Nights are definitely drawing in, there’s a slight chill in the air and, in case you hadn’t noticed, the goose is getting rather fat.

In fact, the pink-footed geese have already swooped in from Iceland, swinging by Montrose Basin in ever-increasing numbers with a loud ‘honk!’ to rest their weary wings and refuel before eventually continuing their journey south.

Their September arrival at the sheltered tidal lagoon is an annual and spectacular event. However, what makes this year’s descent from the Arctic a little out of the ordinary, is that there is currently roughly seven times the number than would normally be expected for this time of year.

The geese are on the move early and in significantly greater numbers, the rowan trees are heaving with plump red berries, and there’s a definite fading of colour from the ash, beech and oaks.

All of this and yet it seems only moments since social media was packed with pictures of children returning to school, while that ‘blink and you’ve missed it’ weekend of August sun just three weeks ago is starting to feel like it never happened.

Of course, we just have to check the calendar to know that winter is heading our way. But could all those geese be trying to tell us something about what may lie ahead?

And should we be paying more heed to nature and the folklore of the past to find out whether this winter will strike earlier, hit harder and be even more bitter?

In the lush green surroundings of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, botanist Dr Gregory Kenicer agrees there has been a slightly early change in the colour of the leaves on the trees and a vibrant burst of berries on some bushes, but that is likely to be more a sign of seasons past than those to come.

“The colour of the trees may be turning just a tad early, but plants respond to changes in climate in different ways.

“And as far as I know, we don’t have any psychic plants,” he adds.

“The classic ‘old wives’ tale’ is the one about rowan berries – if the rowan berries are out in force early, then a hard winter is on the way.

“It’s true that there are a lot more berries around at the moment, but that is more to do with the year that has past rather than what is happening in the future.

“The rowan tree needs a bit of sun to get fruits prepared, and this year there was some early sun that resulted in lots of flowers being produced.

“As long as you don’t get big storms or a very dry spell over summer, the berries from the flowers will survive and grow.”

The rowan tree’s links with one of our most familiar winter predictions are rooted in druid and pagan ritual. Known as the witch tree or wicken tree, in some areas once forbade the use of its timber, leaves, bark or flower except for sacred purposes, while it has been associated with healing and as a protection against evil spirits.

But perhaps a better indicator of the weather to come could lie by the seashore? Long ribbon-like fronds of sugar kelp were once hung outside to dry and used to predict the weather – if it stayed dry, the weather would be fine, if it softened and became limp, rain was on the way.

It was so trusted, that it became known as Poor Man’s Weather Glass. However, Dr Kenicer suggests there is little science to back up the folklore.

“Any time we have looked at it not surprisingly we’ve found that when it’s raining it’s wet and when it’s dry, the weather is dry. Which is exactly what you’d expect.

“It might predict slight changes in humidity, but you’d probably be better just looking at the sky and carrying an umbrella.”

He believes much of folklore’s weather sayings linked to plants and trees are rooted in hopes and fears for crops and livestock, rather than serious scientific fact.

“Whether it’s dry or hot or wet within every plant there is a strategy to deal with the weather,” he adds.

Even the autumn glory of dazzling coloured leaves has been suggested as an indicator of a harsh winter ahead – the more vibrant the colour is said to be a sign to batten down the hatches.

But rather than foretelling dramatic events Dr Kenicer says there is a less mystical reason for the colours.

“The green pigment in leaves break down differently depending on the tree, and the chemicals present in the leaf. The green is there to capture sunlight, but there are other chemicals that can act like anti freeze or to deter insects.

“It’s those colours that emerge, rather than it being linked to what might happen in the future.”

Meanwhile, in Montrose, around 4000 pink-footed geese are settling in nicely, but even their arrival may be more to do with events elsewhere than what may be heading our way.

A blast of bad weather in Iceland is thought to have pushed the birds further south earlier than normal, with the first flock making their descent as the calendar turned to September.

That compares to three years ago when the first pink-footed geese delayed their arrival until mid-September, and even this time last year when there were just 600 in the basin.

Eventually, they will continue their migration to Morecombe Bay and The Wash, with numbers falling to just a few thousands in December and January.

Rory Syme, Scottish Wildlife Trust, says: “There are currently about 4,000 pink-footed geese gathered at our Montrose Basin Wildlife Reserve.

“During a full moon they can travel through the night so numbers could rise quickly over the next few days.

“We would only expect to see a few hundred at this point in the season, but cold and wet weather in Iceland seems to have pushed some birds south sooner than usual.

“Most of the geese at Montrose are stopping to refuel for a few days before heading further south. It’s too early to say what will happen with their numbers this year.

“However, a quick start to the season may mean we don’t see the big peaks of up to 90,000 birds that we’ve had in recent years.”

At the Met Office, where sensible science takes precedence over nut-hoarding squirrels or the number of spiders in our homes – even modern technology can’t predict the future terribly far in advance.

“There is some truth in the ‘red sky at night, shepherd’s delight’ saying,” admits meteorologist Greg Dewhurst, “and a lot of these old sayings have some sort of method behind the madness.

“But we generally only forecast general weather trends 30 days ahead.”

Tie piece

Old wives’ tales, folklore or fact? Could nature be telling us something we need to know?

Flowering ivy in autumn is said to indicate the weather to come – lots of yellow-green flowers attracting dozens of insects has been linked to the onset of a cold snap.

Late falling leaves and berry-laden holly and rowan trees are said to be another sign, along with thick shells on acorns, brighter autumn foliage and higher than usual activity among nut-gathering squirrels.

Check the family pets for signs of a thickening of their fur – apparently another sign of falling temperatures, along with high numbers of spiders.

Early bird migration is said to signify a particularly harsh season ahead, while a warmer than normal November could also be a warning sign for a bad winter.