It is actually more accurate to say that things change from the end of BST, which this year (2012) is Sunday October 28th. Suddenly the light has gone, and the onrushing shortest day of 21st Dec sees daylight rapidly squeezed down to a paltry 6 hours or so.
All is not gloom however, and often the late Autumn can be very beautiful, with deeply rich sunsets and many beautiful days. Once again, the small temperature gradients mean that a good day in mid-November can easily be better than a bad day in June.
For Birders with the days growing shorter, we look to the weather patterns and the skies to bring us new birds. Even in the depths of winter there can be surprises and delights. Harsh, cold weather on the continent can push birds across the sea to seek shelter for a while. November (2007) we were blessed with a long-lasting and powerful storm that deposited good numbers of Little Auks around us. This tiny sea bird is one of the commonest and yet is rarely seen. They breed on the farthest north of the worlds’ sea cliffs and spend the rest of their time over the open North Atlantic.
Following the Auks we had a good irruption of Siskins. Flocks of European Jackdaws arrived at the same time. Late autumn is always interesting for birders. We could have huge wading and shore bird arrivals, big flocks of Goldfinches, Waxwings and Bullfinches are not unknown.
Recent years have seen arctic blasts and for much of December traveling has been problematic for those without 4x4's. The upside has been many days of exquisite sunshine and Orkney clothed in Alpine beauty.
Of course at this time of year much is leading up to the famous Kirwall Ba' games, held on Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Words are not enough to explain this traditional legalized public scrimmage; it really has to be seen to be appreciated. A leather Ba is ceremoniously launched from the steps of St Magnus Cathedral and the Uppies and Doonies then battle the day for victory, sometimes taking many hours to conclude.
Even watching the Ba' is a fine art, with serious observers getting as close to the action as possible for long periods without actually becoming part of it. For the casual visitor it is a sight to be seen, an unholy, unscripted, herd of steaming muscularity with no apparent purpose at all.
But to the participants and seasoned observers it all makes absolute sense, at least, so they say.