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Along an Autumn Hedge


Wandering alongside an autumn hedge all yellows, browns, reds, pinks and purples my eye was caught by a bright flash of orange-red ahead of me; a Redstart - its wings flapping in a blur; its tail fanning out - orange-red as it hovers and snatches at a fly. It lands on a fence post, standing upright, its tail shivering. An adult male. Then up it jumps again snatching at another passing insect and lands on a dead branch further along - it’s fiery tail and ‘tweet-tut’ fretting call teasing me on ...

An Autumn Hedge

Hedgerows or hedges are a defining feature of the landscape, creating its characteristic structure and pattern - it’s topography. They are a part of our cultural and landscape heritage which ranks alongside great cathedrals, quaint villages and spectacular coastlines. Aesthetically, hedgerows provide pattern and texture - giving the landscape a sense of time and place 1... None more so than in autumn ...

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. Nutty Autumn - Richard Jefferies

The hedge is at its most colourful in autumn; yellows browns reds and purples - ochre colours of Bracken and decaying leaves; the reds and purples of autumn berries, hips and haws; the orange yellow and red of Rowan and the bright red of Holly against the dark green leaves; the evergreen yew with its pinkish berries and pink spindle berries. Purple wild plums and dark indigo blue sloes and rich brown cob nuts.

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A Bird in the Hedge (Extracts from my Birding Diaries)

Along the hedge as summer leaves fall
into autumn, colours flying, a fiery flash
of flirtatious tail ‘n sweet ‘tweet-tut’ call
teasing us. A white-arse cuts a fine dash
dapper on the autumn sun warmed wall -
atop sprigs of gorse; all along the chase
the ‘tic tic’ of furze-chat watchin’ sentinel;
on a bare leafless branch of a dying ash
a flycatcher pied in black ‘n white apparel,
the hedge below all red with haw, awash
with chakking feldfare; summer leaves fall
Wiltshire - Autumn 1962

I was almost grown up - almost a teenager - and I was bored. We were visiting my Mum’s cousins at their farm near Market Lavington, Wiltshire. I wandered off outside having stayed only as long as needed to satisfy polite convention. Mooching alongside an old hedge, towards the nearby woods, the late afternoon sun picking out all the autumn colours - yellows browns reds and purples - my eye was caught by a flickering bright flash of orange-red ahead of me; a Redstart - its wings flapping in a blur; its tail fanning out in flickering bright flashes of orange-red as it hovers and snatches at a fly.

It lands on a fence post, standing upright, its tail shivering. An adult male, but its distinctive black face, white forehead and orange and buff underparts are slightly faded, the edges blurred 2.

Then up it jumps again snatching at another passing insect and lands on a dead branch further along - it’s orange-red tail and ‘tweet-tut’ fretting call teasing me on ...

Redstarts are a bird of Britain’s western and northern upland woods and wales. On migration, it is a bird of trees, hedges and bushes.

Redstart breed (mid ‘60s) here in the hanging woods off the north western part of Salisbury Plain. This one, clinging to the hedgerows and trees may only stay here for a few days longer, feeding up before flying on to Europe and then Africa, to its wintering grounds south of the Sahara.

North Wales - Autumn 1994

Many, many, many years later, now grown up, we were walking around our local lake - Lyn Padarn in Snowdonia. It was mid afternoon in early October, dull and overcast; grey clouds and grey mountains reflected in the grey waters of the lake; every shade of grey - a candle smoke painting ...

... A bird darts out Flycatcher-like, from a rocky crag jutting out from the straggly hedge of Blackthorn, Gorse, Bracken and boulder, snatches at a passing insect and returns to its vantage point. Dusky grey blending well with the grey weathered rock, only the orange-red of its tail picked out. Eye-catching - a black beauty of a bird ...

As a breeding bird most of us won't see Black Redstart but during late autumn, and even through winter, there is an influx of Black Redstart into the country from other breeding sites, probably in eastern Europe.  Particularly in October and November it is possible to find Black Redstart anywhere in the country, but the southern half of the UK and anywhere near the coast and rocky beaches are favoured places.

The Wirral - Autumn 2004

It was half term, a few years ago now, and we were enjoying a late camping holiday before the weather became too cold, wet and windy. We were camped at the Wirral Country Park Caravan Club site near Thurstaston ...

It was one of those autumn afternoons when the sun shone from a cloudless blue sky; just a slight breeze coming in off the estuary. A memory of summer days. We were walking along the old railway line 3, mostly hedged here but with breaks every now and then on the seaward side. Our feet rustled the fallen leaves; the only sound. A blur of colour flew in from the seashore and landed on a nearby fence post - a Wheatear or white-arse as it is called in the country.

