Historically, THE month which starts with pretty-well all the leaves on the trees and ends with pretty-well none of them on the trees - in between they all seem to turn yellow,
which is what I called my March monthly blog too, as (not so much all the yellow leaves but) all the yellow flowers appeared then.
Ben and I kicked off the month with a wee walk around a local gravel pit (well... cement works really) to see if we could spot any wading birds on their Autumn migration (October generally being a very good month for that sort of stuff).
We didn't see anything untoward really, (green sandpipers) in terms of waders, but we DID see two garganey ducks, which I've not seen in years. I would put one of my photos up here of these two ducks, but in all honesty, my photos were just dreadful - the ducks were so far away, I only really realised that they were garganey as they kept on flashing their green speculum.
It was also lovely to see a load of house martins still in the country over the cement pits and a few hundred lapwing too.
Nice also to see a few insects - a colony of honeybees had clearly formed a hive inside one of the multitude of bat boxes in the oak trees.
Walking back to the car we found a superb HOP DOG (or pale tussock moth caterpillar) and a load of very active hornets too. I adore hornets, but unfortunately, we couldn't spend any time searching for their nest as I had to get Ben to golf academy that morning too.
In the afternoon, back at home, a superb young female sparrowhawk alighted on our recently trimmed leylandii tree. I think she's a regular visitor as jusr after it was cut a few weeks ago, I was sitting under the tree and a young, female hawk landed about 10 feet above my head for a few seconds.
This time though, I was in the kitchen with my camera - and I managed to get a reasonable photo through the double glazing, below.
On the 2nd, I went for my pre-dawn walk again and heard for the first time this season, the local foxes being pretty noisy. I managed to record one barking in the dark (around 5am) some 100 yards or so away from me in the woods, on my phone. (Clip below).
Despite an early morning of rain, the day soon cleared up into a lovely autumnal day. Ben and I spent the morning at a rugby tournament in Windsor and the afternoon on the golf course, where we heard and then saw two redwing fly over. Not quite the earliest I've ever heard or seen in the season, but pretty early nonetheless (ten years ago (in 2012) I heard two fly over at night, on the 26th of September - a full six days earlier than the pair Ben and I saw on the 2nd of October in 2022). Weird to see redwing share the sky with big hawker (I assume migrant hawkers) dragonflies.
We had a little drink after the golf, by the side of the final green and watched the omnipresent green woodpeckers perform aerobatics over our heads in the late afternoon sun, taking out what appeared to be hundreds or thousands even, of tiny white flies. Perhaps aphids. Perhaps someone reading this can let me know as to be frank, I'm not at all sure (see poor video I shot with my phone, below).
On the evening of the 3rd October, I noticed that our colony (*) of Segestria florentina (green-fanged, tube web spiders) at the back of the house at least, were doing very well, and sitting at the entrance of their hidey holes each night, waiting for a creepy-crawly or moth to trigger one of the trip-wires leading back to the spider's lair. I first wrote about these spiders on this blog ten years ago... in fact... right at the birth of this website! Ten years on, I naturally, took another photo (with my phone on macro mode).
(*) These spiders, like all spiders, don't live in colonies of course, we just have many over the walls of our house, giving an appearance of a colony, so to speak.
The week between the 3rd and 10th was pretty dry really. Dry and warm. That said, this week seemed to be the first week of the Autumn when Daddy Long Legs (Crane Flies) seemed to bumble into the house, through the open windows. Meat and drink (literally) to our resident house guests, the Daddy Long Legs Spiders (Pholcus phalangioides) as this video (again shot with my phone) shows.
Oh... by the way, within an hour of uploading that video, it had 550 views on Youtube and something like 20 likes. Which would make it my most-liked video and my fastest viewed. I have no idea why?!
I had BOTH my twin sisters over (yes... in case you didn't know, I'm a triplet) together for the first time in 14 years. The last time we were all together... was my wedding day, in August 2008! The warm, sunny weather brought to my attention again the lovely bow-winged grasshoppers in our front "meadow", a relatively small patch of lawn which I don't mow each year. The neighbours all have telly-tubby, plastic gardens, bereft of wildlife - so you can imagine they HATE our front garden. But WE love it. As do the burnet moth caterpillars that feed on the birds foot trefoil each year and the grasshoppers which stridulate from July to October inclusive each year. I think in my September blog I briefly mentioned that our grasshoppers in the front "meadow" are one of my proudest wildlife achievements here at our current home - and yes, I stand by that. I love having them, I love the sound they make, and I ADORE that I can show them to our boys (they love them too!). TThe photo below was again taken with my phone on macro mode. It's amazing how good phone cameras are these days. These lovely grasshoppers were present all month, by the way.
kA little rain on the morning of the 10th and a few dewy, cold nights before that, facilitated more species of inkcaps to burst forth from the ground. So, aalongside the shaggy inkcaps in the front garden (see the September blog post) we now had our fairy inkcaps, Coprinus disseminatus, in the back garden (all gathered around the roots of our biggest poplar tree)
and also glistening inkcaps, Coprinus micaceus, too (in the longer grass).
