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Mild autumn, second spring?

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Jeremy Torrance web producer Jeremy Torrance web producer | 19:34 UK time, Friday, 18 November 2011

Guest post: Matthew Oates, the National Trust Naturalist-in-Residence, reports on the repercussions for our wildlife of November's record-breaking mild weather. Have a read then tell us what you've been seeing where you are. Even better, if you have a photo post it on our photo group.

Never has spring promised so much only for summer to produce so little! Trees and bushes rushed ahead of themselves in an ecstatic spring, then burnt out prematurely during a dire summer. So autumn came early, and as a welcome relief - but delivered big time. It's been an incredibly long and deeply interesting autumn.

The weather improved when the schools went back, giving a great start to September. A gale blew in from the west on the 6-7th. The month then oscillated a bit before ending on a real high: a heat-wave raged from 28th Sept to 3rd October, producing the warmest October day ever.

October went on to be one of the mildest ever (just two cold nights around the 20th), and was very dry away from the South West, Wales, Northern Ireland, northern England and Scotland - where it was persistently wet. A localised autumn drought developed.

We are now heading for a record-breaking mild November, which has been very dry in central and eastern England. But remember that November 2010 was mild until late on, when a severe winter suddenly enveloped us.

Currently, flowers are enjoying a second spring, with dandelions and white dead-nettle prominent along verges, and Aubretia, Kerria, Magnolias, Skimmias and Viburnums blossoming in gardens - plus springtime's Yellow Corydalis flowering profusely in walls. Brambles, hogweed and homeysuckle have re-flowered, and late summer plants like yarrow have carried on in the absence of frost, as have Nasturtiums and other garden annuals. It was too dry an autumn in many districts for fungi.

It's been a fascinating autumn for insects, with some crazy late sightings and rare moth immigrations on southerly winds. Butterflies, moths and dragonflies just wont stop. Some record late butterflies, notably Duke of Burgundy on Oct 2nd, a fresh ringlet on Oct 11th, green-veined white on Oct 22nd (all Hants), and meadow browns as late as Nov 13th (Wilts). Also some late and odd 'second brood' moths, common darter dragonflies numerous well into Nov, plus migrant and southern hawker dragonflies until mid moth. Bumblebees and wasps just kept going too, though the good weather came too late for most crickets and grasshoppers.

So good feeding conditions for autumn bats, prior to hibernation. And a great feeding up autumn for dormouse, voles and mice too, due to the abundance of autumn fruits and seeds - the produce of the fine spring.

An interesting autumn for birders, with Hurricane Katia bringing in rare vagrants from North America - notably buff-breasted and semipalmated sandpipers, northern water thrush and yellowlegs. Some great birds from Europe too, with Twitch of the Year surely being a Siberian rubythroat.

We get one or two mild autumns per decade, though usually after good summers - like 2003 and '06. This one was more like those of 1985 and '86, which came after poor or average summers. The best mild autumn in living memory, though, must be that of 1975 - which heralded in the Long Hot Summer of '76.

Our weather continues to amaze.


  • Comment number 1.

    I saw an apple tree with blossom on it and tufted vetch in flower in Tewkesbury this week.

  • Comment number 2.

    Hi,because my husband was so exicited i thought id let you know that whilst walking along the marshes at the bottom of the roman forte at Burgh Castle in Norfolk my 7 year old son,Daniel spotted a Bittern just 6 feet away from them on the edge of the marsh and the footpath,with the excitment of spotting this the Bittern jumped up and flew away,an amazing sight and something that my children and husband(who was told as a child in the YOC that he would be lucky if he ever saw one) will never forget!

  • Comment number 3.

    We have some wild alpine strawberries in our garden and they are in flower! Could we have strawberries for Christmas I wonder?!

  • Comment number 4.

    I've had bees in the garden today, on the flowers i still have growing.

    And I currently have 4 hedgehogs in the garden chomping on the food i'm still putting out for them.... its costing a packet.!!

  • Comment number 5.

    One of the pyracantha bushes in my garden is coming into flower again!!

  • Comment number 6.

