Dear Readers, October can be a glorious month, full of crimson and gold and rust and scarlet, or it can be a grey, drizzly month. Whichever it is, it’s important to make the most of it, before the clocks go back in the UK at the end of the month and we start to hunker down for the winter. There is a lot to see – fungi springing up, migrant birds arriving, leaves turning – but for Bugwoman it marks the last month when I’m likely to see our invertebrate friends in any numbers. Still, the season turns, and we’re none the worse for it.
Things to Do
- 8th October marks the World Conker Championships, held annually in the grounds of the Shuckburgh Arms in Southwick, near Oundle (the closest big town is Peterborough). The event raises money for charities that work with the visually impaired (over £420k so far), and also for the local church and village hall in Southwick. It sounds like a lot of fun, but no doubt the contenders take it very seriously.
- On 1st October, NASA will (hopefully) be launching the Psyche mission. The plan is to visit and orbit an asteroid where the metal-rich core is exposed – this may give useful information about the history of the Earth and of other planets in the Solar System. You can read more about it here, and keep an eye open for when the livestream of the launch will be shown. Arrival at the asteroid is likely to be about 100 days after launch.
- Our old friends Rosemoor Gardens in Torrington, Devon, have courses on autumn photography and autumn gardening (on 14th and 12th October respectively). For autumn colour, many sites recommend Hyde Hall in Essex, Winkworth Arboretum in Surrey and Stourhead in Wiltshire but I’m sure there are many more, and even your local park or woodland (or cemetery) should be wonderful at this time of year.
- The London Natural History Society are planning a Geotrail walk (provisionally scheduled for Saturday 14th October). However, if you fancy taking yourself off on a walk to discover the geology of various London areas, you can download a map and details from here.
Plants for Pollinators
- One of the very best plants for pollinators at this time of year is flowering ivy – I’ve spent lots of time scanning the wasps and bees, and if you’re lucky you might see some ivy bees (Colletes hederae), stripey little chaps who first arrived in the UK in Dorset in 2001, and who have been moving north ever since.
Other RHS – recommended plants include devil’s bit scabious, bistort, our old favourite Bowles’s Mauve perennial wallflower, Abelia x grandiflora and the strawberry tree. I am definitely planning on getting some of the first two to try in the garden, especially as bistort is said to be shade-tolerant. This is also the season for Japanese anemones which seems popular with some bees.
The flowering season for wild plants is definitely coming to an end, but the Michaelmas daisies are often still going strong, and you might see holly in flower, along with yarrow, cyclamen, daisies and brambles, so there is still food around for any laggardly pollinators.
- Redwings and fieldfares should be starting to arrive by now, attracted by the crop of berries. If you stand outside on a cold, crisp night you might hear them calling as they migrate overhead – listening for the sounds of nocturnal migration (or nocmig as it’s called) became a very popular pastime amongst birders during the lockdown. There is something magical about hearing the flocks of birds pass overhead when you can’t see them.
Redwings have a very piercing, high-pitched call…(recording by Paul Kelly in County Meath, Ireland)
The call of the fieldfare at night is much more of a chuckle (recorded by Irish Wildlife Sounds in County Wexford, Ireland)
- You might be lucky enough to spot a waxwing, especially if you live along the north-east coast of Scotland and England – the birds irrupt from Scandinavia and will drift west and south over the coming months
- Starlings and other birds, all animosity dropped, will start to gather in huge flocks. If you’re lucky, you might spot a starling murmuration
- If you are even luckier, you might see a Palla’s warbler – these tiny birds are rare but they are being seen more often in the east and south of England, and October is the prime month for them to arrive. They move from China to south east Asia for the winter, but there are about sixty records in the UK every autumn, and probably lots more that go unnoticed. It’s hypothesised that either they get blown off course during their migration, or simply that they are enlarging their range.
- This is also a great time of year to spot goldcrest – the resident birds are joined by birds from mainland Europe. In my experience you can often find them foraging for tiny insects in yew hedges and trees, though they’re so fast that you’ll have to be patient to get a good view. I’ve been trying to get a photo of the ones in the cemetery since I started the blog in 2014 and haven’t managed a good one yet.
Plants in Flower
- In addition to all the pollinator plants mentioned above, keep your eyes open for all the prairie favourites who really come into their own in October – rudbeckia, helenium, single dahlias, chrysanthemums.
- But really, October is the month for foliage and berries – Japanese acers will be at their best, smoke bushes (Cotinga) may be covered in fluff, and every plant, shrub and tree that produces fruit, from crab apples to cotoneasters, from the acorns on the oaks to beech mast, from rowan to sloe, should be bursting with energy-rich food for birds, small rodents and even foxes.
Other Things to Watch/Listen Out For
- It’s the height of the deer rut, so whether you live close to the Scottish Highlands or within walking distance of Richmond Park, stags will be full of testosterone and up for a fight. Well worth observing from a respectful distance.
- Wildfowl start to arrive from Russia – our native populations of teal, wigeon, pintail, tufted duck and pochard are all boosted by great flocks from further east. Scaup visit in the winter, as do the common and velvet scoters, though they are largely sea ducks, unlikely to turn up on a pond. A visit to the coast or to local wetlands is highly recommended at this time of year.
- This is also a great time of year to hear tawny owls – this recording is lovely, it’s a male and female calling to one another from opposite sides of a lake. The recording is by Regina Eidner, and it was made in Brandenburg, Germany.
- Having said earlier that there weren’t many invertebrates around, you might still see shieldbugs (the juveniles change colour from bright green to brown before overwintering as adults – the colour change means that they’re better camouflaged against the twigs and dry leaves. Some bush crickets are also around, and are attracted to light, so you might find one of these surprising insects in the house as late as November.
- Another late-flying insect is the batman hoverfly (Myathropa florea), so named for the pattern on its thorax that looks like the bat signal in the films. What a handsome creature it is! Well worth looking out for, and often found on ivy or on sedum/hylotelephium.
- October is also the start of fungi season, check your local parks and wild places to see if there are any walks or ID sessions. Depending on the weather, the fungi can be spectacular – below are just a few from my local cemetery last year.
- The October full moon is on 28th October and is known as the Hunter’s Moon or the Blood Moon
Holidays and Celebrations
- 1st October – Harvest Home/Ingathering (Traditional)
- 1st October – Start of Black History Month
- 1st October – Start of English pudding season (I have no idea what this is, but it sounds worth celebrating)
- 11th October – Old Michaelmas Day, when the devil is said to spit on the blackberries so they shouldn’t be eaten after this date
- 21st October – Apple Day
- 29th October – British Summertime and Irish Standard Time end, and the clocks go back one hour
- 31st October – Halloween