Country Diary: A pageantry of colour adorns the countryside

Pale tussock mother caterpillar
Pale tussock mother caterpillar

Autumn drifted in with a thickening of mists, fogs and showers, but all is not lost. The absence of frosts has meant Michaelmas daisies, dahlias, geraniums and herbaceous plants paint the borders with a rich palette of colour.

Michaelmas daisies are so named on account of their flowering around Michaelmas, which was celebrated on September 29. Until the 18th century, the Feast of St Michael and All Angels was a popular festival. In England it was the custom to eat a goose at Michaelmas. This tradition was believed to protect against financial need for the next year.

A pageantry of colour adorns our countryside, with berries, crops of beech mast, hazelnuts and acorns providing a harvest for wildlife. Squirrels are busy burying their nuts.

Beech trees look magnificent as their orange-brown leaves catch the sunlight. Silver waves of wild clematis now drape shrubs and trees with their long, silvery white awns.

Our friend Rachel called, to show us her pale tussock moth caterpillar, found in the rubbish bag of her garden on October 1. This larva is seen in the late summer and autumn on various deciduous trees, especially beech. It used to be quite common on hops in Kent. This earned it the name of hop dog!

On rare occasions, mass attacks may take place. In August 1940, in the area around Koge, Denmark, 170 hectares of wood were completely defoliated! The colour of the larva varies from yellow or green to brown or almost black. The hairs of the back tufts also vary considerably. This specimen’s tufts were pale, creamy-white.

Robins are now in full song, as they set up their territories for winter, and the woodlands are alive with tits.

We recently observed a nuthatch in Forge Valley, hacking away at netted fat balls. It remained quite a while, until a grey squirrel disturbed it. However, it soon returned, and continued with renewed vigour. A nuthatch wedges nuts into crevices, and hammers them open. You can recognise this bird by its blue-grey upper parts, and deep buff plumage below. It has a habit of running both up and down tree trunks head first.

The showery weather has brought forth the edible clusters of shaggy ink caps, but this year we’ve only found a single field mushroom. Friends have also commented on their decline this year too. I guess we must buy some, but there’s time yet.

Brown rats continue to amuse, as they race along the pier at Seamer Road mere near the cafe. Sit quietly and watch. The swans and geese just appear to ignore them.

Meanwhile, Michael’s retirement is devoted to woodwork. His nest boxes; bird tables; wheelbarrows, and plant troughs are sold at Falsgrave’s Blind Society, to benefit their charity. Even wellie-pullers await the first snow of winter and help a very good cause.