    Whilst walking my dog the across our local playing fields the other evening, I was amazed to see several bats flying around. This has to be incredibly late in the year for them to be out and about surely?

  • Comment number 7.

    I have a Japanese quince in full blossom, not supposed to do that til early spring!

  • Comment number 8.

    frogs still active in my pond in south east scotland.

  • Comment number 9.

    today at the London Wetland Centre - a brood of 11 mallard ducklings! also Marsh Marigold flowering. there are still slow worms to be found as well as newts out and about.

  • Comment number 10.

    Down here in Cornwall it's been quite mild and some of my flowers are flowering again!! My Oriental poppy has flowered again, as well as a Lupin and even really early (or is that extremely late) some of my snowdrops are just about to flower!!

  • Comment number 11.

    My Wife said there are snow drops, blue bells and daff's are starting to come up in our garden in Suffolk.

  • Comment number 12.

    Up here in the Yorkshire Pennines it's not been that mild....or at least it doesn't feel like it!
    Plenty of fieldfares and redwings around at the moment.

  • Comment number 13.

    I would like to second Chris Packham's comment on Autumnwatch that the autumn has been extraoooooordinarily mild down here in Brighton.

  • Comment number 14.

    During a walk around a local lake last weekend we spotted five mallard ducklings that must have been less than a week old.

  • Comment number 15.

    Cold here in Bowland too!

  • Comment number 16.

    Our Derbyshire garden currently has flowering honeysuckle, roses and foxgloves. A neighbouring field has flowering dandelion.

  • Comment number 17.

    A red camellia is blooming in Peckham and I saw yellow wild broom bushes flowering in Acton near the Picadilly Line. There are a lot of roses- in the Greenwich Park Rose Garden a yellow scented rose had the most flowers.

  • Comment number 18.

    Not seeing anything coming back into flower here in Lockerbie, but lots of things are still flowering that you'd have expected to die off. Including borage. Saw some bumblebees the other day, but not sure what kind.

  • Comment number 19.

    not sure if you can help but during may of last year whilst walking near the esturay at east tilbury there was a bird of pray, simliar in shape and size to a sparrowhawk but it's call was not familiar to me, if i had to describe it i would have to say it was like the gurgle and quite similar to a turtle dove's call, i was wondering if this could be a migrant bird or something that i did consider the call of a juvenile cuckoo? I have no idea

  • Comment number 20.

    I live on the Norfolk Broads and this autumn has been so mild that my garden has a dwarf delphinium on its third flowering of the year , my aubrietia has just finished a second flowering Still plenty of bees around. Furthermore, a friend of mine saw a malard on the river Thurne with 12 ducklings 10 days ago. Are these likely to survive the winter?

  • Comment number 21.

    in our south devon garden/smallholding we have a primrose in flower and rose buds are still forming and opening. Today I found some small aquilegia plants so I hope that all next spring's seeds will not be germinating. Also spring flowers on the bank.

  • Comment number 22.

    Following on from Chris mentioning about a second spring. I have a query about something I noticed walking by a hedgerow in Rotherhithe, London today. I heard the chirping of chicks, exactly the same as I heard this spring. I wondered what was going on? Will this be some new chicks from birds confused by the weather? Will they be ok if the weather gets very cold soon? The hedge seems to be made of some type of red berries. We live near Lavender pond and Russia Dock Woodland where birds, ducks and swans congregate. Thank you for helping.

  • Comment number 23.

    16 degrees in London last Saturday - warm enough for my bees to fly out. Although not so good as they get confused into using up precious winter honey reserves to fly and there isn't much forage except from ivy or rape, which can cause starvation when over-wintering. I hope my ladies found everyone's lovely gardens blooming with daffodils, hyacinths and lavender instead!

  • Comment number 24.

    The honeysuckle in my garden is still in flower as too is the passion flower. I noticed that one of the tulips I planted last month shooting up already. I'm on the eastcoast in suffolk.

  • Comment number 25.

    We planted a dwarf stock apple tree in our allotment in March this year. Today 18th November we have apple blossom! How crazy is that?

  • Comment number 26.

