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Autumnwatch: Your questions answered

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Jeremy Torrance web producer Jeremy Torrance web producer | 13:26 UK time, Monday, 18 October 2010

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.

Identifying animals

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.

 Ladybird invasions

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 horse chestnut leaves

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.

Late nesters

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.

Hedgehog hazards

Claire has problems with hedgehogs getting into her garden pond and wanted to know the best way to deter them from taking a dip.

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.



  • Comment number 1.

    Well I've been out birdwatching all year and I haven't seen any Treecreepers , is it because of the harsh winter last year that they haven't been able to survive ? x

  • Comment number 2.

    I have a black and white Woodpecker making a hole and creating a nest in my Willow tree which is partly dead, about 1.5m from the ground.....I thought that Woodpeckers nested in April/May not in October in the South of England, any views or advice?

  • Comment number 3.

    Dear All at Autumn Watch and Unsprung,
    We don’t know how interesting this item will be to you, as we haven’t actually seen an item on lizards on your programme, save for a fleeting glance of one in your intro’s on the Thursday 14 Oct programme introducing your south coast feature- the glimpse of the lizard was 2 mins in from the start of the broadcast programme of Autumn Watch.
    This summer we have observed in our back garden what at first we thought was a newt, but soon realised that by the tail being as long as the body, and by cross-checking pictures in a couple of books that it was in fact a lizard.
    The first appearance was in about mid July on a rock, and also on our close-boarded fence, diving every now and again under the arris rail sometimes leaving its’ tail exposed. Temperature in July was in the high 20c – 28c range, and in Sep to Oct with a daytime high temp dropping to about 15c.
    What did surprise us even more is that in the last week in Sep and first week in Oct we observed the lizard hiding under the arris rail just exposing its’ tail at 8am in the morning in a temp range of 12-15c.
    Am emailing a picture of the lizard, and we do have a moving segment (not inc) where the creature is attempting to eat a moth- quite funny to look at.
    The lizard did not run away when we approached it, but must have been aware of our presence.
    We presume that this is the common lizard but what food do lizards eat and where would it hibernate over winter? We are hoping it will come back into our garden again next year.
    For your information our house is on the old Hornchurch Airfield in Essex, taken with, both a compact sony camera and iphone 4, therefore run of the mill pics.
    Good luck with the programme.
    and which link is best to post the pics mentioned above?

  • Comment number 4.

    Went to Kedleston Hall recently with my young daughter. It was a pleasant day and there were loads of bees buzzing around the sedum in the main border there.

    We saw the tiniest bee either of us have ever seen - it was about the size of my daughters little fingernail - and we were fascinated by it.

    What we wanted to know was is this a different species of bee from the usual ones you see around? Or is the miniature bee a separate species?

    Hope someone has the answer!

  • Comment number 5.

    Hi all,I recently within the last few days went to my local RSPB reserve in Suffolk,I love nearly all wildlife except I inherited a phobia for reptiles from my late mother.It was a really crisp cold day when I went birding and thought it should be reptile free now.But was stunned to see a Grass snake on the trackway.I wondererd whats the latest others have seen them about in Autumn and is this normal,also do they hibernate after Adders,thanks in anticipation.

  • Comment number 6.

    Please don't use chicken wire as a ramp for hedgehogs, It has too many sharp ends and sharp corners. Heavy duty plastic mesh would be much better. This is the sort you buy in rolls with one inch mesh to attach to walls for plants to climb up. You can weigh it down at the top with a rock or pegs, and drape it into the water.

  • Comment number 7.

    During the second week of August this year we visited Ulleswater in the lake District several times and saw around 100 Barnicle geese, can you tell us what they might have been doing here so early?

  • Comment number 8.

    I read the question asked by Patriciagoode about the bird she saw catching a pigeon, I looked in my bird book and I think it may have been a Goshawk, the eyebrows are quite distinctive. The other possibility is a sparrow hawk, they are a much warmer brown and the eyebrows are not so distinctive.
    Hope that helps

  • Comment number 9.

    Without being political for one moment, what are the presenters views on the Governments plans to sell off to commercial interests a large portion of publicly owned forests, as reported in the Telegraph on 20th October?

  • Comment number 10.

    For the last couple of weeks a young albino grey squirrel has been visiting our garden (I've posted some photographs on the site). I've read that "white" greys are very rare (about one in a million) but are much more common in Surrey, where I live. I wonder if this is true and, if so, if there are any theories on why this might be the case?

  • Comment number 11.

    Last week I visited my parents house. We were sitting in the lounge when suddenly, the sky was filled with starlings. They flew in that wonderful formation that we are all used to seeing, and then suddenly, they all descended onto my parents` lawn. There were hundreds! They were in the verges, on the grass, everywhere, but they didn`t go anywhere else in the avenue. Dad said he had cut the grass a few days ago, but we couldn`t think of another reason why they would do this. They all flew away, as one, then came back and did it again! Could anyone tell me why this happened?

  • Comment number 12.

    Have a quaestion for the unsprung team: Large holes are appearing in the garden, both in the lawn and in flower beds. They can be quite big being 30cm in width and 20cm in length with a depth ranging from 10cm to 30cm. We have found no food remains or droppings. There is also no smell. We have foung claw scrappings on a tree stump in the garden. The holes are only ever dug at night. Any idea on what it could be?

  • Comment number 13.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 14.

    I have a simple question: Having purchased a 'bug box' and read the instructions it is not clear at what height it should be fixed.

    I have fixed it to a pergola facing south at about six feet high and about six feet from the garden fence that is lined with trees.

    Is this OK?

    Regards Joe

  • Comment number 15.

    Hi to you all

    For the past few years we,ve had tawny owls nesting (in an owl box (rspb design)) in an oak tree at the bottom of our garden, the begining of this year I managed to see two fledlings, (past years i,ve only seen one), you can imagine the delight on my part, the owls seemed to be settled and put up with us pottering around down there when we need to.

    What I am wondering is, has any of the team ever filmed tawny owls nesting for spring watch?

    (if so, i may have missed it. you've had barn owls staring on the show. (Hannibal))


  • Comment number 16.


  • Comment number 17.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 18.

    today i saw a black squirrel, i mean jet black, being chased by a grey! squirrel in Letchworth Herts. [by the bowls club] not playing! The question is are they rare.

  • Comment number 19.

    Yesterday we had a newt on our doorstep, is it out late ie does it hybernate? Also we are in the middle of a housing estate although we do have a very small pond in the garden. Is this unusual in an urnan garden especially at this time of year. We have not seen any in the pond or the garden before.

  • Comment number 20.

    By all accounts I should be dead because as a child I ate lots of Yew Berries and crunched the nuts inside. I think it is a myth that Yew is deadly, perpetuated by the ancients to protect the tree from children and herdsmen.The wood from the tree was vital for the defense of the country and under Royal protection. Looking on the web I cannot find a single entry that has clinically tested Yew for toxicity.Of course it contains poisons but then so does potatoes its just a matter of how much you eat..Worthwhile read on the subject is Edward Step's Wayside and Woodland Trees

  • Comment number 21.

    I was absolutely amazed to see a badger walking along a hedgerow in broad daylight yesterday ( 11am). I have also seen a few hedgehogs out in the day time. Is this normal for autumn?


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