Britain’s best autumn wildlife spectacles

Which of nature's most magnificent spectacles will you see in the British countryside this autumn? Our guide to Britain's best autumn wildlife spectacles 

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September is the month when autumn really takes hold, as hedgerows bustle with activity and the landscape starts changing. Here’s our guide to the UK’s best wildlife spectacles to spot this to spot in autumn, including places to see and wildlife facts.

Starling murmurations

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starling murmurations

Some of the most magnificent spectacles in nature’s calendar are the starling murmurations that grace our skies from autumn, peaking in late November and early December. Thousands of starlings can be seen taking flight and forming dark shapes, which rise, dip and turn in perfect unison. Sometimes these hypnotic clouds can be made up of over 100,000 starlings as hordes of new migrant birds continue to arrive in Britain each week. Early evening is the best time to view this soiree as starlings take flight to choose their night-time shelters. Malltraeth Marsh in Anglesey, RSPB Leighton Moss in Lancashire and Ham Wall in Somerset have put on some of the best shoes in the past.

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autumn leaves

Migrant birds departing 

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Birds in the sky at sunset, Brighton, UK. Credit: Getty Images.

September is the perfect time to watch migrant birds depart. Popular species such as swallows and house martins begin their journey south, seeking the warmer weather in Africa. Other birds, like puffins and gannets, leave our shores to spend the winter in the sea.

Islands and coastal areas are the best places to watch migratory birds, with the Isles of Scilly famous for their brilliant vantage points for spotting rare birds from North America, Europe or Asia that have been blown off-course by bad weather. It is particularly important to choose the right time of day – early morning and dusk often guarantee the best chance of spotting the birds.

This month the UK also welcomes species that spend the winter in the UK, enjoying the milder weather. Fieldfares, redwings and many kinds of ducks and geese will arrive on our shores. Wetlands are excellent spots to witness the return of thousands of geese and wading birds.

Migrating geese

geese migrating to south in autumn from wildlife preserve named Matsalu, Estonia
Barnacle geese ©Getty

Although they began arriving in September, the size of wintering geese flocks will peak this month. Geese including Canada, Barnacle and Greylag will continue to arrive in vast numbers as they stop off in Britain to feed on their journey from the Arctic Circle. Expect to see impeccable V-shaped formations flapping across the skyline in one of nature’s most intriguing displays. Areas on the west coast are most likely to see the greatest numbers of arrivals, but there are a huge number of potential roosting spots dotted around the UK, including wetlands and nature reserves.


Deer rutting

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From England’s far south to the Scottish Highlands, the red deer rut is an autumn highlight ©Getty

The annual deer rut is iconic of autumn. A steely sky provides the backdrop for an awe inspiring and violent contest that sees stags lock antlers in battle. Because does are only in their fertile stage for about a day each year competition is ferocious. The rut is a truly tremendous display of power from Britain’s most majestic creature and is certainly one of the highlights on nature’s calendar. Some of the best places to view such a spectacle are the Inner Hebrides, the Isle of Arran, Exmoor, Dartmoor and the New Forest. Watch from a safe distance and be careful not to disturb deer during the rutting season.


Turning leaves

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By late summer, leaves are already beginning to change colour, reaching their most spectacular hues in October ©Getty

The changing colours of autumn are the most visible and obvious of all the spectacles. Trees are beginning to blaze with intense yellows, reds and copper and will continue to do so in the coming weeks. Combined with the golden veil of low autumn sun, treelines will soon become nature’s own enchanting canvas. These magnificent sights will adorn the whole of Britain, but Stourhead Gardens in Wiltshire usually boasts one of the best autumn pallets. Other places include Carbisdale Castle in the Highlands, Elan Valley in Powys, Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire and Grizedale Park in Cumbria.


Mushroom explosion

Colorful mushrooms growing naturally on fallen trees in the forest.
Search for fungi in forests and meadows ©Getty

An unassuming but charming spectacle is to be found under your feet this autumn. From September a glut of fungi began to populate forest floors, trees, meadows and fields. This makes for a forager’s wonderland but also presents a brilliant sight to simply observe. A great variety of species have already sprung up so draw your eyes away from the transfixing autumnal trees and onto the ground. The iconic fly agaric is certainly one to look out for.

