The season of parties and duets by Andrew Cooper
Where did Autumn go? One minute it was a wonderfully warm, dry summer lingering into October. The next monsoon rain and gales. After the warmest Halloween I can remember, November ushered in our first frost of the season. Yet some leaves still decorated the trees by the month end when excited, piping parties of great, blue and long-tailed tits gathered to inspect every nook and cranny.
For me Autumn is all about colour. Our row of grand rusty beech trees never disappoint when they decorate the valley floor. It is a beautiful backdrop to the sheep grazing the 'front lawn' field along with flocks of noisy jackdaws. The birds wheel in small chattering flocks before landing to inspect each ewe in turn. Sitting on a fleecy head they check behind ears before prancing down their backs looking for parasites to eat. The sheep are remarkably tolerant, presumably appreciating the cleaning service.
Winter brings shorter days and chilly nights. Tawny owls herald the darkness with their plaintive calls. I always marvel at the precision of their duet, as the male and female owls produce their familiar 'twit twoo'. The 'twit' being the contact call of both, while the haunting 'twoo' is the territorial call of the answering male. I have filmed these birds for my BBC documentaries many times but never take any chances. Despite the beauty of their call approaching Christmas, they are early nesters and will attack any intruders approaching their nest. I used to insist the camera crew wear fencing masks to protect faces. Even if it did once terrify a young policeman. He was sent to investigate a report of strange lights coming from a remote wood in the dead of night! But that is another story....