The floor of the small strip of woodland behind our house is thick with fallen leaves, a multi-coloured carpet that rustles and gives gently under the heavy pad of my footsteps.
I scoop my hands into an accumulation of leaves by the side of the path and already I can see that the process of decomposition has begun. In time, this little handful will transform into leaf mould that will return valuable nutrients back to the soil. And as I place the claggy clump back onto the ground I notice a couple of tiny millipedes wriggling on my fingers, another indication of the importance of fallen leaves, this time as shelter for invertebrates.
When the heavy frosts come, this leaf litter will act as an insulating blanket providing a haven for micro-creatures that may otherwise succumb if exposed to the full winter cold. Blackbirds will forage in such areas, turning over the leaves with quick flicks of the beak in search of the hidden bounty that lies below.
Jays have been busy collecting and hoarding beech mast and acorns from the woodlands around my home patch in Strathdevon. They can fly quite large distances in this quest, for on several occasions I’ve seen these wonderfully coloured birds flying across from one side of the strath to the other. Often their throats appear engorged, full of nuts ready to be buried and stored. This autumn’s nut harvest will then be retrieved at a later date when food is scarce.
Down by the river a new fish pass was created a few years ago to aid the passage of salmon to their spawning grounds further upstream. It certainly looks a lot easier to negotiate than the previous stepped concrete structure, which was rather narrow and didn’t seem to allow enough space for the fish to gain momentum as they ascended the falls.
I’ve noticed when fly-fishing on the river this year that young salmon, or parr, have been relatively scarce, a possible sign that the fish are not doing well at the moment. Hopefully, this new salmon pass will increase the chances of successful spawning. I’ve already seen one fish negotiate the weir, a flapping well-coloured grilse of three or four pounds in weight.
It is interesting to watch herons on the river at this time of year. They like to hang around by the shallow pebbly rapids as they know that migrating trout heading upstream will be at their most vulnerable in such places. I wonder if the herons intuitively hunt in these parts of the river, or do they learn from experience and by watching other herons?