Earthstars are one of the most unusual fungi you will find at Paxton Pits. When the fruiting bodies first emerge from the ground, they are small and spherical and unlikely to attract your attention. Soon, however, the outer layer splits into five or more rays which spread out horizontally like a saucer, with the spore sac sitting on top. A hole then forms at the top of the sac, allowing the millions of spores inside to escape and disperse in the wind. Earthstars are found in woodland; Rory’s Wood is a good place to look on the reserve. As with any fungus, do not be tempted to pick or eat them: some species are poisonous.
As the days grow colder there are fewer insects around, but shieldbugs overwinter as adults and are still crawling around in hedgerows and gardens well into the autumn. They get their common name from their flat, shield-shaped bodies and, although they can look quite fierce, they are all harmless plant eaters. Several species are common at Paxton Pits: the one in the photo is the appropriately-named hairy shieldbug, though it is also known as the sloe shieldbug after one of its favourite fruits.
This is one to listen for, rather than look out for. Tawny owls are very much nocturnal hunters, so you are unlikely to see one, but you are probably very familiar with their calls. They are most commonly heard in the autumn when pair bonds are being formed and territories established. Every child knows that owls go “tu-whit tu-whoo” but many people don’t realise that only tawny owls make these calls. In fact, the male tawny does most of the “whoo”-ing and the female replies with the “tu-whit” or “kew-wick”. The best way to see a tawny owl is using a wildlife trail camera. The short video above was captured on the reserve.
Old man’s beard
The flowers of this wild species of clematis are easily overlooked in the summer, but you can’t miss the long silky fronds of the seed heads in autumn. The seeds are a valuable food source for finches and other seed-eating birds. Old man’s beard is a native of southern England and you can find it climbing on brambles and hedges at Paxton Pits.