True to it’s name it flitted along ahead of us to the next fence post - flashing it’s white rump ... it was a late bird quite chunky and very brightly coloured - with a lot of peachy- apricot on its underparts; so my thoughts began to wander - could it be - it couldn’t be could it - well maybe - a possible then - a Greenland Wheatear ...

By August, most of our breeding Wheatear are heading back south. But Greenland Wheatear only leave their breeding grounds in August, so reach us in September – and sometimes even in October.

They are infrequent visitors on autumn passage to the Wirral and the Dee Estuary (Hilbre Island Observatory) but not unheard of - so yes a distinct possibility.

Somerset - Autumn 1966

Another time; another place - and another old disused railway line; the old Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway at Midford near Bath. A favourite patch of mine. Largely overgrown with scrubby Bramble and Goat Willow, Hawthorn and Blackthorn, and secondary shrub and small tree species - Dog Rose, Crab Apple, Spindle. Birch saplings were everywhere. More Blackthorn with Hazel and Wild Cherry on the embankment sloping down to fields which bordered the river Cam.

It was a frosty autumn morning - the hedges outlined with white hoar; alive with birds - tits and warblers mostly with a few thrush. A small fall of migrants! More common in spring than autumn - where had they all come from ...

Birdwatching inland during the autumn can produce some good birds with Pied Flycatcher, Redstart and Firecrest among wandering parties of tits and possibly some warblers like Blackcap and Chiffchaff. Even rarer species like Yellow Browed Warbler are sometimes found amongst them in October and November. Though the latter only mostly on the east coast, especially on migratory routes.

Still, I almost obsessively scanned each roving flock desperately hoping for a Firecrest or Yellow Browed Warbler. No luck. Right time; Wrong place!

Cornwall - Autumn 1964

Walking up the private road that led to my Uncle’s farm leaving Dipper and Grey Wagtail behind on the river ... I followed the rough hedgebank of Grey Willow, gorse, and boulder, fringing marshy fields of Common Bent Grass, Bilberry, Field Woodrush, Heather and scattered areas of Gorse.

A small bird seemed to be keeping pace with me flying from willow to willow calling with an agitated ‘tic tic’. It briefly perched on an old gate post - a male Whinchat.

It was late in the season - early October - so perhaps a late breeding bird or a straggler on migration from further north or perhaps from Wales.

The farm is on the edge of Bodmin Moor in the Upper Fowey Valley and as well as the Grey Wagtail and Dipper it is also home to breeding Whinchat; higher up on the moors Wheatear breed and also one of the UKs rarest breeding birds - Montagu Harrier - one of its last strongholds.

North Devon - Autumn 1962

I woke up to a bright fresh autumn morning - the sun streaming through the bedroom window - it was late September 1962 and I was staying on a family friends farm in South Molton. It must have been the birdwatchers sixth sense that made me look out of the window which overlooked the walled orchard - for there on a pear tree was a handsome pied Flycatcher sitting patiently in the morning sun. Occasionally it turned its head. A whirr of wings and I swear I heard an audible snap of its beak and a passing daddy long legs was no more. Back on its branch as before.

They breed nearby in the ancient woodlands of Halsdon, along the length of the River Torridge, immortalised by the tale of Tarka the Otter; and in Horner Wood Exmoor, Tarr Steps, and on the north eastern slopes of Dartmoor at Durnsford. So this handsome bird was most likely a juvenile on dispersal or on early stages of migration.

The little orchard was normally home to a pair of Spotted Flycatcher who regularly nested in the Quince and Pears trained against the crumbling wall. The farm had seen better days and the hedge beyond the wall was beginning to take over - with bramble and elder competing with ivy and nettles. It was an idyllic place and I loved staying there. It seemed so remote - it had its own well for drinking water and a cranky old generator for the electricity. The farm itself was up on the hillside with grassy fields sloping down to an old wood in a little coombe, which opened out onto grassy fields bordering a small stream. Banked by Alder and Hawthorn and tangled with bramble the red soil showed where cattle had broken through to drink. We fished for Eel in the stream.

What happens to Pied Flycatchers once the broods have fledged has been something of a mystery. During the breeding period they are conspicuous enough, but once the young have left the nests the birds become very difficult to observe, and it is not known for certain whether they remain, inconspicuously, in the vicinity of the breeding sites, or whether they disperse well away from these areas 4. However, A. Grieve and J. Humphrey ringed many young in an oak wood in mid-Wales in 1971-72, and during July caught several juveniles travelling along hedges up to 5 km away from the natal wood (Humphrey 1973).

