As Autumn rushes by and many of our now golden trees are already losing their leaves, RSPB Scotland’s Allie McGregor talks about how autumn transforms the landscape.

Autumn bursts into colour

It’s easy to understand why autumn is a season much loved by many. The dramatic transformation and unique feel is certainly something special. Of all the seasons autumn seems to have one of the most tangible changes. You can see it, you can certainly feel it (brr), you can even taste it (pumpkin spice anyone?).

One of the most magical shifts is the colours. Gold, orange and scarlet consume the landscape, completely transforming it. It’s an entirely different kind of beautiful to the greens and blues of spring and summer, or the frosty white winter. With all the shades of colour that burst into life encompassing our nature it feels like a last hurrah before nature takes its winter break.

Autumn leaves (rspb-images.com)

While it is fun to think of it as a sort of magic, or a costume party to welcome the cooler weather, there is of course an explanation. As the days get shorter and darker the production of chlorophyll, which colours leaves green, slows and eventually ceases. This gives way to yellow and orange pigments which are usually masked by the green. Red or pink colouration occurs as further chemical changes to prepare for leaf shedding take place.

Leaves aren’t the only colour change we see at this time of year, much of our wildlife have their own makeovers which are perhaps a little less dramatic. Many species see some change in plumage or colouring as winter comes but some species in particular, such as ptarmigan and mountain hare, are particularly notable for their effort to be a part of autumns nature makeover. These two species get prepared to blend in with their soon-to-be snowy surroundings by embracing a white coat.

Mountain hare in winter coat (rspb-images.com)

Another injection of colour into our nature comes from all the fruit and berries! As well as providing us with fun activities and tasty treats, they also provide a vital source of food for birds throughout the coldest months. Even as autumn breezes past and winter creeps in berries such as juniper, rowan, hawthorn and holly add splashes of red, orange and purple to the chilly landscape. Some of our winter visitors – waxwing, fieldfare and redwing - are particularly keen on these tasty berries. Waxwing can gobble down up to twice their body weight in a day!

Fieldfare perched in tree preparing to feed on Guelder rose berries (rspb-images.com)

With leaves already littering the ground it won’t be long until winter makes it home in Scotland again, so let’s celebrate the autumn burst of colour while it lasts!

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