6 great outdoor adventures in autumn
- Credit: Ross Hoddinott/2020VISION
Rachel Bradshaw of Cheshire Wildlife Trust chooses her top six autumn sights
Autumn has well and truly kicked in. The rich orange colours, the smells, collecting conkers from the leaf-covered floor – there’s so much nature to enjoy. Here are my top nature-themed fun things to see and do to help you really embrace the season ahead.
1. Migrating birds
From the mature trees of the clough woodlands to the rich estuary wetlands of the River Dee, Cheshire is home to a wide variety of migrant birds. Pied flycatchers and redstarts are the star species of the oak woodlands tucked in the valleys of the Pennine fringe.
Whether flying from the south to breed in the spring, or from the north in the winter in search of food and milder climes or simply passing through on their journey, bird migration is one of the UK’s most impressive natural events. Witness the comings and goings of flocks over the year, while remembering to look out for those preferring to fly solo. Cuckoos in April, Arctic wading birds in July, and Europe’s smallest bird in October, the goldcrest, weighing the same as a ten pence piece yet, incredibly, able to journey across the North Sea to spend its winter here.
Out on the ocean waves, shelduck, wigeon, pin-tail, teal and mallards will also be over-wintering. Last but not least, redwing, fieldfare and brambling will be over-wintering throughout the county, mainly on farmland, but occasionally in gardens.
2. Starling murmuration
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During the winter months, large numbers of starlings visit Britain from the continent, seeking out the relative warmth of our island climate. As dusk arrives, the starlings set off for their communal roost in one of the most staggering natural spectacles of all. Flocks arrive from all directions, gathering in the skies above their roost sites. As the numbers reach into the tens and hundreds of thousands, the murmurations (the name for a flying flock of starlings), create incredible shapes in the sky, contracting and expanding as one flock merges into another, and taking on a life of their own; swirling back and forth in ever more complex and beautiful patterns.
It’s basically a mass aerial stunt – thousands of birds all swooping and diving in unison. It’s completely breath-taking to witness.
We think that starlings do it for many reasons. Grouping together offers safety in numbers – predators such as peregrine falcons find it hard to target one bird in the middle of a hypnotising flock of thousands. They also gather to keep warm at night and to exchange information, such as good feeding areas.
3. Take an autumnal walk
Don’t put those walking boots away just yet. Walking in autumn is one of the best times. Not only is it bursting with vibrant colours, being outdoors during the darker, chillier season is also good for your health and wellbeing. While walking, in general, is a great way to stay fit, it’s also brilliant for boosting your feel-good hormones. Walking increases serotonin levels, which can help to prevent low mood and the traditional autumn and winter blues.
There’s so much to stimulate your senses. The crisp, frosty ground; the brightly painted leaves against the sunny blue skies; and hills clad in velvety pink and purple heather. If fabulous scenery and tranquil walking routes appeal to you, then autumn is the season to pull on your wellies. Also, if you’re into photography like me, autumn is one of the best times to capture the downright gorgeousness of our natural world.
Autumn walking plus-points
*Colourful autumn scenery
*Huge panoramas under bright blue skies
*Dramatic and breath-taking seascapes
*Seasonal wildlife including deer rutting!
*Beautiful misty mornings and golden sunsets
*Kicking up leaves on woodland strolls
*Comforting hot drink after a day’s walking
4. Go on a fungi hunt
Fungi is everywhere in October – literally everywhere. When conditions are cooler and wet, fungi can feed and grow on any kind of surface, not just under our feet. With so many different species in the UK, fungi make up an entire kingdom of their own.
As well as many delicious wild mushrooms, fungi also include some of our most poisonous species, so it’s essential that you never eat any you find unless you are 100% certain about its identity. Unless you are with an expert, it’s best to leave mushrooms where you find them – that way, others can enjoy their beauty.
Woodlands are an ideal place to visit during autumn and fallen tree stumps are the best places to look for fungi. If you head out, be sure to keep an eye out for some of our most fabulous fungi:
*Cramp balls/King Alfred’s cakes
*Jelly ear fungus
*Scarlet elf cup
Did you know... The important part of a fungus, the mycelium, lives underground and is vital for woodland health as they recycle nutrients needed for plants to thrive. However, in autumn the fungi start to grow and as these fruiting bodies ripen their seeds, known as spores, are released into the air to start the next generation.
5. Leave your garden messy
Though autumn is beautiful, once those leaves start to fall, everywhere can start to feel a bit untidy. But the leaves can be perfect for wildlife, including our beloved hedgehogs who will be starting to look for a cosy place to hibernate for winter. If a hedgehog has had a late brood, fallen leaves are also the perfect nesting material for their hoglets. So instead of blowing the leaves away, create a neat little leaf pile in the corner of the garden, under conifers or somewhere out of the way for them.
Small log piles are also one of the best features for wildlife, especially hedgehogs. They become mini insect factories, providing a year-round food supply for an array of wildlife. If you do create one, please share your photos with us.
6. Foraging in autumn
There’s nothing quite like a delicious meal of free foraged food. As summer turns to autumn, hedgerow fruits ripen, providing a valuable food source for many species. Probably the most familiar of our autumn fruits is the blackberry or bramble, but there’s plenty more to tempt the palate: elderberries and rosehips in the hedges, chestnuts and hazelnuts in the woods, and bilberries on the moors. Think wild fruit jelly and jam, roasted chestnuts, and of course what winter would be complete without a nip of sloe gin.
Did you know that there are more than 300 very closely related species of blackberry in Britain, which can vary greatly in size, taste, and juiciness?
*This year we have new beaver adoption pack to celebrate the release of beavers at our Hatchmere Nature Reserve. Perfect for those animal lovers this Christmas: www.cheshirewildlifetrust.org.uk/naturegifts
*Keep up to date with our latest news and ideas by signing up for our weekly Wild Cheshire e-newsletter: www.cheshirewildlifetrust.org.uk/wild-cheshire