Conservation Officer Cristín Lambert offers a snapshot of the wildlife we should be looking out for this Autumn.
As the swallows leave our skies for warmer climes and the familiar golden hues begin to appear on trees, cooler temperatures and shorter days await us. Autumn is here and what a spectacular season it is. Nature’s last hurrah before winter’s cold, dark months.
In the nature calendar, autumn is a time of plenty, with wildlife taking advantage of the appearance of bramble, hazelnuts, haws, rowan, and crab apples to name a few. This is a vital foraging time for wildlife, allowing them to build up energy reserves for the colder months.
We are lucky in Fife to have an amazing array of wildlife on our doorstep, next time you’re out on a walk be sure to keep an eye out for…
For me, the true harbinger of autumn is the familiar calls of geese. They soar in large skeins high in the sky as they arrive from their breeding grounds in Iceland and Greenland to overwinter here. Pink-footed geese arrive in September, so be sure to cast your eyes to the sky if you hear a distant honking sound! Ninety per cent of the world’s population of pink-footed geese spend their winter in the UK each year. Therefore, the likelihood of spotting this spectacle is quite high.
Along with these spectacular numbers of geese, many other wildfowl species such as pochard and wigeon can be seen in Fife. As well as wintering wildfowl, you can see a whole host of wading birds along the Fife coast. Scan areas of exposed mud along the Firth of Forth and watch out for redshank, curlew, dunlin, knot and golden plover.
The damp weather provides perfect conditions for fungi to grow so autumn is when many species thrive. There is an amazing diversity of fungi in Scotland, with our woodlands, grasslands, mountains and coasts providing special habitats for more than 12,000 species. Next time you’re walking in your local woods keep an eye out for the iconic fly agaric, the quintessential fairy tale toadstool with its bright red cap speckled with white dots.
There are countless other species to be seen, each one’s name weirder than the next; from jelly-antler to amethyst deceiver to dead man’s fingers, there is a fascinating fungal world to discover! (Please do be cautious if you are considering mushroom foraging as mushroom identification takes skill and practice).
October is a great time to watch out for the influx of thrushes such as redwings and fieldfares arriving in significant numbers across the North Sea from Scandinavia. They join our resident thrushes – blackbirds, song thrushes and mistle thrushes. After their long journey they can be seen gorging themselves on the bountiful supply of autumn berries in woods, fields or even our gardens!
A much-loved native species, sadly not as frequently spotted as the non-native grey squirrel, autumn is one of the best times to spot these charismatic animals. As the season changes, squirrel activity really picks up. Autumn is the point in the year where there is the most natural food available so squirrels need to make the most of this bounty. Not only will the resourceful red squirrels eat their fill on seeds, nuts, berries and fungi but they will also cache food in their stores for the winter period.
Try walking the Devilla Forest Red Squirrel Trail or visiting Blairadam Forest for the chance to spot one of these charming creatures. Look out for distinctive red squirrel feeding signs – stripped pinecones and split hazelnuts and acorns to check if there are squirrels nearby.
The most familiar of our autumn fruits is the bramble. But there are plenty more delicious food sources available to us in nature. Elderberries and rosehips grow in the hedges and can be used to make wines, jellies and jams. Chestnuts and hazelnuts can be foraged in autumn and roasted. Another favourite are the sloes of the blackthorn bush, which can be used to make a delicious gin.
As always, don’t take risks when foraging and don’t eat anything you’re not 100% certain of. Also, it is really important to forage responsibly and ensure plenty is left for the animals who rely on these food sources for winter survival.