We are all familiar with the plant and animal kingdoms, but in October we are reminded of an entirely separate kingdom, the fungi. Although they are with us largely unseen throughout the year, autumn is when the fruiting bodies of mushrooms and toadstools appear, as if by magic.
Watch out for fungi
Fungi break down organic material to release the nutrients required for future plant growth, but also have subtle associations with many living plants. Humans have eaten mushrooms and used yeasts in brewing for centuries and more recently fungi have provided us with antibiotics.
There are many more species of fungi than flowering plants and even amongst the larger and more obvious species, the variety of forms is astonishing.
Take a walk in a coniferous or deciduous wood and look for toadstools, puffballs, earthballs and bracket fungi, or wander in permanent grassland to see parasol mushrooms and brightly coloured waxcaps. Even have a look in your garden.
Get out and take some photos!
As autumn progresses, the leaves of deciduous trees and shrubs loose the green chlorophyll which enables them to capture sunlight and manufacture the sugars needed for summer growth.
Now their leaves display the orange and yellow colours previously masked by chlorophyll but some, including maples, also develop spectacular new red pigments. Why not go out with your camera and try to capture an autumnal scene?
Excellent time for spiders
For the past week, we've been watching the activities of a garden cross spider on it's orb-web just in front of our kitchen window as we do the washing up.
This is an ideal time to see spiders around the garden, along hedgerows and on heathland and spot the variety of webs, funnels and sheets of silk thread used to capture prey.
Watching the sika deer rut
Sika deer have now spread well beyond the Poole Basin in Dorset and this month the rut is well underway. Although much smaller than red deer, a 6 or 8 point sika stag is still an impressive sight and is best given a wide birth during the rut.
Listen out for the stag's high-pitched voice which sounds rather like a door swinging on very rusty hinges!
Watch out for linnets & goldfinches
Although a few swallows and house martins will pass overhead and the occasional chiffchaff can still be heard singing on a sunny day, most of our summer migrants have now left.
However, many birds which we tend to think of as residents are also responding to the arrival of autumn. Heathland linnets flock onto arable land to find seeds and goldfinches roam the countryside as thistle seeds dwindle, some taking advantage of niger seed feeders in our gardens. In later months some linnets and goldfinches will move south to France.
Can you hear the skylarks?
We are fortunate in hearing the song of the skylark over much of Dorset in the first half of the year and many of our birds are probably resident. But in October, the rather dry 'chirrup' call of the skylark can he heard overhead from individuals from further north as they fly south, presumably seeking milder conditions.
Tough little goldcrests
And finally, spare a thought for our smallest bird, the goldcrest, weighing in at just 5 to 7 grams. Our resident birds stay put for the winter, but amazingly, they are joined by many continental goldcrests that fly across the North Sea and make landing on the east coast.
Next time I see one diligently picking insects from ivy leaves in midwinter and realise that I feel rather cold, I'll remember how tough the goldcrest really is!
Written by John Wright
Dorset Wildlife Trust Member & Volunteer
Also look out for colourful Fungi in your garden
Photo by Jane Adams
Common Earthball by Jane Adams
Ornamental Maples are great to
photograph this time of year
How many spiders in your garden?
A Sika Stag : Photo by Michael Wright
Photographs by John Wright
unless otherwise stated