What to watch in wildlife in autumn and winter

By Charlotte Targett and Louise Treneman, Avon Wildlife Trust Living Landscapes Assistants

We often break the habit of regular time outdoors once the seasons change. But tune your senses into the hues of autumn and the stark beauty of winter as you get out in nature and you’ll see hidden beauty and interest. Here are a few wildlife highlights to look out for now the nights have drawn in.

Nibbled nuts

Whilst taking a woodland stroll, look out for nibbled hazelnuts. The intricate (or not) tooth markings left by hungry visitors can reveal which small mammals are frequenting your local woodland. Pick up and have a close look at any nuts you see on paths or the woodland floor and see if your detective work can work out who’s been nibbling! Bank voles leave tooth marks only across the inner edge of the hole; squirrels crack nuts clean into shards; dormice carve a smooth bowl-like inner edge to the hole, with tooth marks also around the outside; wood mice nibble a hole, leaving tooth marks across the inner edge and also around the outside.

Ivy – not just for decking the halls

As we begin to think about decorating our homes for the festive season, take a moment to appreciate the often-overlooked Christmas plant that is ivy. Ivy provides a wealth of nectar, pollen and shelter throughout the year for insects, birds, small mammals and bats. At this time of year its greatest bounty is its ripening berries, which provide an invaluable fat resource during the winter food gap and attract a wealth of winter thrushes, blackbirds and wood pigeons.

Short-eared owl

Winter sees an influx of short-eared owls to our coastal marshes and wetlands, where they often congregate in small flocks for communal roosts at favoured sites. Aust Wharf on the Severn Estuary has become a regular winter haunt for these medium-sized owls. With their mottled brown bodies, pale under-wings and yellow eyes, they are similar in size to a tawny owl. The ear tufts that give them their name are in fact rarely seen, so don’t rely on tufts as a way to identify them!

Scarlet elf cup

Autumn fungi comes in many striking forms and colours. Look out for the irregular-shaped scarlet elf cups on branches and sticks on damp woodland floors. The striking red colour makes them easy to spot as they stand out from the decaying leaf litter. They decompose dead wood, particularly hawthorn, beech, hazel, willow and elm.

Devil’s Finger Fungi

And finally, this Halloween our conservation team discovered a truly spooky-looking fungi called devil’s fingers fungi at our Dolebury Warren reserve - a rare find in the UK, with only two known records from our region, both from 1999.

Also known as octopus fungus, devil’s fingers fungi was not discovered in Europe until 1914 and was believed to have arrived from Australia or New Zealand. It erupts from a partially buried 'egg' by pushing its red octopus-like arms through the egg which then unfold revealing their sticky and smelly insides.

To plan your wildlife watching this autumn and winter, visit one of Avon Wildlife Trust’s 30 nature reserves avonwildlifetrust.org.uk/nature-reserves