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October Wildlife in the Garden

What Garden Wildlife to Look out for in October: Redwing, Tawny Owl, Bank Vole and Comma Butterfly

I love the colours of autumn and they seem to be a little later than usual, but I think they will be really good this year. Our dogwood looks especially good now with its dark stems and almost purple red leaves. I mentioned migration last time and it is very much in full swing in October. What is also noticeable are the insects becoming less active as it gets colder, but if you know where and when to look you can still find some interesting species. It has also been milder than usual this autumn and on sunnier days you can still see butterflies and many other insects doing their thing. The exciting news for me is I have reached my target of 400 species in my garden count! We have also raised £1,075 so far, which is fantastic and has exceeded my £1,000 target for the charity A Rocha! If you would like to contribute, please follow the link: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/blumirewildlife Thanks!

Migration is one of the key events of autumn and one visitor that is relatively easy to identify if you know what call to listen for is the Redwing. They have a high pitched ‘seeep’ call and if you step out in the evening or night you can hear them as they fly over. The Redwing is one of our winter thrushes, along with the Fieldfare, that travel here each year from places like Scandinavia. What is lesser known is there is a very small population that breed in Scotland each year. They are Britain’s smallest thrush and can be confused with starlings in flight as the two will associate with each other in mixed flocks. As the name suggests they have a rusty red patch under the wing, its armpit if you like. The other distinctive feature of their plumage is the white strip above the eye. They do not often frequent gardens being shy by nature, but if the weather is particularly harsh or there is a plentiful supply of berries, they might make an appearance. They often can be seen flying over though throughout the winter.

From one bird to another and this time a resident, the Tawny Owl. When people think of owls it is the Tawny’s iconic ‘towittowoo’ song, which is actually the male and female calling together. The females do the first part, so the ‘towit’ or ‘ke-wick’ as it is also described, which you can hear any time of year, and the males do the ‘towoo’. Being nocturnal, they are notoriously difficult to see unless you happen to disturb one when roosting or as I have seen one flying in front of the car driving late. Another thing that can lead you to one is if other birds find one and they all start mobbing it, which I have never witnessed myself but would love to see. The other instance when you could be lucky enough to spot one, which I have been able to see one holiday in Cornwall, is if they have a nest nearby and the young do what is called branching because they are not very mobile, they stay around the nest hole. The fluffy chicks are lovely to see! The markings are a mix of tawny brown with black and white streaks and patches. They are also much bigger than most people think with a metre wingspan and even can sometimes prey on other owls.

Not my best photo and it is from some years ago, but this is a Tawny Owl!

At this time of year many animals are stocking up to get through the winter and mammals are no exception, especially small rodents like Bank Voles. Some species will hibernate, but contrary to common belief very few mammals hibernate, as is the case with the Bank Vole. They will slow down though and keep a store of food to get them through. They eat a wide variety depending on what is available including berries, nuts, seeds, and other plant matter. Generally a woodland species, people do not tend to think of them being a garden creature. However, they do frequent gardens on a regular basis and last year we caught one on our trail camera. Hopefully we can add one to the list by the end of this year. The best way to identify one is by the stubby nose and general chubby appearance which differs from mice or rats. Other aspects are the short tail, small ears, and overall tiny size. The real clincher is the reddish fur on their backs that marks them out from other vole species.

One of the butterflies you might encounter in October is the Comma. They are pretty unmistakable with their ragged edged wing providing amazing camouflage as a dead leaf. To complete the effect when closed the outer wing it has mostly brown makings apart from the white comma shaped mark it gets its name from. The wings when open are a beautiful orange with brownish black spots and smudges. They can be seen nearly all year round, but I tend to find they are more abundant from July right into October and can be spotted even into November or December. The Comma is a real success story because they declined in the last century but have made a fantastic comeback to being one of the most common butterflies in England now spreading further north. Their preferred habitat is the edge of woodland, but they are a common sight in gardens, and they seem to like plants like Verbena bonariensis or Lavender when it is in flower. The preferred foodplant of the caterpillar like many of its relatives (like Small Tortoiseshell) is Common Nettle, which is why a small patch of nettles in your garden can be so important.

I hope I have filled you with the joys of autumn and maybe you will have your own special wildlife encounter! If you do find something interesting, I would love to know! Maybe drop me an email on: t.blumire92@gmail.com

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