Autumn at Birling Gap

A swallow flying low over the water

As the summer winds down the Seven Sisters get ready for the winter, migrant birds are on the move south and the chalk grassland flowers have set seed.

This is a season of change when the colours of the grassland start to fade and the downs bear fruit, hawthorns and sloe berries are welcome food for thrushes with people picking blackberries for crumbles at home.

Sloe berries
Sloe berries

Autumn is the time when birds move south and on some days there are thousands of swallows and house martins flying low over the cliffs feeding on insects. Overcast and muggy days can be the best to see this spectacle as large flocks gather together before attempting the journey across the sea.

Grassland fungi are a feature in the autumn and the golden wax caps are good indicators of old grassland that has not been disturbed by ploughing. Other mushrooms to be seen are puffballs and field mushrooms growing in the fields.

Golden waxcap fungi
A golden waxcap fungi

The season sees red admiral and painted lady butterflies heading south across the channel to the European mainland while brimstones and small tortoiseshell’s find somewhere to sleep until spring. Even though most of the plants and flowers have gone over there are plenty of late flowering ones which can be very numerous, autumn gentian and devil’s bit scabious the most obvious- the scabious provides a ‘last minute’ nectar source for insects and is a delightful purple flower in its own right.

Painted Lady nectaring on a scabious flower
A painted ladt butterfly nectaring on a scabious flower