“September is like no other It’s days change colour and weather No other month can say quite the same For every day, I can feel the change.” – Jessica Millsaps, from the poem September Changes.
No truer words are spoken about the month of September; it is traditionally the end of summer and the start of the autumn that leads us into winter. It is a fantastic month, full of change, beauty, colour, warmth and cold. It is also a time of plenty and after the wonderful summer we have had, that means only one thing … a bountiful harvest from field and hedge.
Nature’s larder blossoms at this time of the year for one simple reason, namely, to make its occupants fat to see them through the rigours of winter, whether they choose to stay, migrate or even sleep; the abundance of food is critical for survival.
To say this summer has been a blessing is a real understatement; after consistently wet previous ones, coupled with cold winters, we were really due a good one. With moist soils and a rapidly rising temperature, it didn’t take long for summer to catch up and take advantage of the added warm weather bonus.
I was sitting in my ‘hide’ last week, overlooking a flattened field of rape, waiting for the culprits to arrive, and was amazed by the sheer number of martins, swallows and even the last swifts that were swirling over the crop, literally hundreds, if not a thousand, were feeding in earnest over the rotting crop.
In amongst this melee was a vast flock of finches, linnets, redpolls, yellowhammers that kept lifting in front of me, a superb sight that was eventually complimented by the long wings of a hunting marsh harrier that flapped in lazily over the field, but with that many eyes on the lookout, his efforts were, like mine in trying to reduce the local wood pigeon population, fruitless.
It was a sight replicated over my house later in the month, as, for the first time in years, house martins were breeding successfully under the eaves of houses without being knocked off and I counted at least seven successful nests on the estate, which is brilliant. The aerial antics are an absolute joy to behold and with warmth still in the air, I could harvest my tomatoes, courgettes and peas et al with their aerial songs filling the back- drop, even when their tone changed to warning, as the local sparrow hawk wheeled through the cloud – it was another success to see. They songs soon returned to joy as he passed on, looking for easier targets, and I returned to my harvesting.
With warmth and moisture comes a bounty of fruit. I already have some elderberry wine on the shelves and I am eagerly waiting the ripening of the first sloes to put in the Christmas sloe gin and vodka. I love this when the fire is on and I have some homemade salami to chew on or ham and tomatoes. But do be careful, if you try your hand at making it – don’t do as my mate did when he mistook sloes for rose hips (!) and he said it tasted vile but didn’t have a cough all winter.
As the month moves on, expect the first frosts and cooler evenings, a change to the light patterns too as the nights draw in. The martins and swallows will depart and the winter thrushes will arrive. Over the marshes and estuaries, the ducks and geese start to arrive; long skeins of pink foots and white fronted geese overhead, with widgeon and teal filling the tidal creeks.
A morning on the marsh or tidal estuary, waiting for the first light in early autumn is a magical time; you don’t know what is going to come first through the mist or whether anything will at all. The sounds of distant curlew and lapwing remind you of the spring when they are inland breeding and it’s a superb feeling when the first rush of wings arrive; by the end of the month it is like a long precession from the north of returning wildfowl and other birds which come to enjoy our milder climate and feeding opportunities, let’s hope it is a good one.
It is all change in September, out with the old and in with the new as they say. So what is there to look out for at this time of the year? Always keep some late season flowers in the garden, such as sedum as it’s great for butterflies that over-winter such as red admirals and peacocks. Listen at night for the first winter thrushes arriving on clear nights from the
North – their singular ‘tssst’ call can be heard in the dark as they fly in overhead. I usually hear my first redwings during the last week of the September.
In and around the garden, robins are very vocal claiming their territories for next year. Take the opportunity to take down your nest boxes and give them a clean out or put one up if you don’t have one, every little helps. This year I have put up two martin boxes in the hope that next year they will be used. I put them up last month so that young of this year can get the chance of locating them and committing them to memory for their return next year.
Whatever you do this September enjoy it, as winter is just around the corner and we never know what that has in store for us.
Category: Northumbria Wildlife