November is a beautiful month. Leaves remaining on the trees glow incredible reds, oranges and yellows in the sun, while those falling carpet the ground to be swept around in the wind. A great time to get out and play in the woods.
Trees/shrubs… Broadleaf deciduous trees are preparing for winter’s onslaught. Their first job is to withdraw nitrogen and phosphorous from their leaves, to be stored in the roots until the following spring. This stops the production of chlorophyll that makes food for the tree from sunlight. In turn the green colouring fades and other pigments are revealed. Anthocyanins create the pinks, purples and reds of species such as dogwood, carotenoids the oranges and yellows of birch and ash, and tannins the browns and, when mixed with carotenoids, the golden yellows found in English oak and beech leaves. Other trees to look out for include field maple that becomes a buttery yellow, alders are also yellow and the last to lose their leaves, rowans are orange-red, and spindle turns bright red then purple, their amazing pink/orange fruit is also about this month. Also watch out for ripe red yew berries.
Plants… Ivy flowers may still be around in places. Look out for the fluffy seeds of the aptly named old man’s beard as it drapes over hedges. The poisonous berries of black bryony ripen to red and mistletoe berries from green through yellow to pearly white. Most sedges and rushes, and some grasses, keep their green during colder months. An easy way to tell them apart is by using the following mnemonic: Sedges have edges, rushes are round, and grasses are hollow right down to the ground.
Fungi/lichens… Beautiful, delicate and sometimes crazy mushroom forms festoon woods. This has been a great year for many species. The brain or cauliflower fungus is rather unique in its appearance in the UK. Sulphur tufts adorn deadwood with their vibrant yellow hues, the deep violet of amethyst deceivers and the vivid red of fly agarics are also not to be missed. Attractive plums and custard fungi can be found in coniferous woods, so called because the cap has plum-purple scales but the gills are custard yellow.
Birds… A murmuration is an incredible sight to behold. Thousands of starlings swooping and diving in the air in perfect harmony will take your breath away. It is also time to think about feeding birds in our gardens, unless you are already. Urban areas often have far less food resources for our feathery friends and their chances of survival are greatly increased by a regular supply of seeds, etc.
Mammals… Many bats will enter full hibernation this month as the temperatures drop and food becomes scarce.
Reptiles… In November reptiles will most certainly be entering brumation, their hibernative state, if they have not already. Common lizards often congregate in groups under fallen wood or in burrows to brumate protected from the cold and predators.
Insects… Several species of butterfly hibernate over winter in the UK, such as brimstone, comma, peacock, large and small tortoiseshells, and clouded yellow and red admirals in more recent years. While the adults of other butterfly species die out, their eggs, caterpillars or chrysalis survive the winter to transform and fly the following year.
Our VisitWoods website can help you locate many stunning woods in your area and across the UK. You can also record all your amazing finds on our Nature’s Calendar website and be part of a great citizen science movement.
Kay Haw, Assistant Conservation Adviser