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Black, Autumn's New Colour

2nd of December 2004

I love autumn, with all its lovely fiery colours. Beech trees, low sun and blue sky, what could be better? Low sun and blue sky have been in short supply but Scatterdells Woods have still looked wonderful. We went to Dorset for a couple of days, but I don’t think we saw anything better than the view from the edge of Scatterdells Woods looking across the valley towards Chipperfield. The contrast between the dark trunks and the golden leaves, with a carpet of brown leaves on the ground took my breath away.
Another bonus of autumn is the arrival of a few pheasants that have escaped the guns of the local shoots.This year’s visitors are a little out of the ordinary; a hen and a cock, both jet black.The cock is short of a few tail feathers so I guess he only just made it.The colours in birds feathers are produced by pigments such as porphyrins, carotenoids, and melanins. The melanins are responsible for the black and dark brown feathers, so when creatures come along with mainly black colours instead of their usual colours they are known as melanistic. Pheasants always have lovely glossy feathers and these, particularly the cock, gleam and almost look iridescent in a bit of sunshine. These dark birds are not really rare, with thousands of pheasants reared every year a few occur every season. My favourite pheasants are those with a white collar which originate from China.The ones without the white collar are bred from stock that arrived with the Normans and came originally from the Caucasus. I rather like them with watercress and roast potatoes as well! One of our neighbours has dared me to bag these black beauties, but they do add something to the garden, so they are safe from me at least. The next one that turns up may not be so lucky though !
Interestingly, melamistics also turn up in rabbits when the warrens get big and there was a black rabbit in Scatterdells Wood a couple of years ago. It had a favourite feeding area in one of the adjacent fields and we often used to see it.
Christmas is coming, don’t forget the birds. Birdfeeders make smashing Christmas presents, a great way to bring the birds a bit closer to those who don’t find it so easy to get out and about any more. I, of course, am looking forward to some crisp cold days. A white Christmas would be just the job! Wendy Bathurst

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This page is edited by Tony

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