Nature Diary October

There is a sense of urgency, of making the most of the fine weather before winter arrives. Fields are ploughed and sown, and birds strip berries from the hawthorns.

Falling leaves cover everything. There is a myriad of patterns and shapes to be photographed literally lying at your feet. Usually it is the simpler compositions contrasting colour, shape, and textures that are most successful.

This is the most exciting month to photograph red, fallow and sika deer. It's rutting time and males are displaying and battling with rivals. Their performance includes scraping the ground, thrashing branches, and making a lot of noise. Remember that testosterone levels are at an all time high, don't go too close or could end up as the next antler decoration. Use a long lens with a beanbag and stay in your vehicle wherever possible. You could try Studley Royal Park, Ripon, North Yorkshire (SE272686, postcode HG4 3DY); or Bradgate Park, Newtown Lindford, Leicestershire (SK530108, postcode LE6 0HE).

Roe deer are the commonest deer species throughout much of Britain, and they have undergone something of a population explosion in many areas. Kids born in June have finished suckling and are now foraging for themselves (though they’ll stay with their mothers until next spring). In autumn and winter, roe deer often associate in small groups. It’s worth looking for them along woodland edges – a favourite habitat – and if there’s a strong wind blowing, you may be able to approach a little closer from downwind.

Winter coats now begin to show through on stoats and mountain hares. If snow arrives late they may stand out like the proverbial sore thumb among dark heather. Early morning or late afternoon is the best time of day for these subjects. And of course you will need to be on high ground, try exploring the top and flanks of Cairngorm, Scotland (NJ001041, carpark postcode PH22 1RB). If that's too far north for you, mountain hares also appear to be thriving in the Peak District. Highest numbers are on well-managed grouse moors where rotational heather burning provides a mosaic of new growth and older heather, for food and shelter.

Acorns begin to drop from oak trees. These nuts are highly favoured by woodpigeons, and jays (as well as mice and squirrels), and they will be busy either gorging themselves or hoarding them away for future use. If you have set up a winter feeding station put some aside yourself. Bringing them out later may prove too much of a temptation for the previously mentioned wildlife and give you otherwise unobtainable photo opportunities.

Garden birds should now begin to look good again after the summer moult. And the fact that junior has fledged and flown the nest means that the incessant demand for feeding is no longer there, which certainly helps.

Geese start arriving to spend their winter months among us. Pink footed, brent, greylag, white-fronted, and barnacle geese all come from the arctic regions. Congregating on salt marshes, lakes, and estuaries they make excellent photographic subjects. Montrose basin is a well-known location for several species of over wintering birds (NO701573), postcode DD10 9NY. You will need to synchronise your visit with high tide for the best chance of getting some decent shots. Arrive a couple of hours early and don't make too much noise.

Bitterns become a little more visible from the end of October until the end of February (I've had my finest sightings in November). The best place to see some of the twenty or so breeding pairs that inhabit the UK is at Lee Valley Park (, north of London between the A1 and M11. Subtle hint: try checking out the "Bittern Hide".

The mild, damp autumnal weather (average autumnal rainfall = 230mm, although up to 460mm has been recorded) provides perfect conditions for fungi. The fruiting bodies (mushrooms and toadstools) can appear overnight as if from nowhere. As their appearance is unpredictable it's necessary to be on your toes. On many occasions I've spotted an ideal photographic subject only to find it has been nibbled at by the time I returned with my camera. There are several thousand species in Britain and many are confusingly similar: you'll need a good field guide to identify them. A full range of lenses can be used to take fungi photos, from a close focusing telephoto through to a wide angle. Let your imagination run riot.

September  Index  November

The Locations: Where grid references are given they are based on the Ordnance Survey Landranger Grid.
Where possible postcode/map links have been provided to Google Maps showing the exact location.