The world outside is preparing for winter

The splendor of a Borders woodland in autumn.
The splendor of a Borders woodland in autumn.

Autumn is well and truly upon us now. Last week’s gales and torrential rain brought down the first big leaf fall of the season. There’s nothing like walking along a woodland path, wading through the rustling leaves, kicking them up as you go.

There’s something quite comforting about this time of year, after the clocks go back and darkness falls at teatime, when you settle down in front of the fire, knowing that the log shed is full to bursting and all is ready for the coming winter.

The world outside is changing too in readiness for the approaching cold weather. The butterflies have virtually disappeared from my garden and my weekly moth trapping sessions are about to end, with only two customers visiting my light trap during the past fortnight – a Yellow-line Quaker and an Angle Shades.

Big skeins of incoming geese are seen in the skies almost daily, their evocative calls are a truly autumnal sound.

Winter thrushes are now pouring in to the Borders to feast on the last of the season’s berry crop.

These are chiefly made up of three species – blackbird, fieldfare and redwing. Many thousands of continental blackbirds come and join our resident birds, but it is the other two species, which we only see during the winter months.

Both fieldfare and redwing will visit gardens, particularly for fruit, so if you have any windfall apples, it is worth keeping them and putting a few out at a time. Other than when they are in gardens, it can be quite difficult to get a good look at them, as they tend to be nervous and flighty in the countryside, or are often seen in large noisy flocks on treetops, when it is usually just a silhouette that you see.

Here is a rough guide to their identification, if you do manage to get a good look at them:

The Fieldfare is the largest - just a little smaller than the Mistle Thrush - with very bold plumage. The male has blue-grey crown, nape, and rump; chestnut brown back; black tail; and a buff breast with black streaks that also extends to the flanks. The underwing, especially the “armpit”, is white, and it is this and the pale grey rump that are most noticeable when in flight.

Redwings are smaller than the Song Thrush with red flanks and a prominent yellow stripe above each eye. The upperparts are olive-brown, while the underparts are pale buff with dark spotting on the breast and belly. The flanks and underwing are reddish. In flight, the red underwing is most noticeable.

Now is the best time to look out for them as they feed on the remaining berries, before they disperse into the wider countryside in search of food, as the winter progresses.