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

8 November 2018 There is no doubt that we are now in the final phase of autumn leaf fall - the short period when colours are at their best.

I was out today on Ranmore Common and the nearby Polesden Lacey estate near Dorking. There all was a riot of yellow and gold. Earlier in the autumn you get some good colours on the exposed faces of the trees, but in the heart of the wood, at path level, all is still green. But now yellows and golds abound at path level too.

On Ranmore Common beech trees were in particularly fine form. These are one of our most colourful trees in autumn and at best produce a wide range of hues (photo). On Ranmore Common all the beeches were absolutely at their best. Isolated trees outside of the wood were even nearly bare, as most of the others will soon be if we have a good blow.

Oak trees were also rapidly turning, with most showing more tint than not. When they first colour, oak foliage is a wonderful warm golden colour (photo), but this soon fades to a more rusty brown. The leaves can then stay on the tree quite a time in this state, even after the rest of leaf fall has ended. Beeches also sometimes keep some turned leaves but usually do not. One exception, interestingly, is garden hedges made of beech: if they have been trimmed in the past year they can hold onto their dead leaves all winter.

Another tree I saw turning today that is very indicative of the end of leaf fall was larch. The only conifer to shed its needles, it goes yellow and then gold right at the end of autumn (photo), so when you see larch turning you know you are in the final phase. It is not the commonest of trees in the south east but occasionally you come across large stands of it, as I did near Wadhurst last Saturday. When the needles fall they briefly make an intense orange carpet on the ground.

Other trees that produce good colour at the end of leaf fall include sweet chestnut. Interestingly it starts to shed its leaves quite early on, but it always seems to keep some to turn a lovely coppery gold at the end (photo). It is a tree quite often used in managed coppiced woodland where it can produce quite a grand effect at this time of year.

Note also the bright yellow on Norway maple at present. You would be forgiven for confusing this tree with the very common sycamore, but its leaves have crisp pointed ends while sycamore's are much more ragged. It is a tree one often does not notice until around now, when suddenly the very pure bright yellow of its foliage stands out (photo). Sycamore, meanwhile, generally produces much muddier tints (photo), though just occasionally can surprise with good yellow hues, as one I saw today did.

Two more sources of fine yellow colours, particularly in hedgerow, are field maple, our only native maple, whose small, cute leaves usually go a bright yellow (photo), sometimes gold. It is only at this stage in leaf fall, when its colours really stand out, that you notice how common a species this is. Even more common and often one of the last tinted leaves you see, is hazel. Like sycamore it usually produces quite muted yellows (photo) and has been doing so since quite early in the autumn. But towards the end of leaf fall its can shine a bright yellow, whole hedgerows of it turning at once.

These then are the main tinted trees that you will see on a walk in the countryside in the south east. For the next week to ten days they should be at their best, though obviously this can vary from place to place. Then the leaves fall and it is winter, so enjoy the colours while you can.

29 October 2018 I was, I have to confess, a little disappointed with the autumn colours this weekend just past. Though there were some tinted leaves to be seen, the treescape seemed to be mainly green. We are in one of those pauses when one lot of tinted leaves have fallen and the rest have yet to turn. But this will not - cannot - last long, especially with the sudden cold turn that the weather has taken.

It is one of my maxims that while late in October you can enjoy sunny and warm days when you feel that summer has not quite let go its grip, once November starts the weather turns sharply colder and winter has arrived. Rarely has this been so well illustrated as in the past week. Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 October were still what you might call shirtsleeve days: a week later the daytime high was six degrees. It is not just that it has turned chillier: one knows for sure that this is it now and we will not have days of summery warmth again until March (or April or May....)

In nature too there has been a shift. The weekend of the 20th I was thinking to myself how many different wildflowers I could still see. They have nearly all disappeared now. Today I saw two solitary insects - both wasps, feeding off ivy flowers. A week ago there were still one or two speckled wood butterflies: they will be hibernating (diapausing, to be technically correct) by now - or dead, maybe. I have given up hope of seeing a late comma or red admiral.

As for the trees, well, it is the big beasts, the oaks and the beeches, that I will be watching. Both species have already shown some minor tint but it is when they start turning in a big way that you know that autumn is entering its final chapter. In this late stage of autumn hazel and field maple can also be quite prominent, producing nice yellow colours.

Meanwhile, quietly, the number of bare or nearly bare trees and shrubs is ticking up. Ash trees are shedding apace in my locality, the ground covered with freshly fallen green or yellow leaves. Hybrid black poplar, crack willow, white willow, elder, blackthorn, hawthorn and even some sycamore are all looking very thin in places. Slowly the amount of bare brown branches increases.

I was also rather sad to notice today that most wild cherries in my area are getting thin. These can produce gorgeous gold and pink leaf tints, and I thought this autumn with its dry weather, abundant sunshine and regular cold nights would do the trick. But they have decided to shed with only muddy reddish colours, as indeed they often do.

One other thing to notice is how berries are disappearing from some bushes. Those hawthorns groaning with tightly packed red haws are now mostly a memory. Blackthorn bushes are losing their sloes. The berries that remain tend to be those ones we associate with winter - red holly berries and berries on suburban exotics such as cotoneaster and firethorn (pyracantha). Ivy berries are also slowly starting to form where it has finished flowering. All of these will provide food sources for birds in the cold depths of winter.

19 October 2018 It has been a good year for my pet theory about autumn colour, which is that you get an upsurge in tinting a week to ten days after particularly cold nights. At the end of September we had several days with low single digit overnight temperatures and right on cue last weekend saw some great colours coming forth.

There was a particular upsurge in yellow tints on ash trees, which is unusual. Ash is a classic slow-shedder - it loses it leaves slowly throughout the autumn and the leaves often fall to the ground green. But just now and again conditions coincide to produce a really striking yellow tint, and this year seems to be one of those, with trees showing quite large areas of yellow or even being entirely that colour.

Another sign that we are getting good autumn colours is when you see gold tints on field maple. Typically this demure little tree - our only native maple and very common hedgerows and the understoreys of wood - produces on yellow tints (photo), but as you can see from the twitter feed, I have in places this year not just seen golds but also reds.

Another great tree for vibrant colours is the wild cherry, which at best can be a riot of golds and pink. It is a popular street tree and can often be seen in all its glory there (photo). In the wild it can be just as colourful, but is not always or even often so. In many years and in many places its leaves turn a sort of muddy version of these colours and then fall. Just occasionally, when conditions are right, it makes a better show and is worth looking out for. I am still waiting, I confess, to see a really good one this year.

Otherwise for good leaf colour, the humble oak is not to be sneezed at. Notice how on an otherwise green tree there can be lovely patches of yellow and gold (photo): again, this seems to be quite a good year for oak colours so far. Beeches too are showing more colour than I would expect at this stage in the autumn. When they really turn en masse it is a signal that leaf fall is coming to an end, but usually that is not until November.

When out looking for autumn colour, don't forget to look down as well. When all this lovely coloured foliage comes off the tree it can make very attractive carpets on the ground. Recent days have been quite good for such displays since all the tinted leaves I was seeing last weekend are now falling. The delightful colour of the freshly-fallen leaves does not, of course, last long: they soon fade away and turn to dull brown.

If not followed by further tinted leaves, fallen foliage can also leave trees looking mainly green once more. This may well happen with all that ash colour - the yellow leaves go, the green ones remain. Much depends on a fresh supply of cold nights and sunny days to keep the supply of tinted foliage topped up. Then, eventually, it gets so late in the year that everything turns - typically in the second week or third week of November.


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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