T he silvery cloak of autumn is upon us and it brings the first wintry flourishes with it. Trees have already lost many of their leaves but on a bright day the colours that remain can help make for the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets of the year. Horse chestnut leaves will probably have turned earlier and might be looking shabby by now but the tree still bears riches in the form of conkers. Whether you engage in competitive conker matches or not the beautifully tactile fruits are lovely to hold and admire. Conkers was adopted as a pastime in the late eighteenth century around 200 years after the trees were introduced here from the Balkans. Before that similar games of conquerors were played with hazel or cob nuts or even snail shells. There is debate as to the horse connection. Some say its because in the East the nuts were fed to horses as stimulants and to make their coats shine. Also the leaf scars on the twigs look just like horseshoes even with the nail holes There is another school of thought that the name horse is a corruption of the Welsh word gwres meaning heat or in eating terms perhaps fierce or pungent. In other words the bitter or unpleasant chestnut when compared to the sweet variety. A damp autumn which wouldnt surprise anyone brings with it an abundance of colourful fungi in our woodlands parks gardens and almost anywhere else. Some of the prettiest are the fly agaric with their red-with-white-spots colour scheme they commonly represent the poisonous toadstool in childrens fiction. They were also responsible for Alices hallucinogenic trip into Wonderland and might be the reason some people see Santa and his reindeer flying across the skies near Christmas. You might be lucky to see them in the woods but dont eat them they deserve their tag as dangerous to health. As always please dont eat any foraged fungi unless you are an expert and know what you are putting into your mouth. Lastly you might be interested in this story from my holiday in Turkey this summer. When we arrived a red dragonfly I think its a red veined darter but could be a scarlet darter had our swimming pool as its primary territory. For a day it flew around keeping out of our way and occasionally swooping down for a drink. But we spotted it flapping wildly stuck to a sticky grass which had already claimed the life of another unfortunate creature. I managed to break off the velcro-like head of the grass with the dragonfly attached and using nail scissors cut the barbs away while holding the dragonfly still with my other hand. The dragonfly was freed and flew off despite part of its wing being torn off by the plant. I thought nothing more of it hoping the creature had survived. Imagine my delight when next morning it came back landing very close to us as if letting us know it had I knew it was the same one as the torn wing matched. This continued for the next few days before it disappeared but in the end it was even happy to sit on my finger Not quite tame but I think it appreciated the rescue.