Have you got your hands dirty to help wildlife during October? Some tasks can't really wait much longer so here is just a reminder of some of the things that you might need to do before we get into winter proper!
Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)
What other wildlife gardening tasks have you been doing this month?
If you are looking for some extra things to do then now is a good time to put up some more boxes for birds, bats and insects as well as planting some shrubs or trees. In my top five for gardens i'd go with the following, what would be in your top five?
I am of course talking about the sparrowhawk! This time of year sees this species spreading out across the UK from breeding ranges and also an influx of birds from the north and east, following the mass movements of other birds such as winter thrushes, starlings and finches.
The autumn months are crucial for this years sparrowhawks who are now out on their own. Many won't make it through to next spring as the winter is unforgiving for this bird of prey. The autumn months are so vital as this is when they need to hone their hunting skills. They might be born with sharp senses and the physical attributes to make them a top predator but catching prey isn't easy, our native birds don't give up without a fight and have evolved strategies to avoid these predators. At best sparrowhawks make one successful hunt out of ten, they have to work extremely hard for their food.
During their learning they will make mistakes, unfortunately in many instances these mistakes are fatal, the frequent reports of dead sparrowhawks from window collisions to our team here tells a sad story. Popping a few transfers on the outside of the glass will reduce the risk of catching unsupecting birds of all species from this tragic accident. Those that get injured in pursuit of prey or simply don't get the hang of it won't survive the winter, if they can't hunt, they can't eat. So if you see a brown, coarsely speckled sparrowhawk in your garden this autumn wish him or her well as they will need all the luck in the world to make it through the next few months, let alone reach adulthood like the impressive female pictured below!
This weekend will be the penultimate full weekend before the clocks go back and we lose an hour of evening light, shock horror! That to us is the call to get out and into the wilds and take full advantage of the extra daylight whilst we can, the weather is still half decent as well for some of us! So what can you do and what can you see? Here are some suggestions!
Autumn migration - birds are moving all over the place, summer breeders are still filtering out of our shores, headlands and coasts are good places to observe this. Winter visitors are starting to arrive with some species like the jay and redwing arriving along the east coast. Head to wetlands and estuaries to see if any wildfowl or waders are around. Don't forget to keep an eye on your local patches though as you never know what may make an appearance! Don't forget to add the sightings to Birdtrack.
Spiders - love them or hate them you can't help but notice them at this time of year given the dew covered webs everywhere, the pic below was our heath one morning recently! There are loads of different species just waiting to be discovered if you look close enough. Have a look in bramble patches to start with, look out for the horizontal sheet webs of spiders like Linyphia triangularis or the big orb webs of the familiar garden spider. See if you can tell what they are eating or see if you can find one building the web!
Fungi and foliage - We've seen a few Fly Agarics around already this October, these might be among the flashiest fungi but there are so many more to look for...or smell like the aptly named stinkhorn! They look great amongst the autumn foliage but probably best not to touch as some can be deadly! Great for some autumnal woodland photography if the suns out like the below Beech here at the Lodge!!!
Hogs and frogs - and toads...in the garden you can make homes for these critters so that they can sit out the winter in safety. You could buy or make a toadhouse, hogitat or frogitat to go somewhere sheltered in your garden. It's also worth raking any fallen leaves into a few piles in quiet corners of the garden or borders so that wildlife can shelter there.
If it's raining all weekend where you are how about writing a letter to your MP asking for the badger cull to be stopped or writing to to the Law Commission consultation asking for better laws and higher penalties for offences against wildlife!
Whatever you do, have a great time and please share your experiences and pictures on the forums!