Friday 5th October 2012
© Allan Potts
Well, whatever remains of the summer is all but disappearing now as the nights draw in and the temperatures drop. Brace yourself…autumn and winter are well and truly on their way.
As I write this, there are still a few summer migrants in the region (such as the odd swallow), but most have headed off for warmth far away. However, as the night air thins and the smells of autumn fill the nostrils, the winter migrants start to arrive.
In the late evening, when you are out walking the dog perhaps, keep your ears open for the tell-tale “ttssse” of over-winter thrushes arriving from their northern-European homes. The UK is a very important destination for these birds, as redwings and fieldfare head to the UK for its milder temperatures, and resident thrushes and blackbirds can also expect to see their numbers bolstered by European ‘imports’.
Now is the time of change; the colours of autumn are always beautiful, but look to the woodland floor for beautiful, but sometimes deadly, colours in the many fungi that appear during this season. Fly agaric is a ‘classic’ fungus found beneath birch trees and pine woods; it is very characteristic too with its red and white livery - a surefire warning to avoid and stay away. Others are less harmful and even tasty and just as ‘bonnie’ on a cool autumn morning in the woods. Great big boletus or puff ball fungi are commonly found in woodlands, mixed amongst the fading colours of the vegetation and falling leaves, providing a multitude of browns, reds and yellows.
As early morning mists hang in the valley bottoms in the quieter areas of the county, you may encounter one of its burgeoning red deer, and at this time of the year there is only one thing on their mind - sex! The ‘rut’, as it is called, will be in full swing throughout October, with the stags roaring and pacing for hours at a time, rolling in mud soaked in their own urine. They pose a fearsome spectacle; rival males will clash head-on in unbelievable duals of strength and tenacity. To the victor are the spoils of the females or hinds, but to the vanquished, a solitary and chaste life alone until next year when his luck might have changed.
In most parts of England the red deer are usually confined to deer parks, and Northumberland and the borders is where you are most likely to see them. However, over the last few years, escapes either deliberate or otherwise have led to a few wild animals roaming the Northumberland countryside. So, if you are in the hills around Alnwick and you hear a god-unearthly bellowing roar from the distance, you may have stumbled upon the rut! Myself, I’m off to the Isle of Arran this year to witness this spectacle and hopefully an otter or two, as my photographic collection of both is wearing a bit thin.
As autumn drifts, the numbers and variety of winter visitors increase, but if we should have an occasional warm autumn day there may still be time to view the last of the summer butterflies - red admiral and peacocks over-winter in outbuildings and they make hay in the last rays of sun, on plants such as sedum which flower late into the year.
But I must confess, I always find myself looking skywards as the evocative sounds of wildfowl drift in on northern winds - there’s no sound like it. On our coastline we are incredibly spoilt, with places like Druridge Bay and Lindisfarne attracting vast numbers of very characteristic and iconic species, such as beautiful tundra specialist whooper swans and the light-bellied brent geese arriving all the way from Spitsbergen. Intermingled with these, you will find other geese such as barnacle, white fronted, the common pink footed and greylag.
Smaller species of wildfowl also congregate in these areas; many thousands of beautiful wigeon and teal whistle on the evening breeze to roost inland or on coastal mudflats. On the sea again we can find concentrations of winter duck in these hotspots and species like smew, scoter and long tailed duck are coastal specialities in Northumberland.
As for the supermodels of the duck kingdom, look out for the goldeneye on the coast perhaps, although you may be better off travelling inland a little bit to some of the larger inland reservoirs or river estuaries such as the Tyne or Kielder Water to catch a glimpse of these striking birds with, as you’ve guessed, a beautiful golden eye set off amidst its chic black and white plumage.
So, wherever you are this October, keep looking in all directions as you never know what you’re going see, hear or stumble across when you’re out and about. What is most important is just being out there and enjoying this wonderful time of year in the wonderful county of Northumberland.