Autumn began properly last Monday, 23 September, with the Autumn Equinox. This year there is a superabundance of berries of all kinds – most spectacularly those roaring red ones of the Rowan or Mountain Ash tree, and blackberries, the fruit of the Bramble, one of most common and important wild plants. And let’s not forget the seasonal orchard fruit on which civilisation still somewhat depends, such as cooking apples:
However, according to tradition you should not eat blackberries after the feast of Michelmas, which is today, because legend has it the Devil spits on the blackberries! Well, whatever about the Devil, rodents of all sizes have certainly been up in the hedges eating them recently, and many blackberries have gone mouldy on the bush, so there’s probably a lot of sense to this tradition. However, this year many blackberries are yet to ripen:
Some fungus looks remarkable, such as the Bird’s Nest Fungus which is named because each flower head looks like a nest with eggs in it, albeit an extremely stylised nest. I think they look like cupcake cake papers:
Although the days are now shorter than the nights, and temperatures are getting progressively lower, it’s one of the very best times of year to see butterflies because in order to feed they often enter gardens where flowers are still blooming, and where there are warm shelters and sun traps. This year has been a bumper one for the Comma butterfly in particular. Commas can easily be identified by their ragged wings. This one was perched on a white sheet, which really highlights the strange ragged appearance of the wings:
The Comma below is sitting on a Butterfly Bush. Some of these bushes are still flowering… but not for very much longer.
The most common butterfly at this time of year is the Speckled Wood, and it will usually be the last seen in Autumn. They are not known to hibernate but it wouldn’t surprise me if they are eventually discovered to do this:
At this time of year, due to the lower temperatures, the butterflies move more slowly and take the time to perch and open their wings in order to warm up. Butterflies can only fly when the temperature reaches 15°C, so basking becomes very important. Many species are known to hibernate. In Ireland Small Tortoiseshells can be seen entering houses, sheds and other buildings to hibernate in autumn and they can often be spotted flying on mild sunny days even in November:
Another species which hibernates, and only recently proven to do so, is the Red Admiral, which is a very bold and striking butterfly, and it will land on people too if they provide a place to rest in the sunshine:
Some butterflies actively migrate, such as the Painted Lady. It will fly south with the swallows and house martins. Thousands of them filled the skies of Wicklow this year:
Some moth species also migrate – mostly famously the Silver-Y. While it has been a great year for the Painted Lady it has been a disappointing one for the Silver-Y, but there are some about, flying in both day and night, and sometimes resting by windows at night:
There are still one or two Barn Swallows about, but mostly individual stragglers, older birds more experienced in the vagaries of intercontinental travel. Here’s one I saw flying south a couple of days ago:
Whilst most creatures breed in springtime, spiders mostly prefer autumn. And some spider relationships are quite complex – the male Segmented Orb-weaver has to impress the female with a gift and she will only select him as her mate if the gift-wrapped gift is satisfactory. This one seems to have been successful and to have moved in with a female:
Slugs and snails also breed at this time of year, but they also mate in spring and all the way through when weather permits – here are two impressive Yellow Slugs, mating:
Slugs are hermaphrodites – each one is both male and female. However, in order to ensure genetic health they must mate – they must share their genes with others. The male in each slug mates with the female in the other. However, not all molluscs are hermaphrodites – cuttlefish, squid and octopuses have male and females – gender is a biological fact and a necessity.
Sadly, some of springs babies have not survived the year. Here is something which was recently drawn to my attention by the warden on the East Coast Nature Reserve – a young Otter, presumably hit by a car on the Sea Road:
For those creatures that stay and winter in Wicklow there is ample opportunity to plan for next year – here are three Jackdaws inspecting chimney pots for suitable nesting sites – these could be siblings hanging about last year’s nest, but are probably last year’s breeding pair and one of their children. Many birds, including Jackdaws, serve apprenticeships with their parents, choosing nest sites, building nests and helping to get food for the young: