Although it’s always sad to see summer end (specially in a year which barely saw that season start!), autumn brings its own pleasures in the form of spectacular leaf colours.
Cherry trees are often amongst the first trees to turn, their leaves becoming vibrant deep oranges and reds. They make a nice contrast to the birches, which also turn early, but in their case, becoming bright golden shades.
Rowan trees (also known as mountain ash) are particularly colourful at this time of year, not only do their leaves turn a lovely shade of red, they also have beautifully bright berries. You’ve probably seen rowan trees with red berries, but did you know individual rowan trees have different coloured berries? I’ve seen red, orange, yellow, white and two shades of pink. Rowan berries, along with may other berries including the beautifully red (and dangerously poisonous) yew berries, are not edible by human beings though many birds enjoy eating them and you can use them to make jellies. Other berries, fruits and nuts are edible, but check a good foraging guide before picking anything.
As well as the wonderful colourful displays that the trees give at this time of the year, there are many other things to look out for in nature just now. Fungi of many different species can be found all through the year, but autumn is the time when they are most visible. Look out for shaggy ink caps appearing in fields, bracket fungi on dying trees and a variety of fungi appearing in the undergrowth. Some species of fungi (such as chanterelles and ceps) are edible, but others are inedible and some are poisonous, so don’t go foraging for fungi unless you really know what you’re doing.
Autumn is also the time when migrant birds that have spent the summer with us leave for their wintering grounds in Africa. Swifts left in August, but swallows and house martins may hang around until mid October. As the summer visitors leave, they are replaced by winter visitors. Geese and many wading birds fly in from their breeding grounds in the north, while inland areas play host to winter thrushes (redwings and fieldfares). Also keep an eye on the blackbirds! This is a species that is with us all year, but in autumn they’re joined by birds from Scandinavia. The visitors can be identified by their beaks which are black instead of the more familiar bright yellow. A particularly charismatic winter visitor that also flies in from Scandinavia is the waxwing. These birds may arrive in large numbers in cold winters and can be found eating rowan berries, even in supermarket car-parks, so keep an eye out for them when you’re doing the shopping!
Edinburgh is full of places to enjoy the sights and sounds of autumn, here are just some ideas:
Corstorphine Hill is a particularly good place to find edible fungi and also offers stunning autumn colours and good chances to see winter thrushes.
Cramond and Musselburgh are two places that are particularly good for birdwatching at this time of year. Both are great for seeing winter wading birds and Musselburgh also offers food opportunities for seeing snow buntings.
You can find out more about the tree species mentioned in this article in the Woodland Trust’s online guide to British Trees: http://www.british-trees.com/treeguide.
You can find out more about the bird species mentioned in this article in the RSPB’s online guide:http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/
You can find out more about fungi, edible and poisonous here: http://www.foragingguide.com/
For general advice and information about foraging, visit http://www.forestharvest.org.uk/home.htm