Old Bugwoman’s Almanac – November

Crow in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery, November 2020

Dear Readers, by the time November rolls around there’s usually no doubt that it’s winter, what with the long nights and the morning chill, and often the rain. All the more reason to make the most of the few bright hours. While we were in lockdown we’d go out for a walk every single day – somehow the fact that we were only supposed to go out once a day made it imperative that we took advantage of the opportunity, whereas now, when we can walk whenever we like, I’ll sometimes sit at my desk all day. Still, there are many subtle beauties to be enjoyed in November, and if all else fails it’s a chance to snuggle up with a good book.

Things to Do

  • November is really the kick-off month for Christmas in London (though some shops have been selling mince pies since September), so many gardens and stately homes will be launching their light trails. It’s an interesting way to experience places at night, though I do wonder about the impact on wildlife. I’m not sure I’d want a bunch of people marching through the undergrowth if I was a roosting wren, but hopefully most of these places are big enough that the animals can find somewhere quieter. There’s no denying that they’re often magical. One of the best is at Kew Gardens, but in 2022 there were also trails at Kenwood, Syon Park and and the London Wetlands Centre at Barnes.
  • Personally, I always get in the Christmas mood by having a look at the completely free Christmas light and window displays around Piccadilly, New Bond Street and Regent Street. I also have a great fondness for the Dickensian alleyway that is Camden Passage (in Islington), though most of the antique shops are foodie destinations these days.

Plants for Pollinators

  • Most bees are tucked up for the winter by now, but you may well see common carder bumblebees buzzing about well into November, and overwintering queen bumblebees will wake up on a mild day and look for nectar to top up their internal reserves. The RHS plant of the month is winter-flowering honeysuckle, and I’d have to agree – it’s often alive with bees on a warmish winter day.

Queen buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) on winter-flowering honeysuckle

Other recommended plants are Fatsia japonica (otherwise known as Japanese aralia or false castor-oil plant), which is also a queen bee magnet.

Fatsia japonica and bee

The RHS also recommends sweet box (Sarcococca confusa), autumn-flowering crocus and Elaeagnus x submacrophylla. I’ve personally seen bees on the first two plants, but haven’t yet stumbled across the Elaeagnus – let me know if you’ve had any success with it.

Ivy flowers might still be about if it’s been mild, but if there are already berries they will attract other animals, such as blackbirds and wood mice.

Bird Behaviour

  • November brings a time for settling down – as the nights get longer, the time for foraging gets shorter, and so a small bird like a coal tit can spend ninety percent of its waking hours just trying to get enough food to last through the night. All the more reason for making sure that bird feeders and tables are stocked, especially as most of the berries will have gone by now.
  • Many birds store food in their crops overnight in winter – pigeons are often full to busting, but finches do this too.
  • If you have nestboxes, you might notice them being used as overnight roosts, especially by tiny birds like wrens who might cram together to preserve body heat.
  • However, the long nights favour one type of bird – the owl. The tawny owl eats everything from mice and rats (hence the need not to poison rodents) to earthworms – you might, if you have a lawn, spot a tawny owl digging for worms after a wet day.

Plants in Flower

  • In addition to the plants for pollinators mentioned above, you might see the odd wildflower such as yarrow, daisy, ragwort or even dandelion. In general, though, this time of year is all about the last berries and autumn leaves, and some of the seedheads on the traveller’s joy and the spiky heads of teasel.

  • Ash tree seeds (‘keys’) are at their most evident in November
  • Spindle, with its pink and orange seeds, can brighten up the dullest November day

Spindle berries

Other Things to Watch/Listen Out For

  • Ring-necked parakeets will be pairing up in November, and will start looking for nesting holes in trees, which can lead to some very noisy arguments. They can start to breed as early as January
  • If you are lucky enough to live close to a wetland or coastal area, November brings whooper swans, turnstones, barnacle geese, purple sandpiper and migrant pochard in huge numbers, to join the waders and wildfowl who have already arrived. In a few lucky marine sites you might also see grey seal pups, who are mostly born during November.

Grey Seal Pup at Donna Nook in Lincolnshire – Photo by Aaron Bee at https://www.flickr.com/photos/91425144@N04/31522282822

  • This is still a great month for fungi – a walk in the woods might bring the typical red and white toadstool (fly agaric), or even an earthstar.

Collared Earthstar in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

  • There’s still a lot of young fox activity, as this year’s cubs leave their parents’ territory and try to work things out for themselves. But on a cold night you might hear the first yips of the adults as they start the breeding cycle all over again.
  • Full moon is on 27th November, and is known as the Darkest Depths Moon, the Mourning Moon, or the Moon Before Yule

Holidays and Celebrations

  • 1st November – Samhain (beginning of winter) – Gaelic/Pagan
  • 1st November – All Saints Day (Christian)
  • 2nd November – All Souls Day (Christian)
  • 5th November – Guy Fawkes Night (check those bonfires for hibernating hedgehogs)
  • 11th November – Martinmas. St Martin of Tours was the 4th century patron saint of beggars, drunkards and the poor, and also of wine growers and innkeepers.
  • 11th November – Armistice Day/Remembrance Day
  • 12th November – Remembrance Sunday
  • 13th November – Diwali – Festival of Lights (Hindu/Sikh/Jain)
  • 16th November – Beaujolais Nouveau Day
  • 23rd November – Thanksgiving (USA)
  • 26th November – Stir-up Sunday (when Christmas puddings/Christmas cakes/mincemeat are supposed to be started). And also, my Mum’s birthday.
  • 30th November – St Andrew’s Day (patron saint of Scotland)

4 thoughts on “Old Bugwoman’s Almanac – November

  1. Anonymous

    ‘Ere up north, the seals at Donna Nook and the starling displays in the Trent Valley are early winter highlights to look forward to.
    It’s always good to remember in November that sunsets and sunrises are suddenly at very convenient times if you’re a sky watcher and it’s also the best time see lots of wildlife.


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