It’s the time of year I relish. Autumn marks a change of pace, with gardens transformed by yellowing leaves, lengthening shadows and the steady stream of birds returning from a summer spent in the country.
Leaving their mark
If there’s a hazel nearby, look around its base and you’ll see freshly dropped nuts that have been chiggled: a loose portmanteau of ‘chisel’ and ‘nibble’. Different rodent species – squirrels, wood mice, voles and dormice – all have their own techniques for getting to the good bits ins ide, leaving their signature tooth marks on the shell. It’s a handy way to survey these often secretive creatures without even getting sight of them.
Stick ‘em up
Now the breeding season’s over, it’s time to clean out your boxes, remove old nesting material, give them a scrub and rehang. Spread them out to provide a variety at different heights, and in places that provide shelter from extreme weather and minimise exposure to the full sun. You may want to think about putting a camera in your most consistently used box. It’s a wonderful way to monitor the secret life of your birds.
Every year I issue my warning to check fire heaps for hedgehogs before setting them alight. Or how about not burning at all? It’s a lot less work, and a leaf heap rots down to form rich humus for the garden. It also provides shelter and food for many species, which in turn fuel your garden ecosystem. Even twigs and prunings can be chipped or cut up and added. It’s free wildlife, free food and free compost – a triple win.
Silk and baubles
Spiders and their webs are among my favourite autumnal things. The cooler air temperature makes for a lower dew point, and this moisture readily condenses in pearlescent droplets on the silken scaffolds of spider webs. Have a closer look and meet their makers. Spiders are much misunderstood animals, which as well as being fascinating in their own right are also important food for many others.