Autumn is in full swing in the Northern hemisphere, the nights are getting longer and the days shorter. It is still dark when we arrive for our morning ramble through Credenhill Park Wood. However, when the sun does rise, we are treated to a beautiful fiery awakening.
Autumn and winter are often the best times of the year to see great sunrises and sunsets. The sun is at a lower angle and its rays take longer to pass through the atmosphere, so more of the blue/violet light is scattered allowing us to view more of the reds and pinks. Clouds will help to reflect this red light causing the environment to glow. I’m sure that you have all heard the saying; “Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight. Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning.” In the UK our weather systems generally come from the west, a red sunrise suggests that particles have been trapped in the atmosphere by high pressure which is moving east, this will invariably be followed by a low pressure system bringing wind and rain.
As the sun rises further and the light softens we can see a bank of fog wafting over the lower lying fields, below the distant hills. Fog is common during the autumn months. There are several different types of fog, but generally it is formed when warm moist air suddenly cools during the night. The moisture condenses creating a cloud full of tiny water droplets, but at ground level. Fog usually gets “burned off” by the rising sun. However, if it is too thick and there is no wind it can linger all day, causing dangerous driving conditions and disruption to air transport.As daylight forms so the sight hunters awake; a buzzard swoops silently overhead, following the paths through the trees, seeking out any unsuspecting voles yet to return to their slumbers. It is the most common bird of prey in the UK, it flies so confidently and so low that we can feel the whoosh of air as it glides on its way. The gangs of bluetits chatter anxiously.
We continue our gentle stroll, stopping often to look upwards at the myriad colours of the leaves. During Autumn, the daylight lessens and the temperatures drop, so the leaves of deciduous trees cease producing food. The chlorophyll which performs this function and gives leaves their green colouration breaks down. This reveals the yellow/orange colours of the carotene and xanthophyll pigments. Other chemical reactions produce anthocyanin which gives a red/purple colour. All of this chemistry gives us the stunning Fall pallette.
These leaves will eventually drop off to the ground, creating a wonderful chequered carpet. Incidentally, fallen leaves create a wonderful mulch or compost for your garden. Or you could leave them where they fall and allow nature to make the fullest use of them as it sees fit.
Whilst we are now looking downwards and kicking through the leaves, we can find some more of nature’s fruitfulness. Windfall apples and chestnuts lie about, waiting to be gnawed and nibbled by the woodland inhabitants. The chestnuts ripen inside a spiky bur, which opens fully when it falls to the ground. These nuts are mostly carbohydrate, with little fat or protein and were often used in place of cereals. For a whole host of recipes for a several course meal involving chestnuts, take a look at this site here.
Of course no autumn walk through British woodland would be complete without some lovely fungi to admire.