When anyone asks me what my favourite season is I can never decide because they each have their good points but, this year, our late-arriving autumn has certainly been magnificent. On Wednesday I caught the train to Radyr for a meander around Forest Farm Nature Reserve and it was sublime. From bright golden yellows to rustling red-browns, with some leaves still decorating spreading branches above my head and others carpeting the woodland floor beneath my feet, I spent a marvellous day, my eyes admiring, my feet kicking, my neck craning and all my senses spilling over. Ah, autumn!
As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, I spent several hours of a glorious autumnal Friday wandering amongst the trees in Cardiff’s Bute Park, and it was wonderful. I love trees and this meander reminded me why – their myriad different shapes and sizes, the variety of colours and textures in their leaves and their bark, and how difficult it is to capture all those qualities well in photographs. Since 2015, the year I spent photographing a tree each and every single day, I find I’m a little out of practice. I haven’t decided on next year’s project yet so maybe …
There is so much to love about autumn: it’s as if Nature is an award-winning play, and all the trees are her actors. She’s coming to the end of another successful season, it’s the last grand finale, the players are dressed in magnificent richly coloured costumes ready to take their final bows before a rapturous audience amidst great critical acclaim … and then the curtain comes down for another year.
Meet the Stonechat (Saxicola torquata), the bird whose song sounds like two pebbles being rapped together, hence its common name.
These little birds, about the size of your average Robin, usually live a little north of where I live in south Wales, preferring the plantations of conifers that grow in the Welsh valleys and the heathland of the Brecon Beacons. But, come the cooler temperatures of autumn they begin to move south to over-winter in slightly warmer climes.
I saw my first local bird at the Cardiff Bay Wetland Reserve on 17 September, a pair at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park on 6 October, and then a solitary female at Grangemoor Park last Sunday, 8 October.
Stonechats are not always easy to spot, as they duck down amongst tall grass and wildflowers in their search for insects and seeds, and their colours act as good camouflage. But, luckily, they also have a habit of perching on the tops of those grasses and wildflowers and on low shrubs so they can keep an eye out for threats – and humans with cameras! – so I have managed to get a few distant photos.
I was living in Auckland, New Zealand, when I first spotted one of these mushrooms and I admit to having had a ‘wow’ moment. It was like walking into a fairytale … I half expected fairies and elves to emerge and perform a magical dance amongst the leaf litter. This is, after all, the classic what-every-kid-would-draw-if-you-asked-them mushroom.
The Fly agaric (Amanita muscaria), also known as the Fly amanita and the Scarlet flycap, isn’t native to New Zealand but was unintentionally introduced there due to its rather intimate relationship with pine trees. Since its arrival, it has been quite wanton and, as it has now begun forming relationships with native trees, to the detriment of native fungi, it is considered a pest.
As the flesh of the Fly agaric contains psychoactive substances it has been used for centuries in religious and shamanistic rituals in Asia and parts of northern Europe. This fungus is, however, classified as poisonous, so forget the hallucinogenic adventure and feast with your eyes only!
Just two short weeks ago, my local cemetery was dotted with these vibrant little bursts of orange. Now they’ve all disappeared. This pretty little member of the daisy family is officially known as Pilosella aurantiaca but I much prefer its many common names: orange or tawny hawkweed (‘hawk’ because the Romans believed hawks ate the blossoms to enhance their vision and ‘weed’ because it can be very invasive in the right conditions); Grim-the-collier (after the character Grim, who appeared in English devil plays in the 1600s); devil’s paintbrush (another reference to the devil in those old plays or, maybe, because it can be a devil of a plant to get rid of!); and, my favourite, fox-and-cubs (perhaps because the yet-to-open flowers seem to hide beneath those that are open or, more likely, because the furry rosette of leaves sends out runners to produce more furry little plants). Love it or curse it, this little plant is rich in nectar so a favourite of bees.