SUDDENLY, it’s easy to forget that September heatwave that saw temperatures soaring around the country.
Overnight, it seems, there’s a chill in the air and blustery showers are setting the autumnal mood.
It’s the time of year we dust off our warmer coats and cardies, bemoan the loss of those long summer evenings and slowly begin to adjust to the idea that autumn is definitely upon us.
Days have been shortening since the summer solstice but it’s now that we start muttering about the nights drawing in and winter being around the corner.
The children have settled into the new school year after the long holidays, universities are reopening their doors and dramatic skies are warning us of more changeable weather to come.
The colour palette is subtly changing too, the greens gradually giving way to golds, russets and browns. Deep in the woods, it’s conker season for pupils wandering home from school and foragers are out looking for mushrooms, berries and other edible delicacies.
Not that that’s such a great idea for the uninitiated: start nibbling the fly agaric, destroying angel, death cap or white bryony and you could face vomiting and diarrhoea, stomach cramps, hallucinations and even death.
Although we have basked in some balmy weather this September – the month was the second-warmest on record in the UK and the warmest ever in Northern Ireland – it doesn’t take us long to forget those temperatures once the chillier nights set in, especially as we face soaring fuel bills and long waits at the petrol pumps if we can find a garage actually open.
But aside from the moans and groans about fuel prices and petrol shortages, September was a spectacular month for getting out and about, especially now that so many local destinations have emerged from lockdown restrictions.
September is the month when thousands of volunteers across England organise events to celebrate the country’s history and culture for the Heritage Open Days Festival, opening hidden places to the public in thousands of events spread over 10 days.
For art lovers it’s the month of the Herts Open Studios event too, although this year there are more online galleries to view than ever before, and a chance to catch up with artists you may have missed from similar events in Bucks and Oxfordshire earlier in the year.
This Sunday is harvest festival time too, a thanksgiving ritual dating from pagan times and traditionally held on the Sunday nearest the Harvest Moon, the full moon closest to the autumn equinox.
As we mentioned last year, in days gone by the festival was a matter of life and death that would involve the whole community working together, including children. A prosperous harvest that would allow a community to be fed throughout the potentially barren winter months would be cause for much celebration.
As an occasion steeped in superstition, it’s no surprise that so many ancient customs and folklore pre-date Christianity but still reflect the importance of crop gathering and the reverence in which the harvest was held.
Meanwhile it’s still getting light early enough to be woken by the reassuring honking of geese flying past in perfect formation – just one of some 4,000 species of birds around the world migrating in search of milder weather and more plentiful food.
The geese aren’t the only ones of the wing. The skies are hectic with criss-crossing migrants and down at the local gravel pit the numbers of gulls and cormorants will be building.
Bats and owls are busy too, while baby birds like tits, robins, blackbirds and starlings are beginning to look a lot less scruffy as autumn approaches.
Baby squirrels are dicing with death on the back roads, ants and hornets are busy building their nests in the woods, while the baby moorhens are skittering around on their lily pad rafts.
Hedgerows, shrubs and trees are bursting with berries, fruits and nuts, providing a welcome feast for birds and small mammals and a welcome splash of colour in the woods.
Some babies are still being looked after carefully by doting parents, while others are getting their first taste of independence ahead of the harder winter months.
Fungi are springing up on dead trees and fallen branches to the woodland floor and spiders are out in force, spinning their elaborate webs, intricate patterns glistening in the morning dew.
Some dragonflies are still on the wing too for those photographers with the patience, stealth and a zoom or macro lens for close-up shots.
But as September moves into October it’s the changing colours of our deciduous trees that provide one of the big natural spectacles of the year.
Coupled with the bright red flashes of the berries and fungi, the glow of those dramatic sunsets and the spectacular hues of our birds and insects, it’s the perfect time to venture back into the woods and soak up some of that autumnal sunshine before winter really takes a grip.
As always, we’d like to give a very big thank you to all the keen local photographers who have allowed us to use their work this month. If you would like to contribute any pictures, favourite moments or seasonal suggestions to our calendar entry for October, contact firstname.lastname@example.org on email or via our Facebook group page.