Autumnwatch: Your questions answered
Martin asked for your questions and we've had a fantastic response. Unfortunately it isn't possible for us to answer all of them on the show but we hope to answer a few here and point you in the right direction if we can't.
There's also a wealth of natural knowledge at your fingertips, across the web and more importantly on our messageboard. We're proud to be able to say that our Autumnwatchers are largely incredibly knowledgeable naturalists. Try asking your question in the wildlife forum but first have a look that it hasn't already been answered in another thread.
We have a bird identification thread on the Autumnwatch Flickr group discussion board. If you're a member, post your pictures there to get help from our brilliant Autumnwatchers. There's a few bug experts in our Bug identification thread too.
Achy Knee posted this snap of unidentified droppings on the discussion board and we asked Chris what he thought. He said the faeces are too small for a badger but too big for a hedgehog, and noted that the different flecks mean that this animal has a varied diet. Given the location in the Scottish Highlands he's pretty sure this is from a pine marten.
Willow4sam, Mikki Reilly, Victoria Howells, JPRW100 and many others have had uninvited visitors turning up along windowsills or in the corners of your room indoors and have been wondering why. Ladybirds hibernate through the winter, tucking themselves away into hollow stems or in leaf litter.
Ladybirds will overwinter in hollow stems. Image © Mark Johnson
Those coming into your houses will be looking to do the same. If you're getting lots and in many different colours then you're probably experiencing your own mini harlequin invasion. Many of our 46 native ladybirds also hibernate. For their own good, it's best that you encourage them to hibernate outdoors otherwise the heat in your home will wake them up early in the winter before the aphids are out and they will starve.
To find out more about ladybirds in the UK and to get involved in monitoring them check out the UK Ladybird survey.
Tadpoles in autumn
JR and Anne Rodger have wondered what will happen to tadpoles in their ponds that still haven't developed. Sometimes tadpole development is interrupted when the pond is overcrowded or temperatures don't get warm enough for their growth. Seeing immature tadpoles in autumn is not as uncommon as you'd think. It's likely that they'll survive the winter in the bottom of the pond and develop in the spring when the weather warms up.
If you're really worried about the amphibians in your pond, get in touch with Froglife.
Shriveled horse chestnuts
Skylarksue, Gill and many others have been concerned over horse chestnut leaves turning brown and shrivelled in the late summer or very early on in autumn. As Chris said on last week's Unsprung, it's not the natural browning and leaf fall that deciduous trees go through in autumn, but in fact the action of the leaf miner.
Leaf miners are actually the caterpillars of the leaf miner moth which is an invasive species. The moths are doing really well in this country where their naturally controlling parasitoids are out of sync with their life cycles.
Shrivelled brown horse chestnut leaves are the result of the work of leaf miner caterpillars
The leaf miners themselves don't actually significantly reduce the health of the tree and most trees will survive the infestations to return year after year but the miners severely damage the leaves meaning that the tree can’t photosynthesise very well and is weakened. It's then susceptible to more serious diseases such as bleeding canker, severe cases of which will result in the death of the tree.
You can help out by assisting scientists who are trying to track the spread of the leaf miner moths across the UK. Visit their Conker Tree Science pages for more information.
Midnight_star, Craftytray and Junelinda have found pigeons, magpies and even blue tits nesting at this time of year. Most birds finish nesting and raising their broods by early September but pigeons are able to breed all year so might be seen nesting even now. Seeing other birds with chicks at this time of year is not a good sign. By nesting late they'll be feeding their young in colder weather when less insects are around which will drastically reduce their late broods' chances of survival.
Believe it or not, hedgehogs are actually good swimmers, but problems arise when they can't get out of the water and so become exhausted and drown. You can prevent this by putting a ramp in your pond - for example a plank of untreated wood, or half submerging bricks or rocks near the edge, or even better, creating a natural gradual slope in the edge of your pond.
You could also hang a piece of chicken wire over the edge of the pond for them to scramble up but be sure to smooth down or snip off any sharp wires sticking out.
For a comprehensive guide to handling hedgehog hazards St Tiggywinkles have a great download.