    For the last two mornings, we have had a song thrush singing in the hedgerow. Another one who thinks it's Spring!

  • Comment number 27.

    Re 25 above, I should have added that we live in Bognor. What chance do we have that a bee will pollinate the apple tree and that we will have an apple in say February?!

  • Comment number 28.

    We Currently Have gladioli flowering in our front garden is this unesal

  • Comment number 29.

    anyway I think as pigeons form strong bonds. The recent photo of the peregrine being "challenged" by a rock dove may be an example of the strength of this bond as the dove I witnessed managed to chase of the much larger herring gull but stayed by its dead mate and continued to try to rouse it.

  • Comment number 30.

    My resident hedgehog is still foraging for slugs and other insects in my garden when I would have expected it to be hibernating by now. I am supplementing its diet with mealworms, raisins and fruity suet pellets and have covered the 'hogitat' with leaves and logs ready for when our winter does finally arrive! Strangely no blackbird in my garden for a number of months now although other birds are visiting.

  • Comment number 31.

    Just found a very young common lizard on back garden steps!

  • Comment number 32.

    Saw first cowslip in flower on 4th November and several more since, also red clover, buttercups, white dead-nettles and hard-heads all in flower, in Bedfordshire.

  • Comment number 33.

    I'm in Sheffield and things have started to change this week... I've had Scandinavian blackbirds, redwings and song thrushes in the garden. Pretty much all the leaves have now all fallen from the sycamore tree at the bottom of the garden. There are still a couple of butterflies feeding on the ivy and quite a lot of insects about. The wintering mixed flock of tits has arrived (long tailed, great, blue and coal) and is picking over the insects on the sycamore, some of these are resident all year round but the flock picks up in numbers around this time of year.

    I looked back in my note book and this is a stark contrast to this time last year, where there was an abundance of waxwing, redwing and fieldfares locally. The weather was much harsher, with lots of snow and freezing temperatures.

  • Comment number 34.

    Last week I was walking around the lake in St George Park, Bristol, when I heard cheeping. Looking across the lake there was a family of at least eight ducklings no older than a couple of weeks. I am really afraid that if we get a sudden cold snap popping across from Russia these poor little things will not survive. I have never seen ducklings of this age at this time of year before.

  • Comment number 35.

    It really is a strange mixture of seasons this year. After a couple of very mild days with butterflies and ladybirds flying about this morning was very foggy indeed and cool. But the sun is out and its warming up.
    I saw my first Woodcock this autumn this morning as it was flushed into flight by my dog and disappeared into the mist. Mushrooms and fungi are very plentiful and appear to be having a late bumper season. I've mentioned that the winter wheat is doing well and so are the regrassed fields. A couple of local farmers are going back to sheep next year because of the prices they are fetching,which will be good news for the ground nesting birds.Lots of Fieldfare and Redwings and a large flock of Canadian Geese flew over head as the sun burnt the fog away.
    However, I've seen no Bramblings so far. The large flocks of Redpolls that visit my feeders every year have not yet come, infact bird numbers to the garden are well down. The apples lie undisturbed benieth my trees,except by wasps, a few of which are buzzing slowly around. The small birds are still all out in the woods, I see them foraging in the leaf litter for there is still lots of insect life crawling here. The worms particularly are very active, moist ground and leaves means lots of worm casts and mole hills that had almost disappeared over the dry summer.
    Autumn is slowly getting here, but like the slugs and snails in my compost heap, its doing it at a very leisurely pace.


  • Comment number 36.

    We still have White tiled bumble bee queens in our Garden and Strawberry plants in flower on our allotment with some strawberries forming. Doug from East Kent

  • Comment number 37.

    I have a lovely hollyhock flowering in my garden.

  • Comment number 38.

    Today we picked outdoor tomatoes and our alpine strawberries still keep producing fruit. We live in Holmfirth on the top of the pennines.

  • Comment number 39.

