This year my partner and I made a New Year's resolution to get out for at least one good walk together every month. With November fast running out, and kids' sporting fixtures taking up most of the coming weekend, we decided to take a day off and go out mid-week. Due to time constraints (i.e. having to be back before the end of school) we couldn't travel far, so we parked at Linton, just south of Cambridge, and walked from there, out across the fields and back via the Roman road, 10 miles in total.
We were very lucky with the weather - bright and cold, if a bit windy. The wind kept the birds down, but we saw Red-legged Partridge, a Sparrowhawk, Pheasants and Bullfinches, plus most of the other common species you'd expect. We also saw Fallow deer, and Muntjac footprints, plus a rabbit or two.
Windfall apples from a tree growing wild by the path.
In places the track was clearly quite an old one, slightly sunken and tree-lined.
Lots of Old Man's Beard around (Traveller's Joy, Clematis vitalba).
The mildness of the weather so far this autumn means that the winter wheat (big fields of it around here) is sprouting well already.
Snowberries (Symphoricarpos) are an introduced species, but grow very freely in the wild on the edges of woodland.
We put the bird feeders up on Sunday, ready for the winter. Although ideally we'd keep them up all year round, in practice we can't - the main garden feeders go where the hanging baskets hang, and the vegetable garden feeder must make way for actual vegetables during the spring and summer.
The first birds to find the feeders have been the collared doves (Streptopelia decaocto), not surprising given how many we have visiting the garden. It's hard to believe that the first ones only appeared in Britain in the 1950s and caused such excitement amongst the twitchers, they're so common now.
The doves take a lot of our seed mixture every winter, and I find them very entertaining to watch. They're not only very beautiful close up, but also quite comical when feeding because they're too big for the feeding station perches, so they perch on the side arms and keep sliding down and having to shuffle back up.
I'm now waiting to see who finds the feeders next. We've no very cold weather forecast for this week, and there's still plenty of insects and berries etc around, so it could take some time for feeder activity to get up to speed. In the meantime, keeping an eye on the feeders in the hope of bird sightings is almost more distracting than actually watching the birds!
The guelder rose (Viburnum opulus) produces another berry that always looks totally unreal to me - although on a dull and drizzly day their almost synthetic glow really brightens things up. Apparently they are a good source of Vitamin C and can be used in place of cranberries, although they don't taste as good. Worth remembering if you're ever stranded in the wilderness, I suppose...
I've walked in the countryside for many years, and yet I've no clear recollection of seeing this before this autumn - and I'm sure I would have noticed and remembered it, given the almost unreal colours and brightness of the berries. It's the spindle-tree (Euonymus europaeus). How could I have missed this? It wasn't like I've been walking around with dark glasses on all the time!
More to the point, if I've missed something as obvious as this, what else have I missed?
Walking across the fields to Girton and back earlier this week I was amazed by how many berries I saw. I know it's been a good year for plums and damsons in gardens, but obviously it's been a good year for the wild fruits too. I counted nine different species: bittersweet, blackberry, blackthorn (sloe), black bryony, buckthorn, guelder rose, hawthorn, rose hips, and spindle-tree. Some of the berries are starting to look a little end-of-season and wrinkled, but there's still plenty there for the wild creatures to feed on when the weather turns cold.
Have you ever gone out to do one thing and then got totally sidetracked into doing something else? Because that's what happened to me today. I went out intending to photograph berries and ended up taking pictures of hawthorn leaves instead.
We don't usually think of hawthorn as one of the big autumn leaf colour players. The berries can be spectacular, but the leaves don't usually look much.
Until you look closer, as I did today. See for yourself!