October began in my South Shropshire garden with large numbers of birds returning to the bird feeders as night time temperatures dropped. Long-tailed tits, goldfinches, nuthatches and woodpeckers joined the regular chaffinches, blue tits and great tits to feed on sunflower hearts, nyjer seed and peanuts. Around the garden jays visited daily, usually clutching an acorn from the oak woodland next door, which was promptly buried in the lawn somewhere. A single chiff chaff was seen on the 1st of the month.
Daytime temperatures were good during the first week of the month and several red admirals were still feeding in the borders and around the vegetable garden, where Verbena bonariensis and cosmos were continuing to flower. Single-flowered dahlias were also attracting butterflies and bumblebees, the latter also visiting late flowering borage.
As we moved into the second week of the month there was little change in the mild temperatures. A treecreeper was seen several times foraging on the bark of our oldest apple tree which has deeply fissured bark covered with lichens, and several coal tits joined the other species at the bird feeders. The orchard, planted when we moved here twelve years ago, has matured quickly and many of the trees have a huge crop this year. Plenty are left for the birds especially the winter thrushes and blue tits were already feeding on the soft early varieties such as Discovery.
One new moth species was recorded for the garden in the moth trap this month – the stunning Merveille du Jour – one of my favourite species. Five individuals of this species were caught on the night of the 12th/ 13th. One was ‘rescued’ from a hungry wren!
Hurricane Ophelia hit us with a vengeance on the 16th but fortunately there was no damage to the garden or to local trees. Temperatures continued to be mild but variable through the third week and there was a little rain at times. The local willow tit returned to the feeders this week after a two week absence and was seen daily. With so much bird activity in the garden it was inevitable that a sparrowhawk would become a regular visitor. This large female began to make frequent visits, often perching on the bird feeders outside my office. Towards the end of the month small flocks of redwings and fieldfares began to visit the garden, firstly to feast on the holly berries in the hedge which quickly disappeared, and then for the large quantities of apples in the orchard, both in the trees and on the ground. The mature hawthorn trees on our garden boundary also provided these birds with food and as usual they were noisy and quarrelsome. Frosty nights at the end of the month brought even more of these thrushes, plus one mistle thrush – not seen here since the spring.
Signs of mammals in the garden this month included hedgehog droppings in the cut meadow and fox tracks through the long grass in the orchard. A weasel was seen briefly running past the French doors of my office and towards the end of the month a wood mouse was watched every evening, feeding on a small bird feeding tray outside the kitchen door which is on the second floor. This means that to reach the food on the tray the wood mouse has to climb up wooden cladding and then the stems of a Clematis in order to reach the food! Once there it was oblivious of the outside light and us watching!
The month ended with a very heavy frost overnight on the 29th/30th but daytime temperatures were still high enough to tempt a red admiral to sunbathe on the house wall.