Giant puffballs

Giant Puffball (Calvatia gigantea)
Giant puffballs are commonly found in pasture but also on the edge of woodlands. Credit: Getty Images.

The giant puffball is the largest fruitbody of any fungus and appears around this time of year, often the size of a large football or bigger. It is found in nutrient-rich grassy places such as parks, fields, roadside verges, scrub and woodland. This mushroom is edible when young and still white inside but should not be eaten after it has begun to decompose. The mushroom has also been used in bee keeping. Fumes from smoldering fruitbodies calm bees when placed beneath a hive.

Purple loosestrife/purple lythrum flowers

Purple loosestrife
Purple loosestrife flowers from seaside of village Skipnee of South Ayrshire in Scotland. Credit: Getty Images.

This popular magenta wildflower should have fully flowered by September, creating a beautiful plant found most often in wet habitats such as reed beds, fens, marshes and riverbanks. Many tall stems grow from one root and the nectar is a valuable food source for bees, moths and butterflies. This flower is widespread across England, but less common in Scotland.

Conkers

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Conkers on the ground. Credit: Getty Images.

September marks the start of conkers season and a flurry of activity on school playgrounds across the UK. The conker is the seed of the horse chestnut tree and is found in a green, hard, spiky casing. As the casing turns brown, it cracks and the conker falls out. An age-old favourite, the game of conkers involves attaching a piece of string through a hole in the conker and then swinging your conker with the aim of hitting, and eventually destroying your opponent’s conker.

Rosehips

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Rosehips leaning invitingly from a hedgerow at the edge of an autumn plough field. Credit: Getty Images.

After the successful pollination of rose plants in spring and early summer, the fruit of the rose, the rosehip, starts to ripen in autumn. Rosehips can be eaten and are widely used to make jam and herbal teas. They are also used frequently to make rosehip oil and are particularly high in vitamin C. Rosehips can be eaten raw but care should be taken to avoid the hairs inside the fruit. It has been claimed by some scientists and well-known actor Larry Lamb that rosehip is a brilliant pain relief for those suffering from arthritis or joint pain.

Goldfinches feeding on seed heads

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Goldfinches feeding on teasels. Credit: Getty Images.

Keen gardeners should avoid cutting off the seed heads of plants in the autumn, as some species, including goldfinches, love to feed on them. September provides lots of seed heads for goldfinches, allowing them a broad diet of groundsels, ragworts, dandelions and more. Male goldfinches are the only birds that are able to extract seeds from teasel heads, clinging to the stem and tearing into the seed head with their long, pointed beaks. Female goldfinches have shorter beaks and so are unable, like their male counterparts, to exploit the teasel heads.

Love goldfinches? Why not prepare you garden for autumn and winter birds.

Barking of muntjac deer

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Woof, woof! Listen out for Muntjac deer this autumn. Credit: Getty Images.

Also known as barking deer, September is the perfect time to listen out for muntjac deer and their loud, characteristic bark. With a large population reaching almost every English county, and even a few in Scotland and Ireland, most people could spot, or at least hear, a muntjac deer relatively easily. Numerous circumstances lead to the distinctive bark, and other sounds include screaming by alarmed deer and squeaking by maternal does and kids. Their preferred habitat is woodland, but muntjac deer have increasingly been spotted in urban areas.


Blackberries

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Still time to forage for blackberries. Pick your own and rustle up a tasty crumble/Credit: Getty

August and September are the best months to pick blackberries. Legend has it that after the end of September, the devil spoils the blackberries after a blackberry bush broke his fall from heaven. This may be a legend but it holds good advice – as the weather gets colder, the blackberries are not as good to eat. Remember to pick carefully, avoiding the lowest berries as foraging animals may have spoiled these. Jams and crumbles are the most popular uses for blackberries, but try making blackberry sorbet or blackberry wine this September. The berries can also be frozen for use at a later date.

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Find about more about this hardy berry with our blackberry guide.