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Put your cursor on any photo for a caption, or click here for more September leaf fall photos. For the latest observations see @SWC_Nature.

17 September 2018 We are approaching the date when it will not just be what the weathermen call "meteorological autumn", but the absolute real thing. Thoughts now turn to leaf fall and golden tints.

It is usually a good while before they arrive to any great degree, however. If you are looking forward to walking in a wood full of autumn colours, then you still have something like a month and a half to wait. Typically it is not till the very end of leaf fall - in mid to late November - that you get such classic autumn scenes.

Having said that, the process has already started and you can in fact see many signs of it if you look closely. Study the hedgerow and you will see that hawthorn, blackthorn and dog rose all have quite a lot of yellow leaves - or even in some cases gold or maroon - and are quietly shedding them. Some of them are already starting to look quite thin.

Larger trees too tend to have either a patch or two or yellow leaves, or individual ones scattered about among their foliage. You can see this on birch, lime, hornbeambeech and even oak at the moment. What I like to think of as riverside willows - crack willow, white willow - also are losing leaves, though here the tinting is not so obvious. Many elder bushes are quietly yellowing and ash is losing some foliage without tinting.

Cold nights when temperatures get down to the low single figures (we had one on the 13th) can give a boost to this process, but don't fall into the trap of seeing some tinted leaves and thinking that autumn is starting early. The amount of leaf colour that you get in September is not an indicator of what is to come: a few leaves turn, they fall, and the trees go back to being green. Only in the final push do colours become widespread.

Look down on the ground and you can also see nuts and seeds falling from trees. Just this week I seem to be noticing lots of acorns on the ground, while beech nuts have been falling since the start of the month, though more are still to come. Seeds on trees such as sycamore, ash, hornbeam and field maple are turning from green to yellow and then brown. Woodland paths crunch underfoot.

Those berries that are not already ripe are now ripening to red or black. Holly berries have been turning in the past week or so, and yew berries are starting to fall off the tree. Dogwood berries are black and guelder rose a luscious red: the foliage on both shrubs also turns a rather attractive maroon.

This is also a good time for wild plums and there are still good amounts of blackberries in some places. In places plums or cherry laurel cherries or sloes fall onto town pavements making a squashy mess underfoot. Goldfinches and other birds twitter away in shrubs, taking advantage of nature's bounty: slowly they strip the abundant haws from hawthorn bushes.

3 September 2018 Once you get over the feeling that the best is now past, there is a gentle beauty to September - at least when the weather has been as nice as it has recently.

Now that nature's delights no longer queue up to delight us, those that are left have a greater intensity. For example on my country walk on Saturday I saw only a handful of butterflies - speckled woods, small whites, large whites. Two or three weeks earlier these would have been too ordinary to excite my attention. But now each one seemed beautiful - a delight to be treasured while we still have it.

On that note, acting on a tip-off from my Butterfly Conservation group, I looked inside a World War Two pillbox on the North Downs recently and was delighted to find two peacock butterflies hibernating there. Wings folded, absolutely still in a dark corner, they will remain in this switched off state for seven months, through all the cold of winter. An amazing thought.

Autumn is the time of mists and mellow fruitfulness, of course, and September is a great month to go berry and fruit spotting. Notice how red haws now crowd on hawthorn branches and blue sloes (getting softer and riper now) can be found on blackthorn. Is it my imagination, or do the leaves on the berry-bearing twigs fall away to display them to better advantage? Presumably the plants want the berries to be consumed by birds or other creatures in order to spread their seed.

You can also see black dogwood berries now, luscious strings of red berries on black bryony (photo - someone asked me this week if they were redcurrants: no, they are NOT and they are POISONOUS), and equally delicious-looking (and equally non-edible) red berries on guelder rose (photo), honeysuckle and rowan. Holly and yew berries are also turning red (the former a bit earlier than usual) and privet berries will soon be turning black. All of this makes it a good time of year to learn your wild shrubs, the berries being a useful identification aid.

I have also seen ivy starting to flower in a few places. It is hard to tell when this is actually happening since the flowers do not look that different from the buds (photo) but if the somewhat sickly aroma doesn't give it away, the swarms of insects buzzing around will. On one bush near Margate this week I saw several types of bee, loads of wasps (so they don't just try to eat your cream tea) and various flies and hoverflies. Butterflies that you think have disappeared - such as commas, red admirals and peacocks may also turn up on flowering ivy, so keep your eyes peeled.