    I live in Hythe, Hampshire seeing very little bird movement in the garden compared to last year, but one strange thing is that blackbirds and pigeons are feeding on the berries of my pyracanthia, (hope I've spelled that right!), which we don't normally see them doing until the hard winter has set in. There won't be any left by the time winter sets in! Also I have a flowering azalea in my front garden which shouldn't flower until spring. There are still quite a few bees and wasps around too. The escallonia is flowering too - very strange indeed. Hope this won't spoil the plants too much for next year.

  • Comment number 40.

    The Wasps are still in & out of their nest at the Bottom of the Garden; the bats are still feeding at dusk; and this morning I noticed my Crocus, and the Spring Bulbs I planted a few weeks ago are already coming through. Will this mean a barren Spring showing next year?

  • Comment number 41.

    Following weeks of very "Spring-like behaviour" by our resident ducks, our worst fears have now been confirmed by the appearance of a brood of fluffy ducklings! Ducklings here have a hard enough life in the Spring but I've no idea how they'll fare in Winter. I'm in Insch in Aberdeenshire and our lochs were frozen for the first time last Winter around the 24 November ...........any suggestions?

  • Comment number 42.

    Noting Matthew Oates' comment that to see a Green-veined White is unusual on 22nd October, I photographed one yesterday (19th November) just west of Heathrow. There were Red Admirals about too, but they are being seen all over the country, and not unusually in November. But a GVW...

  • Comment number 43.

    I found a cowslip in flower this week in Royal Portbury Dock, Bristol. I have sometimes seen them there in January after milder winters, but never this early.

  • Comment number 44.

    A song thrush has been singing in our garden both morning and evening. I can hear him now.

  • Comment number 45.

    I currently have Sweet Rocket, Geum and Geranium in flower in my garden, with Thrift just coming out of bud. The strawberries also have some flower and unripe fruit even though the lid has not been on the cold frame since May!

  • Comment number 46.

    Seen a black-headed gull with it's brown hood today (21 nov). Is this unusual? Could it be related to the mild weather confusing the bird into it's breeding plumage?

  • Comment number 47.

    In our Devon garden, we have had daffodils out in flower since mid october, they were bulbs we bought in the Scilly Isles last year and left in pots over the summer

  • Comment number 48.

    Moth trapping here in Weymouth on the south coast, I've seen 2 Vine's Rustics (should have stopped coming in Spetember) and a Shuttle-shaped Dart (should have stopped coming last month) this week, and on the 17th of this month I had a rather late Black Rustic

  • Comment number 49.

    This weekend I found a Robin's nest in my garden, I assumed it was empty, but then noticed a very attentive mother and cheeping and found it had chicks still in it. I guess I am right in sayin it is out of character for Robins to still have young this late in the year? i am slightly worried they will not survive the cold weather that's fast approaching, and would love to know what the best Robin feed is so i can at least give them a little help! Tessa

  • Comment number 50.

    Today I saw a wasp and a red admiral butterfly in my garden. Yesterday I saw mayweed, bindweed, knapweed and yellow poppies flowering, along the coast. I live on the outskirts of Dundee (coastal) and we commonly get milder weather than many places (even milder than some English regions) but this autumn is unusual in that we haven't had any frost yet. Somehow I wish I hadn't said that!

  • Comment number 51.

    Went fishing last Saturday and saw quiet a few dragonflies, never seen them before at this time of year, mosquitos too. Sunday I noticed the wallflowers in my garden were in flower!

  • Comment number 52.

    In Somerset there's a daff out in my garden! https://www.flickr.com/photos/jpc101/6357772399/

  • Comment number 53.

    Snowdrops in flower here near Selby, at the south end of North Yorkshire (SE589284). There are also crocuses and daffodils coming up. A hedgehog (or possibly more, I've only seen the droppings) is still eating the food that's put out for it. You're right, Seacarrot (@4), it's a bit pricey. Time the hedgehogs went to kip and saved me some money!

  • Comment number 54.

    @Tessa Holmes (@49) it's not unknown for robins to have broods around Christmas (see https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-429403/Spring-arrives-early-robins-nest-wreath.html from 2007, for instance). I reckon live mealworms would go down a treat with your robins. Live ones would be best, as that's where the chicks get their water.

  • Comment number 55.