Both photos above were again taken with my phone. Fast becoming my camera of choice as its so portable!
That little bit of rain got the amphibs moving again. Whilst our 50 or so lily pads in the pond at the height of the summer were all dwindling, the pads that remained in October often seemed to have a wee frog or two sitting on it. Of course, the full HUNTERS' MOON on the 9th October would also have had the amphibs increase their activity. No... I'm not making this up. Lunar cycles tend to dictate a lot of zoological rhythms - especially amphibian rhythms.
The 11th brought more sun and a noticeable number of (Colletes hederae) plasterer bees using ivy flowers (as they do) for their early Autumn food source. I videoed a clump of ivy on one of my walks around town below, and in it you might be able to make out a few insects - you'll have to take it from me that these insects are indeed ivy bees, with a few hornets patrolling the bushes around them - perhaps looking to take the odd bee!
I watched a few red admirals flying around the sunny garden and the odd small white butterfly and took a few photos (again with my phone) of the millions of dropped acorns in the road gutters and red pyracantha berries on bushes dropping under their weight.
I also noted that the local maple and sycamore (to an extent) trees were (ahem... obviously) coming out in support of Ukraine in the now, 8 month old conflict.
On the 11th of the month, I finally managed to not only get a really nice close-up shot of one of our omnipresent, neighbourhood red kites over our garden this time (photo taken with my 7d mk ii and a 400mm f5.6 prime lens)
but also a rather splendid female hawk (that at first I hoped was a goshawk, so big and impressive was she) putting everything that could fly, up into the air.
Incidentally, while I'm here, as soon as I saw the obvious and bold barring on the secondary flight feathers of the female sparrowhawk as I downloaded my photos onto Lightroom (my image developing and filing software of choice), I ruled out my brief, vain hope that it was a goshawk I was photographing. Goshawks do have faint barring on their secondaries, but only as juvenile birds - and if they're juvenile goshawks, they have streaked (not barred) breasts. When a goshawk's breast becomes barred (and not streaked) as an adult bird, they lose any trace of barring on their secondary flight feathers. (So yes... this was clearly just a very impressive female sparrowhawk and not a goshawk).
The middle of the month brought a fair amount of mixed weather. Some warm sunshine during the days (as well as squally showers and some breeze) but some really cool nights with heavy dew and mild air frost a couple of times. The leaves of course all continued to turn yellow and Ben and I spent most of the rest of the month raking up poplar leaves from the garden and trying to AVOID putting them on top of the still-active wasps' nest in the main compost heap. (Ben has been stung once by these wasps now, as have I).
My pre-dawn walks continued (I'm trying to do 365 days on the trot of 5 mile walks) and well... perhaps this is a measure of just how dull to many people this blog has become (I'm seriously thinking of knocking it on the head at the end of this year) as I can't imagine anyone other than me would be in any way interested in what subject I'm about to mention next.
That said, for my interest and reference only perhaps, on my pre-dawn walks I tend to follow a similar route each day and as I approach the end of mile 1 (of 5) my walk takes me along a relatively new path through a housing estate which up until about 5 years ago, used to be my local golf course.
I remember seeing Devil's coach horses MANY times as a wildlife-obsessed boy. But hardly any at all for the past 40 years. I can only presume that is because one of my hobbies as a small boy was turning over stones and logs to see what creepy-crawlies crept and crawled underneath and I guess, since discovering girls and alcohol and rock music and cars etc... I don't tend to turn over that many logs anymore. Perhaps that's why I don't tend to see Devil's coach horses anymore.
I say I don't TEND to see them anymore, as I ALWAYS see them on this 100-yard stretch of path at night (when I'm walking and they're hunting). I ONLY see them here and I ALWAYS see them here. It's almost bizarre.
This month I took a very bad photo of one adopting its characteristic scorpion tail defence pose, with my phone.
Aggressive wee things, these biggest of all our UK rove beetles. Their scientific specific name, olens, literally means "smelling" - and if they still feel threatened after they've "scorpion-tailed", they'll produce a foul-smelling white exudation from the tip of their abdomen, which should finally see off their attacker.
Legend has it that they curse whoever they point their "scorpion tail" at. Means I'm scuppered, I guess.
On the 15th, Ben and I took a quick walk around one of our local gravel pits to see if any more migratory waders or ducks had dropped in. Nothing rare to note really - but it's always nice to see green sandpipers there and snipe. Apologies again for the poor-quality photos below. You'll make out the singular green sandpiper in the first photo - and the singular snipe in the second - but in actual fact that singular snipe in that photo isn't singular at all. Can you spot the other snipe in the frame? (It's not that hard, don't worry!).
