As Autumn arrives, it's just a small matter of waiting for the trees to explode into their auburn colours, nature’s last roar of the year, before the leaves start to fall.
After the beautiful purple shades on the moorland, it's time for trees to do their thing. Our woodlands really come into their own this month, changing our view of a green landscape into one of a myriad different warm hues. You'll be rewarded with vibrant colours of red, orange, mahogany, mustard and gold, and a multitude of fading greens, as well as impressive fungi clinging to standing and fallen deadwood.
Dalby Forest is at its best in autumn. The blues and greens of pines and spruces being complemented by the golden needles of larch, the bright yellow of ash leaves, the red leaves of wild cherries and the greens, yellows and russet browns of oak. Top locations to enjoy the autumn shades in the Forest include Haygate, Crosscliff, Staindale Lake and Bickley Gate.
Also look out for:
- Fungi galore. On the forest floor the caps, spikes and spheres of fungi put in their annual appearance. Russulas and agarics grow amongst the conifer needles and faded grasses, while yellow spikes of Stag’s horn fungus and the aptly named Candle Snuff sprout from decaying stumps. As leaves rain down and moisture builds up in the soil the fungi begin to fruit. These are the fascinating shapes we see: Shaggy Inkcaps, Stinkhorn, Jelly Ear, Chicken of the Woods, Orange Peel Fungus, Puffballs and Penny Buns.
- Popular spots to hunt for fungi include woodland near Goathland, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust's Little Beck Wood, and, in the Howardian Hills, Yearsley Moor and Grimston Moor. Both of these have areas of deciduous and coniferous trees, deadwood on the ground and woodland tracks. Remember to keep to footpaths and bridleways when searching for fungi in areas of privately owned woodland.
- If you'd like to find out more, especially which ones are edible, then do get yourself booked on a fungi foray event. Ryenats hold an annual event while Taste the Wild run a number of foraging courses but they are very popular, book up quick! The Yorkshire Arboretum also organise fungi forays too.
- Sloes, ripe now on blackthorn trees. Look out for them in scrubland, woodland and hedgerows on your walks. The extremely bitter purple/blue fruits are superb for making a traditional warming liqueur – sloe gin, but remember to leave some for the birds! Sloes are said to be at their best when picked after the first frosts. Whether you can wait that long is up to you but the fruit should be plump and juicy before it's picked. Sloes form on the second year’s growth so try hedges that were not cut the previous winter.
- Red deer and fallow deer rutting. Deer stags are at the peak of their fitness and are ready to battle antler to antler to gain dominance of a harem of hinds. Lots of dramatic bellowing, posturing and bashing around to intimidate their rivals ensues! Deer parks provide a great chance to see and hear this impressive natural show, but wild deer do roam around the moors too. Herds are known to graze in the clearings at the ancient woodland Ashberry Nature Reserve, near Rievaulx, maintained by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust - so a stealthy early morning visit might pay dividends.
Walks of the month
As October is the best month for autumn colour, it has to be a woodland walk or two or three...
The Yorkshire Arboretum in the Howardian Hills, with 6,000 trees and its mix of native and non-native trees is spectacular as the leaves turn rich shades of red, yellow and orange. It's a great place for a wander. Alternatively a walk on the footpaths and bridleways through the woodlands of the Hovingham Estate (pdf) are also stunning.
Back in the National Park, the 3.2 km Ellerburn walk in the prettiest corner of Thornton-le-Dale, follows the beck upstream to the hamlet. The stroll, along the riverside, roads and pavements, takes in a majestic row of orange beech trees and includes the Tea Cosy Tearoom at the halfway point with a lovely garden.
Yorkshire Coast Nature tips
The experts at Yorkshire Coast Nature are our eyes on the ground, here's their advice on what else to look out for this month.
Bird migration is one of the most exciting natural events on earth. Every species has a different strategy to stay alive creating a huge range of inspiring stories. Richard Baines from Yorkshire Coast Nature picks three diverse species to look out for in Yorkshire during October.
Short-eared owls breed in Western and Northern Europe favouring open habitats of grassland or moorland where they can hunt for their prey. Their slow silent flight may appear to be unsuited to travelling large distances but every autumn on the North York Moors coast we see small numbers arriving from over the waves.
On a Seabird and Whale trip in autumn 2015, we had a short-eared owl above our boat heading for land eight miles out to sea from Staithes! Why do they do this?
The triggers are not enough food or a very good breeding season with more young produced for the territories and food available. These beautiful birds can be seen almost anywhere in October. Look out for them where there is open semi-natural land from clifftop grasslands to open moorland and pasture further inland.
Often arriving alongside these owls from Scandinavia is one of Europe’s most charismatic birds, the fieldfare.
These large beautiful thrushes nest in their millions, deep in the forests of northern Europe where few people live. The food they favour becomes very scarce in the winter in these frozen forests so they have to move hundreds of miles to survive. Feeding prior to migration is critical to put enough fat on for the journey.
Despite the distance, many of these birds will arrive in good condition especially during favourable conditions such as a light easterly wind and clear dry skies across the North Sea. Look out for fieldfares on the coast in late October. They often fly in flocks and make a harsh chattering call to each other so they can keep in touch with the group.
Our final species is by far the smallest but arguably has the most impressive story of our three explorers.
Yellow-browed warblers only weigh around four grams and breed east and west of the Ural Mountains in Russia.
Their traditional migration takes them south east into Asia for the winter. However over the last 50 years increasing numbers have been arriving in Western Europe every autumn.
The journey to the Yorkshire coast is half of what they would be travelling to parts of Asia so they often keep going and even end up in West Africa! In December 2015 I watched three in a park on the island of Fuerteventura!
So what are they doing flying in the opposite direction to Asia? Researchers have found their breeding numbers have been increasing dramatically leading to larger numbers going off course, most of which are young birds. One of the mysteries though, is do any of the yellow-browed warblers which reach Western Europe or Africa ever make it back the following spring to Russia? As yet we don’t know…
If you want to discover more about migration, see some of the birds in this article then I can highly recommend Filey and Flamborough Ringing and Migration Week. This festival of birds takes place between 14 and 22 October. All events are free and open to anyone who loves birds and wildlife.
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