    This mild weather is playing havoc, with our horticultural wisdom!!!, Taking hard wood cutting's proved difficult last week, as most vegitation is still semi-ripe.

  • Comment number 56.

    Still picking outdoor Tomatoes Yum in Telford,Shropshire.
    Desperately need some West Midlands heavy rain in next 3 months or water table disaster will occur!! In 5 decades we have never seen the streams so dry in November.......

  • Comment number 57.

    A song thrush has been singing in my garden in Cornwall since the beginning of this week (21st November). Is this unusually early?

  • Comment number 58.

    Last night i threw some used dishwater over my garden in the dark and brushed some leaves as i did so. When I brought the washing up tub back in, i found a 4-5cm long juicy green caterpillar in the bottom!

  • Comment number 59.

    We have just seen a mallard with 9 ducklings - looked about 1 day old. This is in Addingham, close to Ilkley Moor.

  • Comment number 60.

    I live in the north of Scotland near Inverness,on Sunday 20th of November I saw a Red Admiral Butterfly in my garden.

  • Comment number 61.

    Another very mild day yesterday, but a bit windy so the last leaves that were clinging to the trees have mostly gone. The rate of plant growth though is really unusual strong. Fields that were ploughed up around me about 8 weeks ago now have thick grass on them about six inches high and full of fresh "weeds". A couple of dandelions actually managed to flower. I watched the rooks and jackdaws feeding on plenty of earthworms that are around and a few performed the tumbling courtship flight more usually seen in the spring. There are still lots of small birds in the woodlands that are not coming to the bird tables whilst the going is good there.
    However, there are a lot more winter migrants around and in large flocks.

  • Comment number 62.

    Hi. I am still picking raspberries, two small pickings a week so far and more almost ready.
    They are an autumn brand, but should they still be producing in November?

  • Comment number 63.

    dragonflies this week in Somerset. Also Red Admiral yesterday and today I heard of cowslips blooming on Mendip. ! Spring lambs around too.

  • Comment number 64.

    Today I saw a Cock Pheasant in full colours for courting? Poor thing is so confused with the weather

  • Comment number 65.

    Late reporting this, but i saw a large adult Grass Snake on November 4th just outside my potting shed door which is unknown this late in the year. Often see many here in summer months of course.

  • Comment number 66.

    Sorry no pictures, but my Dad heard a frog croaking in his pond last week - something he usually only hears when they gather to mate, and I'm still seeing Leopard Slugs on the ash tree, and the brick wall, near my house when out in the evening with the dog. I live just north of Newcastle upon Tyne, so it's usually chillier here!

  • Comment number 67.

    I am still getting Hedgehogs in my garden which i am still feeding, will they survive the winter?

  • Comment number 68.

    There is a primrose in full flower in a field in Cheddleton, near Leek in Staffordshire.

  • Comment number 69.

    We finally had Bewick swans resting up on our loch in Argyll this week...... normally we'd see them in October.

  • Comment number 70.

    my lavender bush is reflowering this week!

  • Comment number 71.

    Foxes calling were mentioned tonight in AW, Martin said we should hear them calling about January,well,we have foxes living on our estate here in south wales & they woke me wednesday /thursday night with all thier calling!

  • Comment number 72.

    Our passion flower still sports about a dozen flowers - and many more to come judging by the number of buds. What looked like a small tortoiseshell butterfly fluttered by the window this morning. Could it have been?

  • Comment number 73.

    Saw a woodland ringlet sunning itself this morning in Sheffield. Never seen a butterfly so late before.

  • Comment number 74.

    I am in the Black Isle, in Ross-shire. Many of the daffodils in my orchard are up 2 - 3 inches, and I have several pulmonarias coming into bloom. Yesterday, on my street, I saw French lavender, berberis and several primulas coming out. At the same time there were still pot marigolds and nasturtiums from this summer.

  • Comment number 75.

    Out walking on Sunday near Bath and saw 2 Red Admirals in full flight.

  • Comment number 76.

    I've got a bee hive within the cavity of my flat outer wall,
    the bees are still going to & fro plenty of activity.


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