Autumn is a wonderful time for a walk round the Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve within the grounds at Duns Castle.
There are a number of paths meandering through the woods and if you choose a bright sunny day the colours on the many mature Beech trees can be spectacular in all sorts of shades of yellow, copper and brown. It is wonderful to walk through the falling leaves as they drift down from the high boughs or to watch them blowing and swirling around in the wind. On mild damp days the smell of gentle decay of the decomposing leaves and vegetation is also sweet.
Beech seeds are known as mast. Some years few seeds are produced but this year there is a particularly heavy crop and they provide rich pickings for many birds and animals.
Look out for Bramblings which are closely related to Chaffinches. They are migrants from Scandinavia and are arriving just now to overwinter here. They often feed on the ground under Beech trees and if you approach and put a flock of small birds to flight look out for light, almost white rumps on the departing birds as this is an easy way to recognise these charming birds.
When walking through the woods you may hear loud, raucous calls - no they are not banshees, this is the call of Jays. They are secretive birds more often heard than seen. They are very attractive birds related to crows and are about the size of Jackdaws. They are a light fawn-brown in colour. They fly with a gentle undulating flight and this is when you can observe the distinctive large white rump and bright blue and white wing patches.
Jays love to feed on acorns and spend much of the day just now collecting up and flying away with the acorns, to bury in the ground, hiding away the seeds for eating throughout the lean winter months when all the acorns on the Oak trees have gone.
This strategy suites both the Jays and the Oak trees, the Jays have a rich food source all winter and the Oak tree gets it seeds spread and planted far away from the mother tree, Jays may be smart but they cannot remember where they have buried all their seeds and lots will remain to germinate and grow into Oak trees the following spring.
The Hen Poo is the lake at Duns Castle and is a favourite place for both water birds and visitors. A large flock of between 100 and 200 Mallard overwinter here. Just now is an easy time for those ducks which often sit around on the grass half asleep, waiting on visitors to come along with a bag of bread. When they see an approaching visitor those confiding ducks soon wake up and waddle over the grass to meet them, expecting an easy meal.
Moorhens and Coots are also quite confiding and can easily be approached. Soon Tufted Duck and Teal will be arriving from northern Europe to overwinter here but they tend to stay further out on the water or amongst the reeds and rushes.
Make the effort and go for a nice walk and enjoy the beautiful grounds.