Autumn in the Dark Peak: the wildlife highlights

Grouse on rock near Derwent

It's not just trees to be seen amongst the autumnal sights of the Dark Peak. There might be fewer flowers about, but the vibrant birdlife and moorland scenes more than make up for it. Learn more about the seasonal wildlife you might be able to spot on your walks through the peaks.

Hares, hedgehogs, and hibernation

Mountain hares are one of the favourite sights in the Dark Peak, and you may be able to see them over the autumn. They will be preparing to change their camouflage for the customary white coat seen in winter.

A mountain hare hides in the heather
Mountain hare sat in heather
A mountain hare hides in the heather

Hedgehogs will be getting ready to hibernate, as they typically do so from November to mid-March. They will be building up their fat reserves ready for the winter. Frogs will also be preparing to hibernate, and may be seen feeding before finding suitable places for hibernation. Frog hibernation is dependent on the weather, and in milder spells during winter they have been known to emerge from hibernation.

Frogs start to hibernate, after building up reserves in autumn.
Frogs in water
Frogs start to hibernate, after building up reserves in autumn.

It’s not just small mammals and frogs that will be hibernating. Insects such as ladybirds will be starting to hibernate over the autumn, in crevices beneath bark. The bright butterflies of the summer months will be overwintering in places such as drystone walls.

Changing leaves and spectacular fungi

Surely one of the most spectacular autumn sights is the oak’s changing leaves, and these magnificent trees can be found all around the Dark Peak. 

Many types of mushroom can be found emerging into the autumn, such as the birch bracket and horse’s hoof bracket fungi. The latter is also known as Tinder fungus and occurs most commonly on birch and beech trees, so-called because it looks like a horse’s hoof growing out of the tree. 

North and south – where birds are heading in autumn

Attracted by the autumn fruits, there are many birds to see during these months, even as some summer visitors depart for warmer climes.  

One such bird is the swallow, which starts migrating south in October. You may see flocks of swallows leaving as they begin their migration.

Barn swallows lining up to fly south
Three barn swallows in a row on a barbed wire line.
Barn swallows lining up to fly south

Whooper swans can be seen on Ladybower Reservoir, where they are winter visitors. Another winter visitor is the waxwing, which feeds on rowan berries, and is often found in conifer plantations around the edge of the moors. It has a crest and yellow and red-brown in its tail feathers. The redwing is another winter visitor, and is mostly found in hedgerows and fields. It is the smallest UK thrush and can often be seen with fieldfares. The latter are also members of the thrush family and stay from October until March. Their favourite food is the hawthorn berries that emerge in early autumn.

Fieldfare sitting in tree

A resident bird of the moorland of the Dark Peak is the red grouse. They are a common sight in autumn and can often be seen flying out of the heather when frightened. The male is particularly distinctive with a patch of red over its eye.