What to Look for in Autumn


During September, an abundance of autumn colour will be forming along the hedgerows of Ayrshire. In lanes and towns,
rich purple elderberries provide our winter birds, particularly blackbirds and thrushes with a vital food source to help
them cope with the rigours of the winte months ahead.

The Elder is a small tree, growing no higher than 10 metres. Small, but abundant in riches, its flowers and berries have
long been used in making summer drinks, jams and wine and are rich in vitamin C, with the berries also used to dye wool and cloth.


The wood of the tree has been used for many things, its hollow stems make excellent whistles, peashooters and bellows, while
its hard wood was used for spoons and children's toys. The latin name for elder is Sambucus, which comes from the greek word
sambuca meaning stringed instrument, traditionally made from elder wood. It is believed to be one of the best natural healing
plants we have, the leaves used in green elder ointment to relieve bruises and sprains. The elder was thought to have many
positive and protective qualities, just as long as the tree was shown respect and people asked the tree before using a part of
it! In Scotland, elder is also known as the bourtree, Bourtree Hill being a district of Irvine.

Our native trees have much folklore surrounding them and none more so than the elder. Held sacred throughout Europe since the
time of the Celts, Judas reputedly hung himself from an elder which gave the name to the brownish fungus named jew's ear,
commonly found growing on the branches of the tree.

Keep an eye out of along telegraph wires for noisy gatherings of swallows. They line up, ready to depart our shores and head
for the warmer climes of Africa. It has been known for several thousand swallows to gather before departure. It was once
thought that a swallows nest would protect a building from lightning strikes, though if the nest were disturbed it would
trigger a poor harvest.



Look out for the first signs of Autumn this month as the leaves start to turn from green to the beautiful patchwork of reds, browns,
oranges and yellows.

The Autumn equinox falls around September 23rd. This is when both day and night are of equal length. The full moon closest to the
Autumn Equinox is known as the harvest moon. Clear skies would provide almost continual moonlight throughout the night as there would
be little time between the setting of the sun and the rise of the moon. This was a godsend for farmers as they harvested their crops in
preparation for winter.


As the seasonal changes gather momentum, so does the influx of winter visiting birds. Members of the thrush family have been arriving in
abundance. Blackbirds, often seen around our parks and gardens have been arriving in the area. These birds are winter migrants that arrive
here from Northern Europe in search of milder wintering grounds, swelling the numbers of our resident breeding blackbirds.

Fieldfares, with their grey head and red brown back usually reach peak numbers of arrival this month, with flocks of several hundred birds,
often in mixed thrush flocks. Their harsh "chack chack" call is often the first sign of theis beautifully marked thrush.

Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris)

The redwing is another thrush that migrates to Britain from Scandinavia and Iceland. The browny red underwing is a striking feature in
identification, as is the pale eye stripe, together with its smaller size and darker appearance than the song thrush. Listen out for the thin
"seeep" calls, particularly at night, as flocks pass overhead.

Redwings have been called wind thrush or whin thrush as their high pitched call was considered similar to the sound of wind rushing through
the trees. In especially cold weather, both species will readily visit gardens and are extremely partial to fruit. This extra food source can
be invaluable as redwings are particularly at risk during cold weather.

Redwing (Turdus iliacus)