Chris Chappell continues his series of articles, encouraging us to get out there with eyes and ears wide open for creepers, shovelers and yaffles.
October will see the season turn from autumn to winter, with colder nights and shorter days. But for many people this is a favourite time of year, while the countryside glows golden as leaves change into myriad colours. Wild clematis, known by the country name of Old Man's Beard, is a rampant creeper, now covering the hedgerows with fluffy seed heads.
Jackdaws can sometimes be seen dropping walnuts onto stone paving to crack the shells. They collect the nuts from wild walnut trees in the area, and bring them in to their nearest village. Jackdaws will roost near their chimney nesting sites, but head off to feed in the fields early in the morning.
Large flocks will return at the end of the day, wheeling noisily in the wind, before settling back on their chimney pots. Jays are feeding on berries and wild fruits, their harsh squawk echoes through the woods as they dive between the trees. Green woodpeckers will appear on lawns, probing for insects and ants, leaving characteristic little round holes in your lawn. They are large striking birds, with olive coloured back, mushroom underside, a bright red cap, pale blue eyes with black pupil and a black moustache. Their loud cackle, or yaffle, can be heard throughout Somerset, wherever there are mature deciduous trees.
Thurlbear Wood is a very special SWT reserve, with a great diversity of fauna and flora. It is therefore a great spot to enjoy an autumn walk. The 40 acre site borders a larger Forestry Commission woodland, and is an SSSI. The reserve comprises mostly ancient oak and ash, with hazel and field maple beneath. For those who enjoy a longer walk, you can join the Neroche Herepath (herepaths are ancient military roads dating back to the 9C) at Thurlbear, and take a four mile round trip, or venture further along the Herepath.
Alternatively there are lovely woodland paths within the reserve, where you may see great spotted and green woodpeckers in the ancient oak and ash. Nuthatches, true to their name, will lodge hazel nuts in the cracked bark of oak trees, break them open, and having taken the kernel, will leave an open shell behind.
The nuthatch normally climbs down tree trunks, whereas the other delight you may see here is the tree creeper, which invariably runs up the tree, probing cracks for insects. The tree creeper is highly camouflaged on the back, but almost pure white underneath and very mouse like in movement, so can be hard to spot.
The Catcott complex of reserves are relatively quiet during the summer, but as winter arrives the fields are flooded, and migrant ducks and waders begin to arrive. Wigeon, pintail, teal, gadwall and shoveler will spend the winter at the reserve.
Rare species that were seen last winter include spoonbill and glossy ibis. Whimbrel, redshank and snipe can be seen probing the ground for worms and insect larvae, while overhead peregrine, marsh harrier hunt, and short eared owls swoop over the reeds looking for voles and mice. Buzzards circle high in the sky, with Glastonbury Tor as a backdrop. Their plaintive mewing reveals their whereabouts.
By the end of October the starlings will begin to roost on the Levels. They can already be seen gathering on the telephone wires at the end of the day. Initially the starlings consist of local populations, and the numbers start at 100-200,000, eventually swelling to several million with the arrival of northern European birds seeking a milder climate for the winter. When roosting in the reeds they cling on to the stems in rows, and it is thought they fall prey to being snapped up by bitterns hidden in the reed beds.
The starling numbers are so great that the water below the roost soon becomes polluted by the droppings, and they gradually move each day to a fresh location. Having said that, the numbers and behaviour are unpredictable. It is a stupendous sight to see the huge flocks arriving, something you should try to experience at least once, albeit this has become rather popular, due to media interest.
The noise of their wings en masse, the origin of term murmuration, is extraordinary, and matched by their loud chattering once they have landed. The incoming flocks attract predators, such as marsh harriers, or sparrow hawks, often revealed by the effect on the swirling birds as they react to a threat. Once landed, they are often restless and swarm across the tops of the reeds like bees, until they decide to settle again. Best seen on a fine evening, and please take care to be considerate when parking. We'll post details of the starling hotline, which will tell you where the birds are roosting, as soon as its live.
Old Man's Beard
Fly Agaric mushroom