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Head to the (well managed) hedgerows in September, as they erupt into a pick-n-mix paradise of bountiful berries. This abundance of fruits is a lifeline for many of our birds as their summer food supplies, such as caterpillars and insects, run low. Look out for Blackbirds and other thrushes, as well as warblers such as Whitethroats and Blackcaps all stocking up.
Blackberry, Elderberry, Hawthorn haws, rosehips and Blackthorn sloes are all coming into season now. But it’s not just birds which are making the most of the berry bonanza. Hazel Dormice are also busy eating as much as they can to build up fat reserves before they hibernate. Pine Martens too make the most of the bounty, with a particular penchant for Rowan berries, Blackberries and Bilberries. In fact, many of our mammals, such as Hedgehogs, squirrels and Foxes all eat berries when available.
It’s not just berries which are coming into season, it’s prime acorn hunting season too. Squirrels are well known for harvesting and storing them for the winter months. But Jays do it too and autumn can be a great time to spot this usually shy and secretive bird as it comes down to the ground to gather the goods.
Watch out for a flash of pink and their famous white rump as they fly back up to the treetops when disturbed. If you don’t see them, you might hear their loud angry screech, as if you’ve annoyed them with your presence.
Despite being a pretty clever bird, Jays often forget where they’ve buried some of their stash. This means that some of the acorns are left in the ground and given the chance to grow into towering oaks. In fact, one study found that half the trees in two new English woodlands were planted by Jays.
Another creature stocking up for the winter is the Badger. Warm(ish) September evenings as dusk falls are a great time to try and spot families emerging from their dens on the hunt for berries, nuts, fruit and earthworms. If you’ve seen signs of a Badger sett near you, head out while still light and pick a spot to sit quietly, preferably with hot chocolate. If you’re lucky you’ll get a glimpse of the family on the move, with the comical youngsters flying about up to mischief.
While some of our summer visitors have already left, such as Cuckoos, Nightingales and most Swifts, September is when many more start to take to the flyways and head south for the winter. This includes millions of warblers, such as Chiffchaff (pictured) and Blackcaps, their numbers increased by this year’s youngsters. You can see them in hedgerows and scrub, especially along the coast.
They’ll be busy flitting between trees and bushes looking for last minute meals to build up their energy for the long flight ahead.
The Willow warbler’s migration is particularly impressive as they’re one of our smallest birds, weighing no more than a box of matches. Every year these miniature marvels travel 8,000km to get to the UK from sub-Saharan Africa, and then do it all again in the opposite direction, spending the winter feeding in forests and wooded savannahs.
While our summer visitors begin to leave, the winter visitors start to arrive. Among them are Knots which are beginning to return from their breeding grounds in the Arctic.
They’re dumpy, stocky wading birds, which use their highly specialised bill to probe the mud for tasty morsels.
Together with other waders such as Dunlin and Oystercatchers, they flock to our estuaries and mudflats in their thousands. The Wash, Morecambe Bay and the Thames, Humber and Dee estuaries are great places to spot them and witness one of the UK’s great nature moments, when they all take flight together.
Guy Anderson, one of the RSPB’s experts on bird migration, said about The Wash: “This is genuinely a top world class nature spectacle. The number of places you can see that many shore birds in one place together, dancing in the sky in an enormous shoal are very, very few. And we’ve got one of them right here, because of world class mud. No mud, they wouldn’t be there.”
It’s not a late summer picnic unless the odd wasp buzzes by to add a slight edge to proceedings. But it’s not their fault, they’re hungry and have a sweet tooth, and we’ve got cake and Coca-Cola.
But why now? Well, by September the queen has stopped laying eggs and the thousands of female workers are without a job. And without much food. During the spring and summer, they’ve been busy catching insects which they bring back to the nest to feed to the carnivorous larvae. As a reward the larvae produce a sugary liquid which the vegetarian female workers sip all summer long. But with the larvae all grown up, the female workers have to find other sugary snacks, which brings them to our picnics.
They won’t be around for long, the sterile females soon die off, along with the fertile males once they’ve mated with the new queens. The old queens soon die too, leaving the new queens to bunk down for the winter, ready to emerge next spring.
With the harvest, comes the harvestmen. These small creatures with eight spindly legs swell in numbers around now and can often be spotted lurking in the corner of your lounge as well in gardens and long grass.
They’re not actually spiders, but are of the same arachnid family, with about 25 species found in the UK. Many are predators eating small insects, snails and worms. Unlike spiders, they don’t produce silk or venom, instead catching their prey using hooks on the end of their long legs. They can lose these legs if caught by a predator, but they don’t regrow.
As our migrating birds dip into our reserves to refuel, we’ve picked out some of the best to visit this month, each with a café or refreshments so you can refuel too.
In September, thousands of Pink-footed Geese, ducks and Whooper Swans begin to seaplane down to the loch from Iceland. The last of the summer’s dragonflies are also dancing around the reserve alongside a large variety of butterflies and bees.
Only 30 minutes from Glasgow, this watery world is part of one of the largest remaining wetlands in south-west Scotland. At this time of year, it’s a great place to spot migrating waders on the scrape, and Swallows and martins can be seen from the new boardwalk. Elsewhere look up for mixed flocks of tits, Goldcrests and Treecreepers making their way through the woodland. And look down as different types of fungi begin to emerge along the trails.
September sees the highest tides of the year at Frampton, forcing thousands of waders such as Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Black-tailed Godwits into the air before settling to roost on the wet grasslands and freshwater scrapes. Keep your eye out for the first returning Brent Geese grazing on the saltmarsh and wet grasslands, or a flash of electric blue as Kingfishers begin to take up winter residence.
This mix of woodland, heath and acid grassland is the winter home for many finches, which begin to arrive this month. The woodland trails are a great place to spot them and soak up the first glimmers of autumn colour while looking for the different fungi and trees laden with nuts and seeds.
Wildfowl descend on Newport Wetlands for winter, with Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler and Wigeon among the species spotted in the lagoons in September. They join waders such as Redshank, Curlew, Sandpiper and Ruff who also spend winter here as do Peregrine Falcon, Marsh Harrier, and Buzzards, all on the hunt.
September sees large flocks of Lapwing in flight around the reserve and good numbers of godwits, Curlew, Redshank and other waders coming into feed. If you’re lucky you might spot a Kingfisher on the hunt. Meanwhile it’s the last chance to spot terns, Sand Martins, Swallows and Swifts before they head south. While there isn’t a café, there are coffee and vending machines to top up your energy levels.
Wild at Night on 14 September, 7pm-9pm
Grab your warm jacket and head out on a night tour to discover the beauty of Titchwell’s dark skies and wildlife. Listen out for waders and wildfowl settling down at their roosts and use bat detectors to find tiny pipistrelle bats hawking for moths and Daubenton’s bats skimming the dragonfly pond in search of food. We’ll pop the moth traps out before we head off and see who’s dropped in while we’ve been out.