Horse chestnuts and Walnuts
Whilst autumn colours will develop during the month, you may notice that horse chestnuts have turned brown somewhat early. Sadly, these beautiful trees are being attacked a number of diseases simultaneously. A leaf miner, a fungus, and something called bleeding canker (probably caused by a bacterium) are all taking their toll. Complete avenues of the trees can be seen with brown leaves, red bleeding trunks and evidence of die-back. However, more isolated trees will be found free of the diseases, so there is some hope. Sightings of diseased trees can be recorded on the Forestry Commission website.
There are numbers of mature wild walnut trees in the Somerset countryside. Originally from Asia, walnuts have been growing in the English countryside for hundreds of years. These produce reasonable crops of small but edible walnuts. Soon the seedcases will burst and the walnuts will fall, encouraged by autumn winds. Jackdaws are fond of walnuts, and will drop them from a height onto any convenient hard surface in order to open them. They are intelligent birds, like all the crows.
The majority of the remaining summer migrants will leave during September. Look out for swallows lining up on telegraph wires, and great numbers of house martins flocking high in the air. Warblers will soon start their journey to Africa, feeding on insects in the willows.
In exchange, the winter migrants begin to appear, redwings and fieldfares arriving from Scandinavia and Iceland. They will be found feeding on sloe, hawthorn, elder and rowan berries in the hedgerows. The fieldfare is a striking bird, a little bigger than a song thrush, with a grey hooded head, chocolate brown back and black tail, and a speckled breast. Large groups will fly over at dusk, with a very characteristic cackling call. The redwing is the smallest thrush, and will join the fieldfares, and together they will strip the bushes of berries. The redwing is less often heard, and has a high pitched little trill. The red is a strong chestnut, and is actually under the wing, and mainly seen in flight or when moving about. It has a brown back, speckled front, small beak, and a dark eye stripe.
Flocks of goldfinches can now be seen feeding on thistle heads. Great numbers will gather, and become very noisy with their excited chattering calls. Families of long-tailed tits travel through birch and willow trees, feeding on insects. Calling as they go, a little ‘tsk-tsk’, keeping the group together. It is a lovely sight, the black, white with a tinge of pink, dark shining eyes, always on the move.
Hawthorn and Teasels © Chris Chappell