Woodland Wonders: October

By Katie Stevens

Welcome back to Woodland Wonders, October edition! Nights are drawing in, colder weather is re-establishing itself and the beautiful colours of Autumn are in full swing. 

Everywhere you look, leafy trees are beginning to shed their leaves ready for their dormant period over winter. I could go on and on about trees, but I shall just limit myself to just mentioning a few! One of the first tree species to show its autumnal colours is the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)or the conker tree. Found within more open woodlands, hedgerows and parkland. Reaching up to 25m in height, Horse chestnut trees have a leaf made up of 5-7 other leaves or ‘leaflets’ that will be a red-brown this time of year. Their fruit, the conker, is encased in a green, hard and spikey case. Take walk through your local wood or park and collect up a good handful of conkers – not too many as they are a good food source for deer and other mammals – and play a game of conkers! Click to find out how to play!

Woodland Wonders: October

Horse Chestnut

Berry producing species, particularly shrubs and smaller trees, are in abundance: good news for the birds! Deciduous species such as Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) and Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus) all produce berries of varying size and colours; all three mentioned here produce small red berries in tight clumps. An evergreen shrub species that produces berries is Wild privet (Ligustrum vulgare). Native to the UK, it produces small white flowers over the summer, leading to gorgeous dark purple or black berries. Commonly found both in parks and hedgerows but also within woodlands, as it’s shrubby evergreen cover is favoured by wildlife managers

Woodland Wonders: October

Rowan with berries

Woodland Wonders: October

Privet

When it comes to Autumn, everyone looks up to the trees. But I encourage you to look down to the ground, as there are many amazing and ‘picture worthy’ fungi. The most iconic species, and my personal favourite, is the Fly agaric (Amanita muscaria), home to myths and legends, fairies and magic, as well as an excellent food source for red squirrels and insects. Found in damp woodlands containing birch, pine or spruce, or on heathland and moors, this fungus has a distinctive red cap, sometimes with wart-like white spots, and a white stalk. While it is stunning, it is highly toxic to humans and dogs if ingested, so feel free to take as many pictures as you like, but don’t touch! Another common but interesting fungi species is the Common Puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum).  Roughly 5cm wide, they have a spherical white/cream body and tapered white stem. This species is edible, with a sponge like texture, but must be eaten while the flesh is still completely white. As always, do not pick or eat any fungi if you are unsure of the exact species. The really amazing part of this fungi is that it releases a smoke-like cloud of spores through a small hole at its top whenever it feels compressed; for example, when hit by raindrops or nudged by passing animals. Click to see a video of it in action!

Woodland Wonders: October

Fly agaric

Autumn is also great time for birds, as food source is in abundance, with berries and nuts freely available within woodlands and hedgerows. Our native species including robins (Erithacus rubecula)blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) and sparrows (Passer spp) may be missing from your gardens as they are feasting and collecting for the winter ahead. Another two common species that you may see are starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) and blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla). Both species are permanent residents in the UK, but numbers surge over winter from visiting birds from northern Europe. Look out for starlings gathering in large numbers during autumn and winter, sometimes there will be over 100,000 of them. Before settling in for the evening, they perform synchronised aerial display called a murmuration. Watch this short clip of an amazing display: Click to watch this short clip of an amazing display.

Look out for next month’s November blog, which will be on the topic of why trees lose their leaves and the animals you can help this winter. 

Woodland Wonders: October

Starling murmuration