Woodpecker are back in the garden again – a female this morning and a male a couple of days ago. Coal Tit becoming regular visitors again too. Up to 6 Raven though mostly just the resident pair.
The number of birds visiting the feeders has increased dramatically – House Sparrow, Blue Tit and Great Tit by far the commonest. But Robin, Dunnock and Chaffinch continue to be regulars. Two Coal Tit and Nuthatch present during the morning and early afternoon. Today brought strong winds and torrential rain. No sign of the Swallow and Martin that clouded the grey skies of yesterday. The first real sighting of winter Thrush also yesterday flying About restlessly. Good crop of Haws that have coloured the hedgerows a dried blood colour.
A blustery day yesterday with fast moving grey clouds but sunshine in between. Raven seemed to be loving it. Up to 6 throughout the day. Revelling in the boisterous windy conditions.
The small birds had a tough time of it yesterday in the storm force winds. But the Raven were loving it!
Today the wind has dropped and the sun shone through.
A Pied Wagtail was hanging around the house and barn all day.
A single Coal Tit is now a regular along with the other Tits on the feeders. Great Spotted Woodpecker also visiting more frequently. Wren Dunnock and Robin singing. Redwing and Fieldfare in the hedgerow Hawthorn.
Unlike yesterday which turned into a lovely fine warm and sunny day, today never even saw the light of day being overcast and mizzly. However we had two Coal Tit on the feeders and both a male and female Great Spotted Woodpecker at differing times.
Regular Nuthatch, Great Tit and Blue Tit with Chaffinch, Robin and Dunnock. Vixen barking late last night.
Into a spell of finer weather. Birds very active on the feeders yesterday. One minute there would be Blue Tit and Great Tit then in the blink of an eye all change to Coal Tit (2) Nuthatch and Robin. Both male and female Great Spotted Woodpecker. Chaffinch and Dunnock as well as House Sparrow. A brief appearance of what I’m pretty sure was a Grey Wagtail on the fence but then it was gone – still not properly light and I didn’t have my glasses!
Weather over the last couple of days has been changeable with a little weak sunshine between the showers which turned into more continuous rain overnight; though both nights started clear, with a full moon on Sunday. 3 Raven very active yesterday morning flying here there and everywhere. Extremely vocal in their chase. Pair of Goldfinch this morning – in spite the rain. Occasional visitors only to the garden it’s a pleasure to see .
saw the first real frost of the year – the grass a blanket of frosted white. Coal Tit, Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker all regular visitors again along with the ever present Blue Tit and Great Tit. Chaffinch Dunnock and Wren. Not forgetting House Sparrow and Magpie. Raven and Buzzard over the fields throughout the morning. Blackbird about again but not regular and not singing unlike the Robin.
Weather very changeable – today started wet and drizzly to clear a bit mid morning with some weak sunshine. No wind to speak of.
Small 100+ party of Starling feeding in the fields. Water table very high here so field after rain becomes waterlogged.
Just before dawn after a cold wet night the dogs surprised a Buzzard from somewhere very close by. Couldn’t see it – it was still too dark – but it flew off mewling. A Raven called nearby. Squally rain and sleety showers arrived with the dawn with a biting Northerly wind. As the weather cleared and the sun came out we could see the first dusting of snow on the mountains.
All day the Raven – at one time as many as 30 – have been engaged in aerobatic displays over the trees of the hill fort. Chasing, tumbling, sometimes soaring to quite a height, then falling only to shoot upwards again. Sometimes I thought they had gone but suddenly as if by magic they were there again. Some would settle in the pines for a bit before launching themselves again into the fun and games – for that’s what it seemed to be
Female Sparrowhawk on the fence by the feeders outside the kitchen window at 0815. Beautiful bird.
Two Goldfinch around. Both Woodpecker and the regular Nuthatch, Great Tit Blue Tit, Chaffinch Wren Dunnock and Robin. Small party Long Tailed Tit in the lane yesterday.
Pair of Dunnock feeding on nettle seeds early yesterday morning.
We have already had the first light covering of snow on the mountains, with more forecast -yet it’s not quite December – Autumn declines into Winter ….
Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season) …..
is a song written by Pete Seeger in the late 1950s. The lyrics, are adapted from the English version of the first eight verses of the third chapter of the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes. It became an international hit in late 1965 when it was adapted by the American folk rock group the Byrds.
To everything – turn, turn, turn
There is a season – turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose under heaven …..
The picture is titled ‘Autumn’ by Hugh Brandon-Cox