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Autumn Nature Notes

Nature Notes for White House Farm Wildlife Site 

Around the entrance to the reserve, and in a few clearings in the woods, are a number of plants of Ivy, large and mature enough to be bearing flowers. In my opinion these are a most significant part of the wildlife of gardens and countryside in the Autumn. At the time of writing the flowers, usually high up on the ivy plant, are round, pale green buds arranged in dense globular clusters. By the end of September, through October and beyond, they open as pale yellowish flowers with prominent yellow stamens. They are pollinated by Hoverflies and many other insects. Their importance is that they provide a rich source of pollen and especially nectar, at a time when most other flowers are completely over.  Watch these flowers on a sunny day in October and as well as hoverflies and other flies getting a late meal, you may well see butterflies such as Comma and Peacock, feeding on the nectar. These butterflies will soon be hibernating, and the Ivy nectar allows them to build up the reserves they need to survive through the winter. (There may also be Red Admirals, which migrate here from southern Europe, but which are probably not able to survive a Suffolk Winter.) Among the wasps also feeding are the larger queens, also preparing to hibernate. The males and workers also feed, but these will soon die and the surviving queens must found a new colony next year. Finally look out for Hornets doing the same thing. I have not yet seen these at Sinfield but they are widespread in Suffolk and I’m sure they will occur there. They are dramatic insects, very large, shining gold and bronze on a sunny Autumn day.  

At the moment, Robin song can be heard throughout the reserve – unusually for a bird in Autumn and Winter. The reason is that Robins sing to defend a ‘territory’ in Winter (for feeding) as well as in Spring (for breeding). Most people can detect a difference in the autumn song; it is rather weaker and thinner than in Spring. The singing bird will be alone in its territory. At the end of the breeding season the year’s offspring and one of the pair, usually the female, are driven out. If they cannot find an empty territory for themselves they will migrate, many crossing the Channel into Europe for the winter. If they survive to return, they may well come back to the same territory, and the same mate, as last year. Some of the remaining birds, probably about a quarter, are females. When this happens, they are able to defend their winter territory by singing, like the males.

Another sign you may find which seems unusual for the Autumn is the presence of newly hatched Woodpigeon eggshells on the ground. These have the end neatly removed, as opposed to an egg which has been smashed or the side pecked in by a predator. Woodpigeons proverbially have a very long breeding season, reputedly to be found nesting in all months of the year. This is probably due to the way they feed their young. By feeding on nutritious food such as grain and acorns – hence the breeding in Autumn – they are able to produce a juice, called ‘pigeon milk’, in their crops. This is fed to the young from the bill. Pigeons always lay just two eggs which may produce the most suitable brood size for this method of feeding.

Geoffrey Abbott

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