With the frenetic activity of spring and the warm abundance of summer already a fading memory, Autumn has held it's fair share of excitement and frustrations in equal measure, here at Harris Acres.
As the local wildlife prepares for the coming winter by some serious stuffing of its chops, this wildlife watcher here at Harris Acres has spent a fair number of hours labouring (literally), with my own Autumnal tasks.
The key job was to rake 1.5 acres of hay by hand from the wildlife meadow, or 'that bloody paddock' as it was re-named as a sweaty, knackered 59 year old landowner cursed and staggered back into the house in the fading light, for what felt like a whole month of medieval agricultural labour.
Blessed by the end of this brutally primitive 'exercise' and with a core strength the like of which I haven't had since my twenties (possibly ... 😉), I was still able to capture the occasional wild visitor keeping me company in the strangely warm late Autumn months. First prize goes to the Kestrel pair (pic of female hovering above), that took a keen interest in my hay clearing endeavours as I revealed scurrying Voles, or 'a snack' as the Kestrels no doubt saw them!
iPhone pic - mid labour in 'wildflower meadow' (pot of gold ? ... not found!)
The rigours of my self imposed task meant that I didn't get out and about much with the camera, however the local wildlife compensated by popping in to see me (or so it felt), with species showing that were both expected and unusual, as you will see.
The months between the Summer solstice in June and the winter solstice on 21st December, are a busy time for our wild neighbours, who have found a mate, produced offspring and nurtured them through to some kind of ability to survive the hard cold months ahead.
Looking though my collection of photographs from this time I found a shot not yet shared, from that Summer solstice night. Regular readers of my blog posts will remember the story covering the thrill of seeing the Fox family as they brought their cubs in for a visit every night. Here's one of an adult with a fast growing cub, by way of remembering those heady Summer nights and that those same wildlife families are busy facing up to the winter solstice ahead.
Summer solstice Foxes
full moon mid-Autumn
Late Autumn Hare
Time for some more wildlife highlights then .... beginning with a tiny, yet charming little bird that usually appears in noisy flocks of birds, keeping in touch with each other with their constant calls as the buzz through the treetops and hedgerows in search of food. This one paused briefly on top of a weeping Birch, to allow me to take its photo.
The skies above here at Harris Acres are blessed with the sight and sounds of different birds of prey riding the thermals, engaging in dog fights with the local Corvids and even each other from time to time.
So the usual suspects then, but then there's always a special place left for my favourite bird ... the Sparrowhawk.
I've seen both a big female cruising the treetops and the smaller male, better suited to finding an unlikely route through the thick undergrowth to grab the smaller birds.
Sparrowhawk (male) diving into the treetops caught by autumnal sunshine
Here's a 'nearly good' (but actually out of focus and badly exposed) photo of the male Sparrowhawk and male Kestrel in dogfight mode.
Play nicely boys! 🙄
We get our fair share of mammal visitors too and its not a surprise to find the garden featuring early morning Deer visitors as you come down for breakfast!
Regular readers will recall that there's a Pheasant shoot on the wooded escarpment below our garden and this time of year we are inundated with Pheasants in large groups pottering around the garden.
Just occasionally, we get to see some unusually coloured examples, either the dark morph melanistic form or in this case, the leucitic white morph male bird - a striking sight, but surely an evolutionary disadvantage when predators (and some with shotguns at the ready), get such an easy target?
This one is leading a charmed life (so far!)
We have a family of Pied Wagtails that seem to spend all year hereabouts as they are virtually permanent fixtures on our house roof and its ridges. Joined by a Grey Wagtail cousin from time to time, its always a pleasure when they keep me company on 'Raptor-watch' patrol on our balcony.
Pied Wagtail on a hot tiled roof
Grey Wagtail feeds up
Autumn is also a time of strong winds that occasionally produce rare vagrants, arriving tired and hungry after being blown off course.
This Autumn brought a visitor from the south of Europe to IBM at nearby Warwick. No need for a visitors badge as this distinctive Hoopoe nonchalantly helped itself to a meal on the old reception lawns, drawing many Twitchers to gather in birdy clusters, to take in the view.
Twitching is not really my thing (large groups of birders travelling all across the country to 'tick' a sighting of a rare visitor), but this time the 'rare thing' had been kind enough to appear 10 mins from my home, so it seemed rude not to pop over and say hello.
The warm Autumn has produced an eruption of different fungi. My neighbour and good friend Anderson is a forager extraordinaire and whilst Harris Acres doesn't appear to be home to growths that are safe to eat, I did get a chance to prove that my Macro photography still needs a lot more work!
Crimson Wax Cap
Lawn Fungi (of some sort)
I'd no sooner re-set up the do-it-yourself perch near the bird feeders in the back garden, best viewed from the study window, before the Great Spotted Woody male staked a claim to his territory again.
Woody the Woodpecker
So Autumn draws to an end this weekend and it's always a time of goodbye's and hello's. All of our Summer visitors are long gone now, enjoying the warmth and feeding opportunities in warmer southerly spots.
Our Hedgehog neighbours can still be seen pottering about, although I expect the recent cold few days may prompt them to call it a day and hunker down for their winter hibernation soon.
Big flocks of Redwing and Fieldfares are swarming over the hedgerows and tree tops, cleaning up the Hawthorn berries and other tasty treats on offer, much to the delight of the Sparrowhawk who is delighted to see such a culinary offering in such numbers!
Redwing keeping low
I'm hoping that the last few days of bitterly cold northerly winds will have 'encouraged' my favourite winter visitors to fly south to their winter roosts.
I've checked out some likely spots before the northerly winds hit and not a sign to be seen so far. It can't be too much longer before we get to see those most beautiful of Owls again, quartering the tussocky grass and giving me good reason to dig out the thermal long johns and stand in the bitter cold of winter for the hours it takes to catch a glimpse of them doing their thing.
Here's a shot from last winter, hopefully to act somehow as a totem to conjure their reappearance.
So that's Autumn '21 done and dusted.
Far too few days out with the camera, too much back-breaking medieval agricultural labour, but all brightened by the local wildlife with whom we share our home here at Harris Acres.
Let's hope the '21/'22 winter months are full of great things to see and not too much Pandemic drama to get in the way of our engagement with friends, family and the wildlife that lives alongside us all.