Parish Nature Notes for September - John Wright

The weather in September was changeable, as in August, but although we had some periods of very heavy rain, there were also days when sunny conditions brought out butterflies and dragonflies and provided the opportunity to experience some characteristic sights of autumn.

The 1st September, being a Saturday, was my excuse to walk round parts of Wareham Forest and Morden Bog. A few migrating birds were on show including a couple of common whitethroats, one of which had attached itself to a family party of stonechats on the heath. Then there were chiffchaffs tirelessly picking off insects as they moved through the trees and a couple of spotted flycatchers making periodic sorties from their perches to catch flying insects. Swallows overhead giving their alarm calls alerted me to a peregrine flying at some height but with no real interest in the swallows. At Morden Park Lake the sun was shining and apart from brief views of a kingfisher and grey wagtail, the buddleja bush near the spillway had several red admirals feeding on nectar and also a silver-washed fritillary.

Common Whitethroat

Common Whitethroat

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

The next day, despite rain, there were house martins flying near Holton Heath station. They often attempt a late brood and may not migrate south until October. Whereas swallows head for South Africa, there is still much uncertainty as to where house martins overwinter within Africa. The nearby Holton Heath Industrial Estate rarely disappoints if you are interested in flowers. Despite many of the verges being cut, there were well over 200 spikes of autumn ladies tresses at various locations and even Pampas Grass was bursting into flower on the pavement!

Pampas Grass

Pampas Grass

Photograph: John Wright

Last month I featured lesser bladderwort, a carnivorous plant which captures small aquatic creatures in bog pools in both Morden Bog and Sandford Heath. Earlier in the summer I had noticed the underwater leaves of a different species of bladderwort in the vegetated pond on Great Ovens Heath. Sometimes this species fails to flower but on 3 September I had the pleasure of seeing several flowering spikes of Wavy Bladderwort. This larger and more brightly coloured species also occurs in Littlesea.

Wavy Bladderwort

Wavy Bladderwort

Photograph: John Wright

Very occasionally in autumn, weather conditions conspire to display every spider's web on the heath with small droplets of water along each thread. This happened on 8th September and demonstrated how incredibly abundant spiders are on gorse and other heathland plants. The lives of various flying insects and grasshoppers etc are always at risk with so many webs and traps around, but high populations of spiders mean that dartford warblers have an important source of food to sustain them through the winter.

Spider's webs

Spider's webs

Photograph: John Wright

As the days passed, there seemed to be more and more red admiral butterflies about, not only in our garden but over the heathland and along hedgelines. By mid-month I had seen a family party of wood larks in Morden Bog, a group of three crossbills and more marsh gentians in flower, some with three or four flowers per stem. At another location in Morden Bog I was told where to find an unusual, but much less showy plant - marsh clubmoss. This member of an ancient group of plants, which lack flowers has small 'cones' to spread its spores. The plants tend to occur in damp areas with limited competition from more vigorous flowering plants.

Marsh Clubmoss

Marsh Clubmoss

Photograph: John Wright

On the 18th September, I visited Holton Lee soon after a period of heavy rain. There was standing water across marshy ground on the edge of Lytchett Bay and I had close views of six greenshank and a dozen black-tailed godwit probing the shallows for food. Many of the black-tailed godwit which winter in the UK have bred in Iceland.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

The next day I returned to Holton Lee and sunshine encouraged a migrant hawker dragonfly to look for flying insects. Despite its name this species does breed in southern and eastern England and, being less territorial than the larger common and southern hawkers, can sometimes be seen in small groups of three or four individuals. By Lytchett Bay greenshank and green sandpiper were seen and along the edge of the Wareham Channel four whimbrel took flight with their characteristic repeated stacato call, entirely different from the evocative call of the somewhat larger curlew.

Migrant Hawker

Migrant Hawker

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

As I was leaving Holton Lee, I noticed a few plants of devil's-bit scabious, a species I had been looking for within the parish in the last few weeks, but without success. Devil's-bit scabious is quite common in Dorset but is a late flowering species which attracts a variety of late flying insects including hoverflies etc.

Devil's-bit Scabious

Devil's-bit Scabious

Photograph: John Wright

Saturday 22nd was more settled and in Morden Bog, as the sun came out, black darter dragonflies seemed to exceed common darters in abundance. There were also a few small copper butterflies on view. Their caterpillars feed on the leaves of common and sheeps sorrel and there are usually three generations each year, hence the appearance of adults in September.

Small Copper

Small Copper

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

Then followed more rain over the next three days, but on one occasion when I slipped out during a break in the clouds I noticed that some spindle trees near the Sika car park offered an interesting clash of autumn colours with the orange seeds surrounded by the pink berries. No doubt these trees were planted, because it occurs more widely on calcareous soils.

Spindle Tree

Spindle Tree

Photograph: John Wright

By the 27th it was sunny again and even the small buddleja tree in our garden attracted 13 red admirals, a painted lady, a small tortoiseshell and three small whites. The painted lady had been seen in the garden for several days and was identifiable by the wear on its wings. Sometimes it caught the sun by resting on paving slabs.

Painted Lady

Painted Lady

Photograph: John Wright

However, better weather at the end of the month could not conceal another characteristic feature of autumn. My Saturday morning walk revealed a lot of activity by jays as they flew around collecting acorns and burying them for future use over winter. In summer these birds can all but disappear but on that day, I saw jays on seven different occasions and their high visibility will continue over the coming weeks.