Autumn is a great time of year to see some of the best UK wildlife events, with various migrants flocking to the UK as well as it being the time of year some species choose to give birth.
Red deer rut
Different species of deer perform ‘ruts’ but the red deer, being the largest UK species, are particularly impressive, with October being the peak time. The dominant stag will protect his harem of females from competitors and his deep bellowing will occur frequently. If two stags are similar in strength a possible conflict involving antler locking may happen. Physical conflicts however are avoided when possible as there is the chance of injury or death, meaning visual displays are important, such as parallel walking. Males from the age of five years upwards will be looking for a mate. When watching the rut it is important not to get to close to avoid disrupting their behaviour or putting yourself at risk.
Where to go: Westleton Heath, near RSPB Minsmere (Suffolk); Isle of Rum (Scotland); Isle of Mull (Scotland); Bradgate Park (Leicestershire); Richmond Park (Surrey); Bushy Park (London).
Grey seal pups
Grey seals give birth mainly in October to late November. The grey seal pups themselves are born with a white coat and weigh about 14 kg, but stay on land for around 3 weeks where they suckle a high fat milk (60% fat) from their mother allowing them to increase in weight by approximately 2 kg a day (MS, 2014). After they have moulted their soft white coat for a waterproof darker one and gained a sufficient layer of blubber, it is time for their mother to leave them so the pups can begin a life by themselves. It may seem harsh as they are theoretically ‘abandoned’ but the mothers, known as cows, have done all they can for their offspring and must now put on some much needed weight which they have lost while the pup has been suckling. As well as the joy of seeing pups, large male seals, known as bulls, come ashore in areas where females gather, so they can mate. They can weigh around 233 kg (MS, 2014), and may get into fights with other males.
Where to go: Grey seal pups can be seen across coastlines throughout the UK but hotspots include the Farne Islands (Northumberland); Donna Nook (Lincolnshire); Blakeney Point (Norfolk); Horsey (Norfolk) and parts of Scotland including the Moray Firth and Orkney.
The Atlantic salmon leap
October to November is the best time of year to witness the great journey that Atlantic salmon make back upriver to spawn. When they come across barriers such as waterfalls you can watch them spectacularly leap out of the water to make it over the obstacle to their spawning grounds. Despite a long time living at sea they still know their way back to the river from which they originated. This event is best watched after heavy rainfall.
Where to go: Cenarth Falls (Wales); Lydford Gorge (Devon); various places in and around Scotland, such as Philiphaugh Salmon Viewing Centre and Falls of Braan. The Atlantic Salmon Trust provides an area map of places to go in the UK. www.atlanticsalmontrust.org/where-to-see-salmon/index.html
Huge flocks of starlings gather together across the country, with November being a peak month as winter will see migrant birds arriving from across Europe. These flocks perform acrobatic displays in the sky in the evening, for safety from aerial predators and when settled in their roost the greater numbers help increase warmth. There is even suggestion that information about feeding opportunities could be exchanged during this time.
Where to go: Brighton Pier (Sussex); Aberystwyth Pier (Wales); Leighton Moss (Lancashire); Fen Drayton (Cambridgeshire); Gretna Green (Dumfries and Galloway); Salthome (Middlesbrough).
Autumn is a great time of year to see fungi, especially in woodlands. The parts of the fungi visible are fruiting bodies which will release spores. Fungi are very important for breaking down organic matter therefore contributing to vital nutrient cycles.
Where to go: Fungi can be seen across different woodlands throughout the UK but those with ancient trees and deadwood are especially good, such as Epping Forest (London) and the New Forest (Hampshire).
- (2014) Grey Seal – Halichoerus grypus [www document].www.mammal.org.uk/species-factsheets/Grey%20seal (Accesed 16/20/2015).