Birdsong has now defaulted to its winter pattern. You get the occasional wood pigeon hoo-hooing in a hangover from the summer, but the main sound you hear is the twittering of robins as they establish territories for the winter. Both males and females do this. The singing is fairly brief and low key at present, but it gets louder and more persistent as the month goes on.

You can also hear the very familiar autumn sound of blue tits and great tits making their contact calls as they feed on trees and shrubs. Both do a kind of churring noise, the blue tit rising in note at the end, and the great tit also makes a "see-choo-choo" call. You can occasionally hear both birds breaking into their mating calls, but I assume this is young males jumping the gun. Mating will not actually start till midwinter, when these late summer days will seem like a distant dream.

25 August 2018 I went out this week to Shoreham-by-Sea to have a swim in the sea. It was a bit cloudy so after a dip I decided to walk up onto the downs. I came across Mill Hill Nature Reserve, an escarpment overlooking a rather noisy junction on the A27. There I saw what I could have sworn was an adonis blue butterfly. Then the sun came out and suddenly there were adonis blues everywhere, and also lots of small heaths. Once again it was like high summer, with butterflies flitting about everywhere.

They are a very striking butterfly, the adonis, but hard to identify because they look so much like the common blue. Here is a common blue (photo) and here is an adonis (photo) and see if you can spot the difference. The adonis is a brighter blue, but both butterflies look pretty bright as they flit about in the sunlight. Otherwise it is the tiny black lines crossing the white border of the wings: the common blue has a hint of them, but on the adonis they go right through. And this on a butterfly about as big as your thumb.

Actually there is another difference, which is that the underside of the wing is browner in the adonis than in the common blue. But despite this for years I failed to see them and despaired of ever being able to identify them if I did. The adonis lives in a very specific habitat - south-facing chalk downland slopes - and only in this part of the country: you basically need to go to a place where you know it will be. Until now that place for me has been the lower south-facing slopes of Ranmore Common near Dorking (also known as "Denbies Hillside" among butterfly types). Now, quite unexpectedly, I have a new site.

As I mentioned last time, the adonis are just about the last butterfly species to appear. This is actually the second generation of the year - the first is in May - and in the right place they can be very numerous in late August and the first bit of September. For me their significance was that I realised it was probably the very last time this year I would stand on a hillside and see butterflies all around me. I had the rather agonising choice of whether to stay and look at them or go back to the beach for a sea swim now the sun was out (I managed to do a bit of both).

The following day I joined a Butterfly Conservation Surrey branch walk on Bookham Common, looking for brown hairstreak butterflies. We saw some eggs but none of the actual butterflies. More to the point we saw hardly any other butterflies either - the occasional speckled wood, one or two small heaths. Of other insects, I saw a handful of bees and flies.

Even a week previously there had been a lot more to see in the same location, and at the start of August we had a walk on which we saw 17 butterfly species and bees and all manner of flying insects. This has been a good summer for white butterfly species and I have not used to seeing them all over the place. This week I could count the number of whites I saw on one hand.

All of this sparks massive withdrawal symptoms in me as I contemplate seven months without "mini-beasts" to liven up my walks, but then today in a garden I came across a late flowering bush on which there were several large bumble bee queens. They are the next generation who will hibernate the winter and found new colonies in the spring. I look forward to seeing them buzzing around the crocuses or celandines on some warm late February or early March day.


Em said...

Somewhere on this site you have written that it is perhaps sterile to spend time identifying birds, plants etc but I don't think so. I think it helps enjoy the rich diversity of what is there and appreciate the differences and variety in nature.

Peter C said...

I am glad you think so, and definitely agree!

ramblinros said...

Thank you for interesting nature blog
Found a new-to-me spring flower on Saturday
Spring Beauty - Claytonia perfoliata syn Montia perfoliata -
the stem is surrounded by a curious cup-shaped leaf
Was walking on the North Downs Way eastwards immediately after the Watts Gallery - very sandy -
up a slight rise and then the plant was on both sides of the descending path
for about the next 100m, and then no more

Peter C said...