North Wales - Autumn 2018

Today looking out the kitchen window the first snows of winter on the mountains, the fields frosted white the FieldFare have arrived ... the hawthorn hedgerows literally alive with large numbers; their blue heads shining in the afternoon sun; the hedge the colour of old gold; the haws as red as dried blood.

Redwing too are about - I can hear their
‘seep seep’ calls as they fly over to land in the now almost leafless ash trees by the farm buildings. They are unusually restless. A hunting Sparrowhawk flips over the hedge - the birds rise en-masse and circle the field before coming back to the ash trees. Still they cannot settle - then I see the reason a male Kestrel on the telephone wires nearby. ‘Kee kee kee’ and the female skims over the field to land on a fence post bordering the garden . She sees me and is off again flying to join the male on the wires.

The FieldFare moving along the hedge fly up almost, as one, and land in the adjoining field - where they quarter the ground like an army before flying up again and settling back in the hedges. ‘Chakking’ all the while.

Fieldfare and Redwing tend to remain at their breeding grounds in Scandinavia and continental Europe until food sources, such as Rowan berries run out: birds then head for the UK to make the most our milder winters; moving South and West across the country as colder weather sets in, feeding on Hawthorn berries in hedgerows and woods, until those supplies run low, followed by foraging on the ground, mainly for fallen fruit or for soil invertebrates.

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Bird Notes Autumn (2018)


6 October

Rain and NE wind overnight. Still cold during the day. Sun came out mid-morning. So a bright breezy watery sort of day overall. A few Crow mobbing a lone Curlew over the fields at the top of the lane.

9 October

A bright and blustery day. Warmer than if late. The Greenfinch flock up the road appears to have grown to around a 100 birds.

A welcome return to the garden is a single Nuthatch - preferring sunflower hearts to peanuts.

Other garden visitors include Robin, Dunnock, Great Tit, Blue Tit and a single Coal Tit, Chaffinch and a single female Greenfinch and still plenty of House Sparrow. Two Collared Dove are hanging about. Some juvenile Starling occasionally break off from the small flocks in the fields around but they are not particularly adept at the feeders and cause quite a commotion. My son thought he saw a Sparrowhawk briefly yesterday on a fence post near the feeder but it was away before I could cross the room. The odd Pied Wagtail is also hanging around.

It’s now officially Autumn. High pressure over the country and a few days of fine weather sees a flurry of activity with farmers hastily gathering an ‘unexpected’ last hay crop. Activity on the bird front too with Swallow still present making the best of the fine weather to feed up before their long migration south. Joined on the telephone wires by murmuring Starling - small flocks - mostly this years young birds. Just up the road a field left fallow this year after last years turnip crop has attracted a small flock or parcel - 50 or so - of Greenfinch . Must try and get a closer look before they move on.

10 October

Two Curlew flew up from the fields next the garden early this evening. Love their calls

16 October

We regularly see Magpie, Crow and Raven (which breed in the woods atop the old hill fort); Jackdaw of which a few breed in the nearby churchyard, and the odd Jay. Recently fifty or so Rook - mostly juvenile birds - were feeding in the fields next the garden looking for leather jackets. I would consider myself lucky tho’ to see all six together ...

We perhaps take the daily sighting of Raven for granted - one of the largest roosts of Raven in the world is only a few miles or so away - ‘as the Crow flies’ - in Newborough Forest, Anglesey. Before coming to North Wales almost 30 years ago I had only ever seen single birds around old mine workings on Kit Hill near to Gunnislake in East Cornwall. That seemed more in keeping with the image I had of them growing up ... not as regular farmland birds as I know them now!

Weather mizzly - overcast with drizzle low cloud cover with little wind. Rain coming in from the West. Warm. A good day for the birds - female kestrel on the wires across the lane, female Great Spotted Woodpecker on the feeder and a female Grey Wagtail on the logpile. Other birds included Nuthatch, Coal Tit, Great Tit and Blue Tit, Chaffinch, Dunnock and Robin

18 October

Overcast with little wind. Sun occasionally tries to break through. A bit chilly.

Juvenile Goldfinch on the feeders this morning along with the more usual Chaffinch, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Dunnock and Robin. Also a Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker and a single Coal Tit. Two collared Dove and a few Magpie. No sign of the Grey Wagtail from yesterday! Coal Tit looking very smart. A Wren haunting the logpile.

Later a female Greenfinch

19 October

The first of the autumn thrushes - half a dozen Redwing flew over and landed in the Poplars lining the drive. A pleasure to hear their ‘sip sip’ flight call.

