Friday, 24 October 2014

Amber days

Dung fungus Cheilymenia fimicola
The remains of the hurricane that swept our way from Bermuda last week left a trail of debris and a few toppled willows behind it. Fortunately no-one was hurt and the mess was soon cleared away by staff and volunteers on Wednesday. The paths are littered with leaves from sycamores, ashes and poplars, but many oaks, willows and hawthorns are still green. Autumn is going to be a long drawn-out affair, which is fine by me.

Passing the allotments today I noticed raspberries still fruiting and plenty of insects still on the wing. Day-moths were all over the place, but I only saw one butterfly, an almost black peacock, which we thought at first to be a falling leaf. Migrant hawker dragonflies were still catching flies and the temperature was in double figures. I could use many more days like this.

I would call this an amber day. The expected reds and golds of autumn are hidden in odd places, amid brambles and briars, on leaf stems and even in cow pats. What a great time to be and about on the Reserve with a camera! I would also recommend Anglesey Abbey and Cambridge Botanical Gardens if you want to see good colour.

The bushes are laden with berries. Although the elders and brambles have already been stripped by our native birds, hawthorns, buckthorns and rose hips are abundant; but not for long. The first flocks of redwings and continental blackbirds have already flown over Little Paxton, but the big arrivals will probably come when the temperature in Europe drops and they will be ravenous.

Our "Paxton University" course for volunteers continued on Thursday with a talk and walk led by Trevor Gunton. We were there to learn about autumn migration; the departure of our summer birds and the arrival of our winter refugees from the frozen north.

It's a brilliant topic, with lots of scientific facts and fanciful anecdotes to explain why birds do what they do. We did not find any migrant song-birds but we had a great time looking at wildfowl and learning where they come from and go to. We witnessed some nice examples of symbiosis, where several species feed co-operatively.

Best of all, twenty people on an hour's walk have ample time to chat and get to know each other, which was a major objective for us when setting up these events.

Next Thursday's course is "Rake Making 101". Because we don't have electricity or lighting at the yard, it will start at noon. Please book through Sophie on Monday to make sure you have a place.