November is the month when old man’s beard covers the trees and hedgerows. Late-flowering ivy, scabious and michaelmas daisy provides nectar for many insects before they hibernate for the winter. During October the weather stayed unseasonably warm with butterflies still on the wing, especially red admirals. Dragonflies were also in abundance with common darters, migrant hawkers, common hawkers and southern hawkers flying up until the end of the month.
British trees keep their leaves well into the autumn, generally until the first hard frost or really high winds. Once the trees become bereft of their leaves, the tree skeletons reveal a range of summer homes, such as birds’ nests, that were previously hidden. Not all the nests which come to light are for summer though – winter squirrel dreys also become apparent. These are generally built in the forks of large trees against the trunk, where they will be protected from winter storms. They often look rather untidy, and one of their diagnostic features is that the squirrels use twigs that still have leaves on them.
Roe deer bucks cast their antlers during November and December so keep an eye out for discarded antlers. Hedgehogs are preparing to hibernate this month. Field voles live in areas of unmanaged grassland under the mat of tangled grasses which forms at the base of stems. Their numbers are high at this time of year and, as the long grass dies back, they can make new runs and nests in its cover. Spiders’ webs abound in November and are best seen in the marsh first thing in the morning when they are covered in dew.
The woodland birds will be easier to see once the leaves have started to fall. November is probably the least territorial month of the year for woodland birds. Many which are fiercely independent for the rest of the year will actually flock together. This seems to be for safety reasons as feeding is such a priority during the short cold days. Flocks of long-tailed tits, nuthatches, goldfinches and goldcrests are present in the Park. Keep an eye out for large flocks of wood pigeon and crows which were seen flying over Stover this time last year. Winter migrants will continue to arrive at Stover this month. Siskins can be seen feeding on alder, chaffinches on fallen beech masts and bullfinches on hawthorn berries. Jays and squirrels have started to cache acorns among grass roots and leaf-litter. Look out for split-open acorns and hazelnuts in the fissures of bark left by nuthatches. Keep an eye out for crossbill as there is not long to go before they start building the first of next year’s nests, sitting on their eggs during the short cold days and even longer colder nights of December. The first crossbill was recorded on 7th October. Fieldfares, starlings and redwings will fly westward across the country during November. Listen out for the characteristic ‘tseep’ of migrating redwings passing overhead at night. These contact calls probably serve to keep flocks together. The first redwings were recorded on 26th October (nearly 3 weeks later than last year). The last of the swallows to leave Britain in October should now be in their wintering grounds. Though breeding blackcaps, like other warblers, leave Britain to spend the winter in warmer areas, 10,000 or more come from Austria and southern Germany at the end of October and early November to spend the winter in Britain. Collared doves, and sometimes even woodpigeons, start nests at any time of year, as long as there is a reliable food supply.
The maximum number of tufted duck during October was only 9; with 5 pochard. Once the colder weather arrives their numbers will increase. The first cormorants of the winter arrived on 17th October. Kingfishers and herons were recorded on the lake last month. Up to 9 Mandarin ducks remained on Stover Lake throughout October. Keep an eye out for wigeon and gadwall. Female wigeon are more uniformly brown than other female ducks, with a small bill. Wigeon are unusual as they are grazing ducks, eating grass like geese, but will also ‘upend’ whilst feeding on the water. Most gadwall which breed in Britain are concentrated in East Anglia, where they are descended from captive stock. Their true homeland is in Central and Western Asia and North America.
Teal are Britain’s smallest duck, and although present all year round their numbers are swelled in the winter by a large migrant population from northern Europe. Hence sightings of teal are more likely to occur during the winter at Stover. A female goosander was present on the lake during the latter half of October. Snipe will start to increase during November – the first was recorded on 4th October. These waders can be spotted in the daytime at the edge of the marsh. They leave at dusk to feed on the pastures on the River Teign flood plain. Water rail have been recorded from 29th September onwards in the marsh – their piglet-like squeal revealing their presence more often than sighting the bird itself. The black-headed gulls are increasing in numbers.
Remember to book early for the Christmas Carols; it is being held on Tuesday 12th December from 7pm until 9pm. This month’s Volunteers Day (26th November) will be spent raking up the vegetation on one of Stover’s grassland habitats. This enables a species rich sward to develop next summer which will benefit a wide range of butterflies and other invertebrates. All are welcome – ask a ranger for further details.