October is the month when the trees are in their full autumn colours. With the shorter days and less powerful sun, the trees are no longer running efficiently and are reabsorbing the green chemical chlorophyll, leaving the brown, russet and yellow pigments as the dominant colours of the season. As the leaves drop, galls become more obvious. Many odd-looking protuberances are caused by the egg, and then the development of the grub, of numerous species of small solitary wasps. Oaks are good places to find knopper galls and marble galls. Keep an eye out for the red robin’s pincushions on the wild roses.
Many fungi are now bearing their fruiting bodies and launching millions of spores. On the grassy areas around the car park look out for shaggy ink-caps, and under the birch search for fly agaric (white spots on red) which is poisonous. Fungi live all year round as a mass of threads called hyphae and spend much of the year soaking up food. When they have absorbed enough toadstools are formed, usually in the autumn. The toadstools are the fruiting bodies of the fungus and contain the spores which will grow into new fungi after being blown away by the wind. The ink-caps which usually come up around the car park have a novel way of dispersing their spores. The cap auto-digests to an inky liquid which drops to the ground carrying the spores with it. Even though fungi don’t need sunlight to produce food, they need the warmth of a reasonable summer as well as rain in the autumn to form their fruiting bodies.
Some plants are still in flower such as mint, Michaelmas daisy and devil’s-bit scabious. The latter derives its name from the fury of the Devil at the success of this plant in curing all sorts of ailments; so much so that he bit away part of the root, hoping to put an end to all its good works. The plant has been prescribed for snake bite, swollen throats, wounds and even the plague! These late flowering plants provide a much sought after nectar source for the late summer butterflies and will usually keep on throwing up flowers until the first heavy frosts. The ripened blackberries also provide food for the last of the red admirals, peacocks and small tortoiseshell butterflies. Ivy is in flower at the moment (it fruits in the spring), and attracts hordes of insects.
During the warm sunny days in September southern hawker, common hawker, migrant hawker and common darter dragonflies were still active. Comma, red admiral and peacock, our autumn butterflies, will still be on the wing during October. Queen wasps, hornets and butterflies will feed on the ivy flowers this month. Once the ‘childrearing’ has been completed wasps then turn to sweeter foods such as fruit and become more obvious. Hornets are normally uncommon and are found only in the southern half of England. However, at Stover we’ve had a few sightings of these insects this summer. They are unmistakable being twice as large as wasps but less aggressive. Only the queens survive the winter, hibernating under the bark of dead trees. Bumble bee and wasp nests will also start to break up this month, along with wood ants’ nests as the ants retreat underground for the winter. Field grasshoppers carry on singing until the first frosts; listen out for a short series of chirps.
Young stoats and weasels are still dispersing making this a good time of year to spot them. Both stoats and weasels have long sinuous bodies for chasing prey into their burrows. Hedgehogs and bats will start to search for somewhere to hibernate in October. Dormice generally build a rather sparse hibernation nest just beneath the ground, often in thick leaf litter under ivy or moss. They hibernate for seven months of the year so will soon be dropping off to sleep. Roe deer young born in June have now finished suckling and are now foraging for themselves in the company of their mothers. You may see small groups of deer over the next few months as they start to gather together.
Keep an ear open in the evenings for the hoots of young and old tawny owls which have now worked out their pairings and territories. Nuthatches will start to ‘tap’ and store food for the winter. Most of Stover’s summer migrants have now left the Park to fly South. As these migrants leave, others will start to arrive from the north such as the winter thrushes – redwings and fieldfares. Siskins were seen on many occasions during September. This winter visitor is a small, greenish finch and can be seen feeding on the alder cones around the lake. Keep an eye out for woodcock as our resident population is vastly increased by European immigrants.
Tufted duck and pochard will start to arrive and increase in numbers as the winter progresses. Unusually, no tufted duck, pochard or common sandpipers were recorded during September. Cormorant numbers will start to increase as autumn progresses and more come to spend the winter on the lake. The black-headed gulls will also start to move inland this month, boosting the numbers at the Park.
The swan cygnet has been practising flying during the latter part of September and is now fully grown. Keep an eye out for snipe in the marsh as their numbers start to increase, and also for water rail. Listen out for the water rail’s unmistakable call which sounds like a pig squealing. Up to 4 male and 4 female mandarin ducks were present throughout September.
The winter volunteers’ programme is now underway. Everyone is welcome to join us on these which are held on the last Sunday of every month; they provide an ideal way to learn about the wildlife and management of the Park. October’s task will be marshland management so remember to bring your wellies !