Nice observation, ramblinros! I have seen this plant once or twice and I do mention it in April Verge and Field Flowers (….

"Also in the wierd category is spring beauty, a plant of sandy soils which has tiny white flowers in the middle of large round leaves."

…….but it is a rather rare thing to see, so I am glad to hear of your sighting.

PeteB said...

On polling day 7 May I went for a long tramp over the South Downs starting in Lewes and eventually finishing in Eastbourne. At the start of my walk (Book 2 walk 25c Lewes to Glynde) I had just left the golf club car park and started on the path past a water trough where a herd of cattle were drinking and grazing when to my surprise I saw what I am sure was a single red? deer hind grazing with the cattle (it was too large to be a roe or fallow deer). The animal was frightened by my presence and seemed to try to hide among the cattle! I had my camera phone but did not want to start unsettling the cattle and I had a long day ahead so pressed on with my walk. The only deer I have seen before on the South Downs were fallow deer in the flat water meadows. I have never heard of red or sika deer on the South Downs and a web search has revealed nothing. Quite a sighting !

Peter C said...

A very interesting sighting, I agree. Of course, historically red deer were present throughout England but I had always understood that now they only live in places such as Richmond Park. The only other place I have once thought I saw one was in the Lake District. Perhaps you should report this sighting to some relevant association or other. I am not quite sure which. (If it was a butterfly or bird or flower it would be easier to think of suggestions!)

PeteB said...

Did walk 3.20 Sevenoaks to Wesaterham today after bailing out of it early on Sunday because of violent storm. Bluebells already showing well at Ide Hill and should be at their best in 2-3 weeks which seems a bit earlier than usual? Fields still pretty waterlogged in the morning but after lunch at the Cock Inn terrain and woodland trails much drier.

PeteB said...

Did walk 3.20 Sevenoaks to Wesaterham today after bailing out of it early on Sunday because of violent storm. Bluebells already showing well at Ide Hill and should be at their best in 2-3 weeks which seems a bit earlier than usual? Fields still pretty waterlogged in the morning but after lunch at the Cock Inn terrain and woodland trails much drier.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to learn that Yellowhammers have been detected on the walks this summer (considering their numbers have declined rapidly). I saw some on the Pewsey/Avebury walk recently. They were in a quiet country lane, flanked by tall *all important* hedgerows. I haven't seen this species for years. E.

Peter C said...

I have read that their numbers are declining, but I have to say I hear them quite a lot in the south east. They like hedgerows on farmland but are also heard up on the downs. A lovely song so I hope they don't decline further.

Sandy said...

Fantastic blog - I was particularly interested in the 19 September one about late-surviving flowers. I started noting down flowers still out in Nov/Dec a few years ago - e.g. 24 spotted on 3-4/12/2014 and 27 on 19-20/12/2015. It was astonishingly mild then of course. I don't seem to have any notes from last year but maybe I wasn't out walking at the right time. Look forward to comparing notes later in the year.

Peter C said...

Thanks for your kind comments. Glad you find it interesting.

December 2015 was indeed the weird mild one when all sorts of early spring flowers and even blossom started to come out. But some flowers in early December are not unusual. Before writing the blog I should perhaps have checked my own December Flowers page which lists several. See

Peter C said...

I don’t know why the link in the last post says November in its url. But go to the main blue button menu above the Nature Blog and click December and you will find the page I mean.

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter

Glad you are also enjoying the sunny weather and the May/June flora display. Hope your trip to Devon went well despite the train disruptions at
Paddington the day I went to Hartlocks nature reserve. I saw the lady, monkey and hybrid orchid. Also green hair streak and grizzly skipper butterflies.
Went to Homefield Wood nature reserve in Marlow yesterday. Great day out very sunny. Saw hundreds of Military (soldier) orchids, Greater butterfly, Fly,
Spotted, Scented, Bee and broad leave helloborine orchids. Plus a Marsh Fritillary orchid which is odd. Another frittary is the Green heath and silver
wash fritillary. I shall explore Warburgh nature reserve when I get back from Scotland. Off to Newtonmore on Saturday 9th and 23rd to Mull.
Regards Monica

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