September typically sees summer segue imperceptibly into autumn, but as October dawns the subtle shifts in the seasons are laid out in all their glory as autumn hues adorn the landscape. Whilst the autumn colours are now evident for all to see, there’s more than meets the eye to other changes taking place in our gardens and out in the countryside. As the leaves fall from the trees some garden birds become more visible, but the regular visits you might receive from garden favourites, the robin and blackbird, belie the fact that the birds you see at this time of year may well be either passing through or winter visitors from the frozen north.
During the autumn, the numbers of blackbirds and robins in Britain increase as birds from northern Europe come here to winter. Unlike species that only visit us as migrants – such as swallows in summer or waxwings in winter – the fact we have resident populations of these two familiar species means most people are unaware of their migratory nature.
In fact, the number of blackbirds increases dramatically each winter as birds arrive to make the most of our mild winters. The number of robins also increases as birds arrive from northern Europe. Whilst some of the robins might stay for the duration of the winter, others may simply be passing through on their way to southern Europe or as far away as North Africa. With juvenile robins also developing their characteristic red breast at this time of year it is no wonder we associate these striking, feisty little birds so closely with the winter months.
Another vividly coloured garden visitor is the goldfinch. They are attracted to our gardens to feed on the seed heads of plants such as lavender and teasel, but a more sure-fire way to ensure close encounters with them is to purchase a bird feeder and to fill it with niger seed. Out in the countryside goldfinches may been seen in mixed flocks with linnets, feeding on the seed heads of teasels and thistles, and where farmers have sown them to support wild birds, sunflowers.
Being surrounded by open farmland, the Idle Valley Nature Reserve on the edge of Retford is a good place to look out for such mixed flocks and autumn is an exciting time of year at this spectacular site. Whether you fancy a stroll along the River Idle or a spot of bird watching, taking advantage of the miles of footpaths and well-located viewing screens, it’s a wonderful place to explore at any time of year.
As I pen this piece for Life readers I’m hopeful that our café, shop and reception will be back open after our enforced shut down. We’re desperate to provide a warm welcome to our largest nature reserve, but whatever the situation with the café and other facilities, the reserve remains open for visitors 365 days a year – providing a haven for both wildlife and people.
Bird food direct to your door
In common with many businesses, we have had to adapt as a result of changes brought about due to lockdown restrictions and the need for people to stay safe. One of the major changes for us was the introduction of a county-wide bird food delivery service. Like many charities, many of our usual fundraising activities have been cancelled or put on hold – so purchases from our online shop are increasingly important to us and customers buying bird food direct from Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust are helping local wildlife twice over! For further details, visit nottinghamshirewildlife.org/shop.
Images: © Emma Harrison; Tim Sexton