Blackwater Valley Countryside

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October in the Valley

Now that Octoberís arrived we can expect rain and wind with every possibility that the temperature will plummet and we may even have frost.

One heavy frost is all that it takes to bring the Ash leaves fluttering to the ground. Ash is the only native forest tree with a two-stage leaf-shedding process. The leaflets fall first, although the actual leaf stalks remain on the twigs for a day or two longer. The Ash seeds - the familiar keys - remain on the tree until spring. Some Ash trees are all-male, producing pollen only, and at this time of year it is easy to spot them as they are the ones with no keys.

Common DarterAn early frost usually means the end for many adult insects. Dragonfliy species such as the Common Darter and Common Hawker are end-of-year specialists outlasting many more cold-sensitive species. They will be spending the last days before the first frosts laying eggs in mud and vegetation at the waterís edge that will carry the species through to next year. See if yoy can spot them.

Flocks of migrants arrive from Scandinavia this month including Starlings, Redwings, Fieldfares and Blackbirds feasting on the many hedgerow berries, so get out your binoculars and send us details of any of your sightings.

Ivy flowers with wasp nectaringIvy is one plant that is completely out of step with our seasons as it is in flower now and fruits in spring. When you pass by Ivy you may notice the musty-scent of its flowers which are now at their best, secreting drops of nectar at dawn that attracts swarms of insects, including late season bees, wasps and butterflies.

Continue watching for bats feeding this month, they are still very active. You tend not to see them so much as the nights draw as they can afford to emerge after dark and still have plenty of time to feed. In fact with young bats now flying there are more to be seen and they are busy eating as much as they can to give themselves the greatest chance of surviving hibernation. A moonlit night and a strong torch will greatly help a search of ponds and lake edges looking for bats.

Red Admiral Blackberries may now be well past their best, but there still will be some around and those that do remain will be leaking their purple juice attracting the late-flying butterflies such as Red Admirals (pictured), Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells. So do look out for them, especially on any warm, sunny days.

Did you know?

Apart from using the fruits to make Sloe Gin (see column on the right), the wood of the Blackthorn was often used in marquetry. Being both tough and hard and never usually available in large pieces it was mainly used to make the teeth of hay-rakes and for walking sticks. It is also the traditional wood for making the Irish shillelagh or cudgel.


The Hedgerow Harvest

As you go out and about
this month youíll see
the fruits and seeds of
trees, shrubs and plants everywhere you go.
The main purpose of these seeds is to get transported away from the parent plant to start a life of their own.

 The seeds come in all
shapes and forms, from the shiny conkers of the Horse Chestnuts and familar
acorns of the Oak, through to the berries of Hawthorn and Dog Rose, Dogwood and Blackthorn, to the delicate wind-dispersed seeds of
Wild Clematis and Creeping Thistle.

Blackthorn berries, known as Sloes, have got to be one
of the most deceptive hedgerow fruits around.
Their deep dark purple colour with a bluish surface bloom suggests they should be as tasty as plums, but their bitter taste make them virtually inedible. Itís only after a hard frost that they become edible, although
even then birds tend to ignore them.

Itís said that roasting sloes makes them more palatable, but probably their main virtue is for making sloe gin.

Sloe berries
Sloe Gin

Gather ripe sloes and prick or crush the berries and use to half fill a bottle. Add sugar, cover with gin and seal. Gently turn the bottle
once a week and you can enjoy the fruits of your labour at Christmas