28 October

Pair of Kestrel hunting the fields mid morning- very vocal. Female came into the garden twice. Earlier we had a female Sparrowhawk on a fencepost right outside the kitchen window. Fresh snow on the mountains. Still a fresh NE wind. New flocks of Redwing in the hedges.

3 November

Small party of smallish gulls flew in and nervously picked over things in the field. I’m not the best at Gull ID but I’m pretty sure there were 3 adult winter, poss second winter, Common Gull with 5 adult winter Black Headed Gull. Very flighty.

These are unusual here; more common are the Herring Gull and Lesser Black Backed Gull.

5 November

Three Common Gull and a single Black Headed Gull first thing. Two Coal Tit later on feeders and logs.

25 November

Still the cold easterlies of the last few days. Bright and sunny in an almost cloudless blue sky. Snow on most of the mountains. Most of the leaves off the Poplars and hedgerow trees.

4 Curlew in the fields around home. Woodpecker Nuthatch Chaffinch Tits Robin Dunnock Coal Tit (2). Magpie Sparrow and Starling Raven calling from the woods around the summit of the hill fort.


Picture Credit

Rough for November (Shell Calendar) Rowland Hilder

Take a closer look at the featured image - is that a falling leaf fluttering to the ground in the centre left of the picture or is it a distant Raven captured by the artist to add ‘colour’ - to give the picture a sense of ‘timeless continuity’ ...

You can read a short biography of Rowland Hilder here ...

Rowland Hilder PPRI RSMA OBE

Postscript - A Note on Hedges


There is a popular belief that most hedgerows are recent additions to the countryside, having been planted across an open landscape under the Enclosure Acts of the early 19th Century. In fact, at least half our hedges are older than this, and many are hundreds, some even thousands, of years old. Others are older still, being remnants of the original wildwood that covered Britain and Ireland before man started to carve out his fields.

So, a great many of our hedgerows are ancient and of historical interest in their own right. This is particularly true where they mark parish boundaries, ancient monuments or other such features. Often beautiful old veteran trees, their lives prolonged by repeated pollarding over the years, reveal the great age of hedgerows and their importance to our ancestors.

We also have a rich tradition of different hedgerow management techniques, particularly of hedge laying, and this too is an important part of our cultural heritage, one which helps to give both a sense of continuity and one of place to local communities.

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One of four posts: Autumn, Winter, Spring, and Summer - the cornerstones of this blog. Follow me, if you will, as I ramble through the year - share your memories of Autumn walks by field and hedge - join the conversation - weave your own story into the mists of Autumn...

Next Post

By a Brook in Winter ...


  1. A sense of time and place is a recurring theme among landscape artists who have long seen ‘beauty’ in the patterning of our ancient fields and hedgerows - the wandering pathways through fields a mosaic of yellow and green, bordered by trees and hedge, darkened by cloud shadows from blue yet often lowering skies. Here is the ‘spirit of place’ - mans imprint on nature.

    ‘It is not always my purpose’ (writes Hilder) ‘to sit down and paint literally what my eyes tell me is there in front of me, but to search for the essence of time and place’.

    Turner manipulated the surface-features of a landscape to capture something of its essence. His watercolours were as much about the experience of a place as they were about its appearance.

  2. Common Redstart do not have a winter body moult – the male’s ‘summer’ plumage is gradually revealed during the course of the winter as the pale feather fringes eventually wear away.

    Adult males undergo a complete moult in late summer. In autumn, the new plumage has fresh pale feather fringes, so that their ‘full’ plumage is subdued. The black on the face is obscured by whitish feather edgings and the throat may thus look greyish at a distance.The white band on the forehead remains visible, extending back over the eyes

  3. The Wirral Way, once the old disused railway line, is now a stunning coastal path running along the Wirral Peninsular, from West Kirby all the way to Hooton in Chester and incorporating
    the Wirral Country Park
  4. Pied flycatcher migratory behavior can be explained by the clock-and-compass strategy. Rather than using a map, parental guidance, or landmarks, they determine the correct direction to fly using the earth’s magnetic field and constellations and fly until it’s time to stop. They migrate at night and cover between 100 and 125 kilometers each night. Because of wind, topography, navigation mistakes, and other errors, migration trajectories are shaped like a narrow parabola, with most birds staying on the intended trajectory and others deviating slightly. (Mouritsen and Mouritsen, 2000)..
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Bespoke Traveler
November 8, 2018 1:31 am

Before reading your helpful hint regarding the featured image I had seen it as a falling leaf. The picture takes on a whole other perspective now.