Chris Chappell gives us further incentives to get out and look at September's attractions.
This month sees summer turn to autumn, after a very damp season, one that has adversely affected much of the flora and fauna. Butterflies are scarce, as a result of so much cold and wet weather. Not everything has suffered, waders have benefited where the farmers have lost their forage, as the persistent flooding has provided a greater expanse of suitable feeding grounds. Along with the waders, white storks have regularly been seen near Martock, along with large numbers of herons and little egrets. An osprey has made an appearance at Shapwick, a regular occurrence at the end of summer, as it heads south for Africa. Dragonflies and some damselflies are still active, and there is no shortage of water for their egg laying. Fungi are appearing in woods, you may find the fairy tale fly agaric, or a penny bun (boletus edulis), the agaric is toxic, while the second is much prized culinary item also known as ceps, or porcini on the continent.
The Mendip Hills, Velvet Bottom.
An interesting place to explore is the reserve at Velvet Bottom, part of the Cheddar complex Nature Reserves. This is the site of lead mining activity dating back to Roman times, and possibly earlier. The rocky outcrops and spoil heaps from the industrial activity are covered with tussocky grass and provide a great environment for all kinds of wildlife. The terrain is perfect for adders and common lizards, and you will see a great variety of butterflies and insects. This is a lovely place for a picnic, and buzzards and ravens will soar overhead while you are enjoying the view. Ravens are on the increase, and the largest of the crow a family. They can be distinguished from carrion crows by their size, being similar to that of a buzzard, and their large fan tail, their acrobatic flight, and their call, which is a very guttural 'cark, cark'. Kestrels can be seen hunting for voles and mice, skilfully holding their position in the sky as they scan the ground for prey with their extraordinary eyesight. Not all plants can tolerate the contamination left behind by the industrial activity, but ferns abound, and there are good areas of heather in bloom. While in the area there are a number of other places of interest in the area, Blagdon lake, Chard reservoir and of course Cheddar Gorge. The extraordinary St. Hugh's church at Charterhouse is worth a visit, with a unique Arts and Crafts oak interior. The churchyard is full of flowers, with a great display of scabious.
Dragonflies and damselflies
The rivers, stream, lakes and ponds of Somerset provide ideal habitat for many of the 40 or species of dragonfly that breed in the UK. Most dragonflies lay their eggs directly into water by repeatedly dipping their tails into the surface. The exception being damselflies and hawker dragonflies, which insert their eggs into plant stems, dead matter, or mud by means of an ovipositor, a sharp appendage evolved for the purpose. On sunny days large swarms of common darter dragonfly can be found along the droves and tracks. They are a small dragonfly and like to land on warm ground, or wooden fences, and have a habit of returning to the same spot, making them easy to observe. Larger species you can see in September include the spectacular golden banded dragonfly, and migrant and common hawkers. Most species of damselflies are less evident in autumn, but you will still see the common blue along rivers and streams. It is worth buying good quality binoculars with close focussing for the identification of dragonflies and butterflies.
As the majority of swallows and house martins leave us for Africa, wintering ducks are beginning to arrive on the lakes and lagoons of the levels. Gadwall, shoveler and wigeon will be seen, and as autumn draws on they will be joined by teal, pintail, pochard, and the occasional garganey. The winter thrushes also start to arrive, redwings and fieldfares travel from Scandinavia for our milder climate. The call of the fieldfare is a loud rasping cackle, a characteristic sound in autumn and winter. It is a striking bird, almost the size of a mistle thrush, with grey head and rump, brown back, speckled front and dark wings and tail. The redwing is characterised by a bright chestnut patch just under the wing, and is a small thrush, with strong pale stripes above and below the eyes. The breast is speckled, and the call is a quiet peep. Both species like to feed on berries in gardens and hedgerows, but are often seen in large mixed flocks, combing the fields for insects and worms.