If you've never seen a sundew, track down this fascinating plant at Westhay Moor, says Chris Chappell. And be alert to the arrival of winter migrants.
The summer of 2013 continues to be a good butterfly year, with an abundance of small tortoiseshell, peacock, comma, red admiral and small and large whites covering the buddleia flowers. The migrant clouded yellow butterfly has arrived in Somerset, travelling from Africa and southern Europe. The size of a large white , but distinguished by its egg yolk colour on the top wing, and curious black and white markings on the lemon coloured under wing. The clouded yellow may go through three breeding cycles whilst in the UK, so the numbers proliferate when conditions are good. 2013 is also another good 'berry' year, with blackberries ripening in the hedgerows now, and hawthorn, rosehips, sloes and elderberry rapidly gaining colour. There is also a bumper crop of apples, and hordes of wasps to feed on them.
Feed the birds
Sunny days may provoke some autumn birdsong , as the birds emerge from the summer moult. Robins will be heard defending their territories, a thinner and less tuneful song than in spring. Warblers and tits move through the trees in groups, safety in numbers gives some protection from preying sparrowhawks. If you haven't fed the birds during the summer, you may wish to resume feeding them now, and can be rewarded with flocks of goldfinches and greenfinches. September sees summer turn to autumn, and after a good season, we wait for the autumn rains to fill the rhynes, rivers and lakes. Ospreys have made an appearance at Shapwick, a regular occurrence at the end of summer, feeding on the abundant fish stocks on the levels, as they head south for Africa. Dragonflies and some damselflies are still active, and where there is 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.
Sundew, insectivorous plants
Westhay Reserve offers a variety of habitats, reed beds, lagoons, birch woods and an area of heathland, and therefore supports a myriad of wildlife. An unusual example is the sundew insectivorous plant. These grow in damp areas, usually on sphagnum moss. and are quite distinctive, having red nectar covered foliage. Small insects attracted by the sweet secretions, and become trapped on the sticky mucilage, and are dissolved by enzymes secreted to the plant to supplement its nutrition.
This is a great time to get out with your camera, as the trees start to change colour, and misty mornings and the lower morning and evening sun add to the atmosphere. Horse chestnuts are already turning rusty yellow, to be followed by ash beech and sweet chestnut. It is a 'mast year', a reward for the seemingly endless rain last season, and now the trees have a heavy crop of beech mast, acorns and walnuts. Ivy is one of the last plants to flower and is an important source of nectar for wasps and bees. The wild clematis flowers are turning from green curls to the woolly 'Old man's Beard'.
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 soon be seen, arriving from their breeding grounds in Northern Europe, and as autumn draws on they will be joined by teal, pintail, pochard, and a variety of waders. 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, and are partial to ripe apples. They can also be seen in large mixed flocks, combing the fields for insects and worms.
All photographs by Chris Chappell