I netted (covered with a net) our garden wildlife pond on October 16th, to try and ensure it didn't fill with dropped poplar leaves during the month.
A sad time this, for me, netting the pond - but at least I don't leave it netted for more than four or five weeks - just until the poplar, lilac, ash and staghorn leaves have all fallen. The nearest tree to the pond in our garden is our oak which is doing well now (perhaps 20 feet tall after planting it as a sapling 8 or 9 years ago, and heavily laden with thousands of acorns this year) but in common with almost all oaks, it doesn't tend to shed its leaves like most other deciduous trees do - the old leaves just turn brown and crispy and are pushed off in the spring by the new, fresh, green leaves coming through). Because of this, I don't keep the pond netted all winter, even though the oak tree stands guard over it. To be honest, the pond is now probably full of acorns rather than tree leaves!
After weeks of frantic hedgehog activity around our hedgehog feeding station, from the night of the 16th/17th October no hedgehogs at all turned up to our feeding station. NONE! I always tend to start worrying at times like this. Had they been run over or trapped in nearby tellytubby gardens again by environmentally ignorant neighbours (remember back in 2012 all our local hedgehogs were in that situation, trapped in neighbours' gardens by airtight walls or neat, ground hugging fence panels (THAT is the reason why hedgehogs will be extinct in the UK in our childrens' lifetimes at this rate). I mean, they have disappeared before for a week or two, but I'm not sure I remember them doing so in the Autumn, when they really should be feeding up.
There was to be no further hedgehog activity all month. I can only optimistically-hope that our hedgehogs have poddled off to pastures new to continue to breed like they did with us this year, or pessimistically-think that they've been killed (foxes, cars) or trapped (neighbour's fence imrovements). I have checked all our garden hedgehog runs and tunnels which I've implored the neighbours to keep - which (eventually) they all have done. Perhaps I need to think optimistically then. We all feel a little lost without our hedgehogs though, it's fair to say.
The 18th brought us no wind at all, and therefore a dewy dawn fog (complete with glistening orbwebs in every bush)
and the 19th brought us strong easterly winds, bringing down a load of leaves.
On the week starting on Sunday the 23rd of the month, the Jetstream decided to throw us deep low-pressure system after deep low-pressure system. Sunday 23rd in particular was a wild day with torrential rain and thunder on my pre-dawn walk (where I photographed (with my phone) this toad below on the move through the dropped acorns)
continuing with torrential rain during the day (Ben and I got drenched at rugby training) and again thunder and torrential rain in the afternoon (which like the toad above, brought out the neighbourhood frogs (see below - again, photo taken with my phone) after dusk). Amphibs do like a bit of rain to get their limbs moving, that's for sure!
Tuesday 25th brought us a partial solar eclipse. I had, of course, to get a photo or two...
The incredibly mild weather continued until the end of the month really. We got up to 21C indeed, with very warm, southerly winds blowing up from Africa during the last week of the month, with big low-pressure systems sitting to the west of the UK in the main or rolling up the celtic nations.
On the 27th, a young woodpigeon flew into our eldest son Ben's bedroom window,
knocked itself out and landed on the conservatory roof as I worked below.
Took a while for it to recover (a good hour I'd say).
Later in the day (27th), Ben and I hit a few balls at the driving range after his half term golf camp finished for the day and I'd finished work. As I addressed a ball and gazed out towards my target at the range, I noticed a SWIFT fly through (well... over) the driving range. At first, we thought it was a ridiculously late common swift (the latest ever sighting of a common swift in Berkshire was on November 9th, 1988 - and the second latest was, strangely enough on October 27th again in 1990, over Finchampstead, a few miles SW of us here.
After we compared individual mental notes though (plumage colour, flight pattern etc) we both came to the pretty swift (HUR! HUR!) that what we had been watching for a minute or so, was in fact a PALLID SWIFT! I recorded it as such on the Berks birds website (see screen snip below).
A little more research after tea led me to believe that this swift was indeed a pallid swift - more and more so these days, the Mediterranean-nesting or Canary-Isles nesting (we're talking waaaay down south - these really aren't French birds) pallid swifts often get caught up in African southerly winds, just as they get ready to leave their nests after their second brood, in late October or early November. These strong, southerly, late October/early November winds can sweep up juvenile (and adult) pallid swifts and fling them as far north as Poland.
Happened in 2015, 2018, 2020 and indeed 2022 (something like a couple of dozen were reported all over England and Wales in coastal counties mainly, in the fourth week of October 2022. And in this week..., Ben and I saw one over Berkshire!
We THINK that if our 80-90% suspicion becomes 100% and is effectively confirmed, well... that would (I think... I may be wrong) be the first confirmed pallid swift EVER recorded over Berkshire. As far as I'm concerned, I have basically little doubt at all it was a pallid swift we saw - quite incredible!
What a way to end the month.
Until next time then,