This month marks the transition from late summer to autumn, true autumn beginning with the Autumnal Equinox, when the sun rises due east and sets due west, and the day and night are both almost exactly equally twelve hours long. The term "Equinox" derives from the word "equal", as in equal hours of light and darkness. But the Equinox is also a precise moment halfway between the summer and winter solstices, and this year that precise time was 3:09 am on the 23rd of September.
The late summer in Wicklow is usually the most reliable and relaxing time of the year, when the temperature lowers slightly and humidity is far less than in high summer. It is the time of fruiting, when the trees, bushes and flowers bear their fruits and seeds. The first to appear are usually the blackberries of the bramble bushes, which grow along Wicklow roads as dense hedges. These berries support a huge number of animals, birds and invertebrates. And we humans love to eat them too.
These are followed by the billiard-ball red haws, the berries of the hawthorn trees, and then the bright red berries of the rowan or mountain ash tree, and the dark bluish-black fruits of the elder trees. All of these trees were sacred to the ancient Irish, very probably because they provided lifegiving and tasty sugary foods for the winter at a time when few foods could be preserved and food could be lacking in flavour.
Elder is slightly problematic as the berries are considered edible only if they are first made into a preserve or as elderberry wine. However, the elderberries can be eaten fresh from the tree IF the hard pip-like seeds inside are not chewed or swallowed. Many birds have mastered the art of eating the elderberry without being poisoned: house sparrows burst the berries with their bills and simply pour the juice down their throats, as though they're drinking juide from a carton. They then simply drop the skins, and the seeds with them.
Of course, not all trees produce fruits in order to disperse their seeds. The ash and the sycamore have aerodynamic seeds that catch the wind and float on it over long distances. The ash seeds spiral through the air to the ground like vertical streamers, and the sycamore seeds spin like the rotar blades, and for this reason are known as "helicopters".
And those strange plant-like creatures we call fungi also begin to fruit, their beautiful "fruiting bodies", the mushrooms and toadstools, beginning to pop out of the ground in huge numbers in meadows and beneath trees in woods, gardens and parks. Some are edible, some are inedible, some are poisonous and some deadly poisonous. So, if you like to pick mushrooms you have to be very careful.
In Wicklow the poisonous and edible can often be found growing side-by-side. However, if you just like looking at them because of their beauty, then Wicklow is an absolute paradise of fungi. Shaggy Ink Cap (Coprinus comatus)is one very interesting species that can be seen in towns and villages in the lowlands. The mushroom is so strong that it can break through concrete and asphalt. The Common Ink Cap (Coprinus ) is a more delicate-looking beautiful mushroom, normally seen in open grassland such as found in meadows, parks or gardens.Ink Caps get their name from the black oily spores that ooze off the cap to disperse on the ground, or any animal that brushes off them.
Another extremely interesting dispersal method is that used by the Common Puffball, which is also seen in Wicklow at this time, usually in open woodlands and meadows near trees. Puffballs are sensitive spongey sacs that eject clouds of spores when trod on, blown by the breeze or sprinkled with raindrops.
At this time of year wild foods are at their most abundant, supporting tremendous numbers of insects, such a Large White caterpillars and Garden Snails, all of which feed on oilseed rape and other crassulas.
But many creatures continue to take advantage of the sunlight and warmth in order to breed. Speckled Wood butterflies continue to carry out their elaborate courtship dances, leaf beetles, craneflies and hoverflies mate and lay their eggs.
Because there are so many insects and molluscs about there is no shortage of predators, such as the large and powerful Migrant or Autumn Hawker dragonflies (Aeshna mixta), and the large, handsome and impressive Garden or Cross Spiders (Araneus diadematus) which spins their big vertical webs between bushes, trees and on manmade objects and structures.
Bigger predators, such as Hedgehogs and Sparrowhawks, enter gardens to feed on these smaller creatures and can be quite brazen and unconcerned by human onlookers. The Hedgehogs are pursuing slugs and snails, and the Sparrowhawks are mainly after small birds and Wood Mice that feed on the fruits of the trees and plants, and insects that are attracted to the remaining flowers, of which there are quite a few flowering in late September, such as the hedge bindweed and the feral potato plants, which grow well in the hilly rocky ground.