The first signs of autumn

Boy and mum looking at autumnal oak leaves through a magnifying glass
Look out for the first signs of autumn (Photo: Michael Heffernan/WTML)

Summer’s almost over and you’ll start to see signs of the approaching autumn appearing over the next few weeks. How many of these can you spot?


Fly agaric mushroom
Find fungi like fly agaric (Photo: WTML)

Autumn is prime time for fungi, especially if you’ve had a damp August. Look out for the typical, fairy tale red-and-white fly agaric, as well as white puffballs growing in grassy areas, dark purple amethyst deceivers popping up in shady woods and bracket fungi – such as the bright yellow chicken of the woods – growing out of tree trunks. Remember that some fungi are poisonous, so look but don’t touch!

Autumn leaves

Beech leaves turning brown
Keep your eyes peeled for turning leaves (Photo: Alan Southworth/WTML)

In summer, leaves produce lots of green-coloured chlorophyll, which helps them make sugary food from sunshine. Chlorophyll production slows down as winter approaches so you start to see the other coloured chemicals in the leaves, such as yellow carotenes. But if there’s still some food in a leaf, that turns into anthocyanins, which are red. This results in leaves changing colour.

The colour mix depends on the weather. If it’s cool and grey in August and September, the food in a leaf runs out quickly and you get more yellow leaves. If it’s warm and sunny, leaves produce food for longer and you get more red. What colour do you think the leaves will turn this autumn?

Migrating birds

Fieldfare on twig surrounded by autumn leaves
Birds like the fieldfare migrate here in autumn (Photo:

Many birds, including nightingales, cuckoos, swifts and swallows fly south to warmer climates for the winter. Look out for huge flocks of swallows lining up on telegraph wires ready for their 6,000 mile journey to South Africa – it will take them six weeks!

Others, such as redwings, fieldfares, waxwings and some types of duck and geese head to the UK from colder countries like Iceland and Scandinavia. Some like to snuggle up together at night as the weather gets cooler.

And watch out for murmurations of starlings wheeling through the sky as they head for their night roosts. It’s one of nature’s truly spectacular sights!

Ivy flowers

Bee on ivy flower
Ivy flowers are a good source of late food (Photo: Ben Lee/WTML)

Little yellow-green flowers appear on the dark green ivy trailing over trees, old buildings and garden walls at this time of year. Ivy is one of the few plants to flower in the autumn and its nectar and pollen are an important late-season food for insects such as bees and hoverflies. The berries will soon appear too and you’re likely to spot birds, such as thrushes, blackbirds and woodpigeons, feasting on them.

Fruits and seeds

Gleaming blackberries are a great snack (Photo: Margaret Barton/WTML)

Plants produce tasty fruits, such as blackberries, so animals and birds snack on them, and then poo the seeds out somewhere else. It’s a great way for plants to spread their seeds.

You can join in the feast by going foraging and making some of our scrumptious recipes. Remember to leave plenty of berries for wildlife though!

Field maple seeds
Spot helicopter seeds like these field maple whirling through the air (Photo: Ben Lee/WTML)

Plants spread their seeds in other ways too: look out for dried seed pods ready to explode; sticky seeds that get stuck to animal fur and your clothes; and helicopter seeds whirling in the breeze. Check out our blog which will help you identify fruits and seeds.

What signs of autumn have you spotted? Share your snaps on social media using #NatureDetectives.

And why not record them on our Nature's Calendar website? The information we collect from people all over the country will help us learn more about how the changing climate is affecting the seasons.

Spotted signs of autumn?

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