October is a month of glorious colour at Paxton Pits. Look for the red berries of hawthorn and dogrose, food for many birds and mammals. The seedheads of teasel, willowherb and thistle are also a good source of winter food.
October is also the month for fungi. Paxton has over 100 different species, many of which are associated with bare gravel. But don’t pick any of them unless you’re certain you know your mushrooms from your toadstools.
On oak trees are Marble galls and Knopper Galls, the latter a quite recent parasitic insect arrival at Paxton. On the tips of White Willow twigs are the attractive Rosette galls, and you might spot ‘Robin’s pin-cushions’ on the wild roses.
Black bryony is trailing down from the willows at this time of year. The willows are also host to several species of lichen. Look on bare gravel for the Cup Lichen and a species similar to Dog Lichen.
Look out for signs and tracks of muntjac deer and badgers, which use the reserve for foraging.
The last of summer’s birds continue to feature around the Pits, with the last swallows and house martins heading south until mid month. You may also spot a late hobby in the first week, feeding on the last flying insects before it leaves for Africa.
Waders remain well into the month with single dunlins, greenshanks, common sandpipers and 2-3 green sandpipers, the latter usually overwintering. Check out Washout or Sailing Lake.
The main arrival of wildfowl depends on the weather farther north. Several hundred gadwall, wigeon, tufted duck and pochard join teal and mallard on Heronry Lake. Most are back in resplendent plumage, following their late summer moult. Shoveler numbers can reach 80 birds on Heronry South, but goldeneyes are still in single figures.
The roost in Heronry South builds towards the end of the month, with up to 400 stock doves and up to 200 cormorants, which come from all over the UK and the near-continent. Jackdaw and rook numbers also build up, and up to 5000 starlings move east as dusk approaches. Watch it all from the Hayden Hide.
The first redwings and fieldfares arrive in October and start to gorge on the berries, while small groups of up to 20 siskins can be found by the riverbank and in the alders north of Sailing Lake.
Unusual October visitors have included merlin, little gull and yellow-browed warbler. Don’t just sit there, get to Paxton Pits and find some!