More than ‘mists and mellow fruitfulness’: Durham’s autumnal wildlife

Images of Durham in autumn

Autumn is a vibrant time of year everywhere, but in Durham especially the colourful changing leaves are showcased.

With term steadily commencing, many students are probably sensing why Durham is nicknamed the ‘Bubble’. But within walking distance of the centre autumn wonderlands await, brimming with the sights of the season. So why not take a break from inevitably huge workloads, and explore some of the nature reserves and walks in the Durham area?

Here are just some of the natural phenomena you can expect around Durham.


Mysterious meteorology

With Halloween closing in, Nature is doing its best to compound the eeriness of the season – early mists can often be seen hovering about the river as rowers glide along through them.

Autumn is famed for its mists, and they become more commonplace as the colder months progress. Clear skies and low wind speeds are prerequisites for this phenomenon, and when coupled with autumn’s damper air after precipitation the creation of ‘radiation fog’ is promoted. The mists are seen over the river as they most frequently form in depressions where there is a water source.

There seem to be so many more spiders in this season, but in fact it may be that they are just being seen so much more. The mists and damper air contrive to pick out the spiderwebs in the grass and hedgerows, and house spiders move indoors to escape the cold. There can be no more autumnal sight than that of a spiderweb glittering with dew as the sun rises.


Mystical trees

Not only does autumn bring the dramatic spectacle of changing leaves, but also an abundance of colourful fruits and berries that provide a brilliant feast for the birdlife of the season.

Oak trees undergo their leafy metamorphosis, and trees such as the rowan display bright red berries. The latter is also called ‘Mountain ash’, the name denoting the trees ability to thrive at higher altitudes, hence why it is typically found in the more northerly latitudes of the UK. The Woodland Trust provides information on the rowan tree’s mythological background, stating: ‘the rowan … has long been associated with magic and witches. Its old Celtic name … means wizards’ tree. In Ireland it was planted near houses to protect them against spirits … Cutting down a rowan was considered taboo in Scotland.’ These brilliant autumn trees can be spotted all around Durham.


Hibernations and migrations

Whilst autumn is undoubtedly a busy time for students, it is equally and vitally busy for small mammals and other animals.

Hedgehogs prepare for hibernation around this time, and in mild winters have been known to delay this until November and December. Before hibernation can take place they need to build up their fat reserves in order to withstand their overwintering. Hedgehogs are particularly vulnerable when people disturb piles of leaves they are nesting in as Bonfire night approaches. Take a look at the ‘Hedgehog Street’ campaign to find out what you can do for hedgehogs.

Deer are involved in the rut in the autumn, especially around October, and can often be spotted in the early morning.

Whilst some animals are settling down for the long winter, much birdlife is preparing to set off. Watch out for flocks of migrating birds in the autumn as visiting species head off to their sunny winter retreats.

There are many woods and nature reserves around Durham, so why not visit the Durham Wildlife Trust or the Woodland Trust websites to learn more about nature in the local area.

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