Autumn already?

The uncertain weather of September continues with sunshine, cloud, wind and rain all gracing the reserve this past week. The mornings have a damp chill in the air and each passing breeze lifts a few more yellowed birch leaves spiraling into the air. The start of autumn has arrived at Muir of Dinnet.

Birch and rowan beginning to change

Birch and rowan beginning to change

Bracken turning yellow

Bracken turning yellow

Morning dew on pine needles

Morning dew on pine needles

Despite the cold, wet weather, the reserve remains covered in spider webs. Many spider species mate at this time of year, producing egg sacs that will survive the winter, ready to hatch in the spring.

Spider - one of many in the vegetation at the moment

Spider – one of many in the vegetation at the moment

Fallen birch leaf in a spider's web

Fallen birch leaf in a spider’s web

This is also the time of year that some spiders appear in large numbers in our homes. It is a common misconception that these spiders are seeking warmth and shelter as winter approaches. In fact, they are present in and around the house all year round and are more obvious in September and October as the males rush around looking for females.

Indoor spider

Indoor spider

Autumn is a wonderfully colourful time of year. Trees aren’t the only ones changing colour – some of our other plants are also turning bright colours as the days shorten.

Autumnal chickweed wintergreen

Autumnal chickweed wintergreen

Bog asphodel - this year and last

Bog asphodel – this year and last

Rowan leaves turning red

Rowan leaves turning red

red rosebay willowherb

red rosebay willowherb

But why do these colours only appear at this time of year? In the leaves, the yellow (carotinoid) and red (anthocyanin) pigments are masked all year by the more-abundant green (chlorophyll) pigments. As the leaves are dropped in the autumn, the chlorophyll is broken down first, revealing these other colours. Whilst chlorophyll’s purpose is to capture light energy for photosynthesis, the other two pigments absorb and deal with excess sunlight energy, preventing damage to the leaf – without these pigments, the plants would get a nasty case of sunburn!

Bird cherry leaves revealing yellow carotenoid pigments

Bird cherry leaves revealing yellow carotenoid pigments

Blaeberry revealing it's red anthocyanins which also colour the berry

Blaeberry revealing it’s red anthocyanins which also colour the berry

Some plants appear red throughout the year, having enough of these other pigments to outweigh the chlorophyll. Sundews living on dark-coloured peat have to deal with strong sunlight and high temperatures during the summer and need lots of protective red pigments to prevent damage.

Dark red sundew

Dark red sundew

Sundews are better known for their insectivorous nature – this one has captured 2 insects which will give it valuable nutrients to help it survive on Parkin’s Moss.

Sundew with captured insects

Sundew with captured insects

Over 80 graylag goslings were successfully reared on Lochs Kinord and Davan this year. They are all grown-up now and can be seen gathered in the fields just off of the reserve. They have been joined occasionally by a ruff, a bird that has been unusually common in the North East this September.

A ruff alongside feeding Kinord geese

A ruff alongside feeding Kinord geese

The reserve is still active with wildlife. The recent wet weather was favoured by the toads – this one had probably been hiding under some leaves:

Common toad

Common toad

Fluffy caterpillars like this fox moth caterpillar are still getting in a bit more feeding before hibernation:

Large fox moth caterpillar

Large fox moth caterpillar

The dragonflies of Parkin’s Moss are still flying, including an unusually-late gold ringed dragonfly:

Male black darter sunning on the boardwalk

Male black darter sunning on the boardwalk

Gold-ringed dragonfly

Gold-ringed dragonfly

These months are some of the best for looking at fungi. On Sunday the 27th, we will be having our Fungi Foray with local expert Liz Holden; there are still places left if you would like to explore some fabulous fungi and their magnificent mushrooms on the reserve. This week’s blog will finish off with a few fungi photos:

Puffball

Puffball

Yellow stagshorn

Yellow stagshorn

Scaly tooth (Sarcodon squamosus)

Scaly tooth (Sarcodon squamosus)

The spore-bearing 'teeth' of the scaly tooth

The spore-bearing ‘teeth’ of the scaly tooth

Fly agaric

Fly agaric

I'm not sure what this is, but we can find out on Sunday!

I’m not sure what this is, but we can find out on Sunday!

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