Somerset Wildlife Trust

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Wildlife to see in September 2016

Are your photographs as good as Chris Chappell's? He suggests plenty of suitable subjects for you this month.

The periods of hot fine weather in August have hastened the change of colours in the countryside, and autumn is set to arrive early.  This is for many the most beautiful time of year, when the trees are all shades of yellow and brown, and the hedges hang heavy with berries and fruit.  Blackberries and apples are ripe, and can be turned into many delicious desserts.  Old Man's Beard festoons the hedges, the small flower heads turning into shiny whorls, holding black seed heads that will catch the wind as they disperse. Hawthorn, guelder rose, dog rose hips, sloe and elderberry add colour and shine, and all provide food for birds and mammals. The damp autumn days encourage the appearance of fungi under woodland trees.

Ospreys may be seen catching fish from the lagoons on the levels, an ideal staging post as they travel from northern Europe back to Africa.  Ospreys survive solely on fish, which they pluck out of the water, a dramatic event, if you are lucky enough to see it.  The waterways and ponds on the levels are teeming with a variety of fresh-water fish, and these also provide a good source of food for otters, grebes herons and cormorants.

Swifts have all but gone, although you may spot some stragglers heading south from further north.  Swallows may be seen lining up on the telegraph wires chattering excitedly.  The adults have long tail streamers, while the juveniles lack these. House martins leave later and are prolific breeders, and you may still hear what could be their third brood calling for food from the nest.  By the end of the month a few winter thrushes, redwing and fieldfare, will start to arrive from the north. You may soon see a skein of  geese move across the sky in the classic v shape.

Late butterflies and dragonflies

Plenty of butterflies and dragonflies are still on the wing in September.  Look for common darters, an abundant small dragonfly, the male is bright red and the female olive green.  Many of the damselfly species are on the wing now, as well as the various large hawkers,  Southern, migrant, brown and common.  These are spectacular brightly coloured creatures, and can be quite obliging, landing nearby, or even on your clothing.  Brimstone, comma, common blue, red admiral and small copper butterflies may still be seen on warm September days..  

The beautiful colours in butterflies are formed by an unusual use of the natural light, , combined with pigments on the insects themselves..  Butterfly wings are iridescent,  so the appearance varies dependant on the angle of view.  This is achieved by a complex interaction of fine films which filter the light to create the iridescent colours.

Birds Flocking

As the breeding season ends, many small birds will gather in large flocks.  Greenfinches, goldfinches and chaffinches will chatter noisily in the tops of trees, relying on safety in numbers and many keen eyes to spot an approaching predator.  

Starlings begin to assemble in the towns and villages each evening,  then set off to roost en masse, performing their spectacular patterns in the sky, now known as murmurations.  Strictly speaking the murmur is of course the sound, as thousands of birds wings whir across the landscape.  If you are out on the levels when a flock passes overhead, you will hear something quite unique, a great whisper across the land.  As the birds approach their roost, they will swirl and gyrate in amazing patterns, settling, rising again, and moving across the reedbeds like running water.  Their movement in the air is often driven by the appearance of a sparrowhawk or other raptor, hoping to pick off an easy meal. Once settled they start to chatter, rising into a crescendo of calls that may last some long time.  While this phenomenon has been filmed and recorded, this cannot convey the full sense of awe that this spectacle inspires if you are actually there.  

Corvids also now flock and feed together, and a freshly turned field may attract a mixture of carrion crows, rooks, jackdaws and the occasional raven.  They work their way across the fields, picking up worms and beetles as they go.  

Shoreline Waders

The Severn Estuary and the Bristol Channel, fed by the River Parrett estuary and the Huntspill Sluice, provide the perfect environment for many wading and dabbling birds.  In addition to the reserve at Steart Point, there is now the new Steart Marshes project. This will be a key area in the Southwest for waders, something we are very lucky to have in the county.  Huge flocks of small waders, can be seen on the extensive mudflats: oystercatcher, dunlin, ringed plover grey plover, turnstone, sanderling, along with larger birds, such as curlew and black tailed godwits. They make an impressive sight when they take flight, changing colour as they turn in the sun. Large numbers of shelduck can be seen on the shores and sandbanks, a bulky, distinctive duck in white with green neck and chestnut front, and a bright red bill. They probe the mud for small crustaceans, snails and invertebrates. Many rarer waders complete the mix, such as ruff, or little ringed plover, but you do require some good optics to see them.  In addition, birds such as whinchat and wheatear may be found on the tide-line, feeding up on flies before they cross the Channel heading south.  The best time to arrive is just after high tide, as the birds will fly in as the mudflats are exposed by the receding water.

SWT Catcott

Catcott reserve is relatively quiet during the summer, but as autumn comes the wintering ducks and waders will arrive when the Lows are flooded.  However, the newly restored  area (The Fen) just to the south, now has reed beds which have attracted summer visitors reed and sedge warblers this summer, and our resident Cetti's warbler and reed bunting.. The tower hide provides a good view over a reed bed and some open water, home to little grebe, coot and moorhen.  From here you can see marsh harriers hunting.  These are rare and spectacular birds and a delight to watch as they turn and weave, looking for prey.  Peregrine, kestrel and buzzard are also regular visitors.  The hobby, a small raptor with the same moustache-like facial patterning as a peregrine, will soon leave for Africa.  Once a rare sight, this summer breeding falcon now breeds across England and Wales.  In flight it looks quite like a large swift, with curved wings and darting flight.  Roe deer regularly browse on the fringes of the reserve, happy to feed in sight, but always at a good distance from the nearest human.

Catcott is also a good spot for butterflies and dragonflies, and a very pleasant walk  can be taken along the boardwalk through the mixed woodland, where you may glimpse a tree creeper, a pretty small bird with white front and curved bill, sometimes hard to spot, and not very vocal at this time of year.


All photographs by Chris Chappell

Southern Hawker

 Southern Hawker 

Great Crested Grebe

Great Crested Grebe with perch

Brimstone on Purple Loosestrife

Brimstone on Purple Loosestrife

Great White Egret

Great White Egret