In south Leicestershire there are not many accessible woodlands to take in the stunning Autumn colours of an English October. The next best thing is the Arboretum in Oadby (photo from this lunchtime above) so I headed over there today to take in the gold, reds and browns and to hopefully find a Redwing or two. Though the star of this autumnal show is undoubtedly the feast of colour, the arboretum had plenty of other welcome surprises waiting for me.
The morning was a little cloudy with a few spots of rain but by the time myself and my wife made our way to the arboretum it was bright and the skies blue, perfect to catch the full effect of those leaves in the low dappled sunlight. I had my binoculars with me as I was on the look-out for Redwings and Fieldfares – all the way up the right side of the arboretum are fruiting tress such as apple, crab apple and hawthorn but we began instead with a left turn and made our way towards the brook which runs centrally through the site.
Clambering through the hawthorn and blackthorn we joined an unofficial path running along the bank of the shallow brook surrounded by hawthorn, willow and Ivy. The Ivy was alive was wasps and flies, the odd honey bee and even still a common Carder. Most notable though were the abundance of hoverflies. In and out of the Ivy on the banks dived several Wrens busying themselves with the late bounty of insects. It doesn’t matter how many times I see Wrens, I find them fascinating for their meagre size and incomparable loud song and although entirely mottled brown they have a certain beauty too.
Long Tailed Tits busied themselves in the willows above, chattering amongst themselves with a host of contact calls as they swept through what’s left of the greenery along the length of the brook as one small flock. The brook here is shallow and wide with small ‘beaches’ along it’s length. The water is crystal clear and the bed a patchwork of silt sized pebbles and large boulders which creates a lovely oozing rippled effect. Ahead of us my wife stops sharply and points to something up ahead in excitement. Bobbing up and down in a motion not unlike a Dipper on a boulder around 15 metres downstream is a bird I admit I have never seen before. Raising my binoculars whilst trying to contain my excitement and prevent any sudden movement I am met with the pure yellow backside of a Grey Wagtail. An RSPB red-list bird and an uncommon one in these parts. His bright, brash colour tells me he is a male and we watch for a couple of minutes as the bird, undisturbed, plucks insects from the top of the water, swaying and bobbing and that tail ‘wagging’.
Trying to edge slightly closer we disturb him and he rises to a Willow leaning across the brook. It is a perfect moment as he stands horizontally on an open branch for a handful of seconds, his full splendour of colour sinking down my binocular lens and into my iris. Then he’s off, though we glimpse him again some time later further along the brook.
On the other side of the brook and into the main deciduous part of the arboretum a new sound fills our ears. A high pitch call and not just one, the sound is a whole cacophony. Goldcrests. I said before that the Wren captured my imagination with is diminutive size but this is something else. Goldcrests are Britain’s smallest bird and they are minute. Their energy levels though are larger than life as a dozen or so of these charismatic little cake-topper birds flit from perch to perch, rapidly picking insects from the tree bark and leaves. This tiny bird eats insects by the hundreds and no wonder, having to fuel such a manic expedition from tree to tree, branch to branch.
My wife spots something else clinging to the trunk of a tree, effortlessly climbing skywards, an abseiler in reverse. It rolls around the other side of the trunk and momentarily out of sight, then flits swiftly to the trunk of a Common Lime a few metres away. I watch as the Treecreeper moves upwards in burst, stopping only to poke its slender bill between the crackled bark hoovering up any hiding insects. Treecreepers are not at all rare but I’ve only ever seen one before. Their speckled brown upper feathers are perfect camouflage against the crackled tree bark it hugs and in which it hunts for insects and grubs with that specially designed down-curved tool-like bill.
We have walked a loop and now head into the large area along the right side of the site which harbours a large collection of fruiting trees. It’s here where I’m looking to find those winter thrushes that have so far alluded me this autumn but I notice from the off that the fruit has yet to fall from most and the signs are not good. Instead a few Blackbirds are the only members of the thrush family making use of this plentiful bounty as I meander in and out of the trees through long grass looking for areas of windfalls that might make the perfect feeding spot for Redwings. Another couple of weeks though and I’m sure this area will be awash with speckled breasts and red underwings.
Another nice surprise as our walk comes to an end is the pair of Bullfinches perched on a Hawthorn near the car park. Bullfinches are another bird I do not see too often and though not dissimilar to their cousin, the chaffinch, their more brilliant display of bold, vibrant orange breast against the jet black cap just adds to the colour show.
I went looking for trees and autumn colour and found a wealth of vibrant bird life to match, the Grey Wagtail being the highlight. The Oadby arboretum is quite a busy place with joggers and dog walkers both a regular feature which only goes to show that in the right place, with the right habitat you do not have to be alone in the wilderness to see some pretty spectacular wildlife. Below are some more colourful pictures from today, enjoy.