The subtle side of Autumn

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Autumn provides such a rich palette of colours all bound together in the most glorious combinations. Of course, mention autumn and most of us tend to think immediately of the rich and vivid ‘traditional’ autumn colours the fiery golds, wine reds, sunset oranges and acid yellows. However, autumn has a far more subtle side, particularly if you move onto looking at the moorlands.

I recently had a trip to Braemar via Tarland. As usual, the outlook from the Queen’s View was worthy of a stop to admire in awe and soak in the wonderful landscape spread out below. I have never passed this spot without it looking either stunning, interesting, subtle or imposing. No matter what the weather, foggy or misty, brilliant sunshine, snow-covered, it always gladdens my country heart. On this day, the sun was weak, but the colours were restful to the eye, peaceful somehow, nothing jarred, and the still air lent the whole experience an air of tranquillity.

Nearer Braemar, the hills and moorlands were gorgeous. High on the hills tiny seed pearls of sheep were dotted, sewn on the ancient tapestry of heather. A splash of clear blue sky allowed the sun to break through the clouds in places so that the hills became a patchwork of sunny spots and the shadows of passing clouds. The colours were as rich as those of the hot autumn leaves, but of a far more subtle palette; purples the colour of a ripe plum in the heather; russet browns in the bracken; the grey lilac of the areas of Muirburn, the malt whisky of the dead grasses and the deep depths of a glass of Guinness in the peaty bogs and ditches. The moving cloud shadows brought the whole landscape alive as though autumn itself was rushing through the valleys.

Once again the flocks of geese are flying over my house and I often hear them when I am out in the garden at dusk, trying to coax my cat to come in from whatever great adventure she is up to as the darkness falls. It is a good time of the day to be out, just as the light is going. Many birds are settling to roost or grabbing a last quick meal. In the case of our sparrowhawk, I mean literally grabbing a meal. He has been frequenting the garden a lot more over the last few weeks and as I crossed the garden one evening he flashed past me in pursuit of a blackbird, the blackbird just ahead of the bird of prey. What a panic it must have been in. I suspect that it had been feeding itself when the sparrowhawk swooped in, as they appeared from that area of the garden. Unfortunately, it was a brief sighting as, within seconds, they had swept up over the wall and vanished into the gloom of the wood. Afterwards there was a lot of loud alarm calling from the other birds that were settling to roost in the trees. Either the blackbird had been caught or the sparrowhawk had missed but was still perched somewhere in the wood. I have been finding a lot of plucking posts in the wood strewn with feathers and a few times there has been a mass of feathers scattered over a patch of the lawn.

Being out at this time too, I often hear the tawnies starting to call. The last week or so they seem to have been starting their calling much earlier in the evening. Right now it is mostly hooting that is going on, males asserting themselves, establishing territories and generally making their presence known. Usually, as it gets nearer to Christmas, I start to hear a lot more communication between males and females.

One evening, as I walked around to the front of the house the cat was being particularly uncooperative I heard a faint, drawn out series of ‘Pheep’ calls and about twenty feet above the ground, flying just above the band of mist that was forming in the dip in the field, was the source of the sound, a flock of redwings a truly autumnal sight and sound if ever there was one. They were streaming along at quite a pace, newly arrived and no doubt desperate to arrive safely - tomorrow they may be tucking into the berries and no doubt the remaining apples on my trees (I always leave some and also the windfalls for the birds).

Talking of berries, I have earmarked a couple of elderberry trees that still have a lot of berries on them, as I want to make some elderberry cordial for winter. It is full of lots of vitamin goodies and with a little hot water makes a drink to knock the spots off some of the more popular cordials. My father used to say that the addition of a little rum just made it perfect and was great winter toddy. I must get out and get them picked before the incoming thrushes find them and beat me to it. Any kind of wild fruit picking is always a race against wildlife whether it be bird, mammal or even insect.

In my garden, the male woodpecker seems to have ousted his youngsters and has once again taken control of the hanging feeders full of nuts. For a while I was getting the two youngsters coming, but since he has suddenly appeared again, I have not seen them. He often perches on the side of my large stone birdbath for a drink, dipping his head in and out again quickly as he warily looks around for danger. One morning he was on the far edge of the bath and as he dipped his head in, the sun caught the brilliant vermilion red patch on the back of his neck. It was like a flashing light - now you see it, now you don’t. He is a very handsome bird. I wonder where the youngsters are?

Enjoy the season nothing like a bright and blustery autumn walk!