September heralds the beginning of autumn as the leaves begin to change colour and fall and the nights draw in. The fields may be bare but the hedgerows are brimming with a bountiful harvest of wild berries and fruits, including rose hips, damsons, blackberries, and hazel nuts. Sea bird migration is at its peak and sharp-eyed watchers from headlands may see passing flocks of shearwaters and skuas. September is also a great month for spotting whales, porpoises and seals along the coast. The warm gold light of September and the warm tones of autumn foliage give the countryside a special glow. If you’d like to see the full range of natural sights on offer this month, take a look at our extensive new gallery of images showing What to look for in September, and we’ve also created a print gallery of September’s natural highlights, if you would like to order a print or gift for an autumn occasion.
Squirrel and mouse populations are busy preparing for the winter months, so keep an eye out for hoarding hibernators. Their natural predators – pine martens, stoats and weasels – are more easily observed as the lush foliage of summer gives way to the light covering of early autumn. As the nights draw in, hungry badgers and hedgehogs venture out earlier in search of food. Deer populations are reaching their peak. Native red deer may observed at many locations around Scotland in particular, and those on Jura even take to the sea to seek out fresh pastures across the Sound of Jura. Meanwhile, herds of introduced sika deer can be seen in some heathlands and woodlands of southern England, for example at the RSPB’s Arne reserve.
Those with a keen eye may spot humpback whales from our northerly shores. These gentle giants are making a welcome comeback to the UK. September is the month when the first grey seal pups are born, while harbour porpoises can be seen at various sites across the British coastline. Feeding parties of seabirds such as kittiwakes, guillemots, puffins, skuas, shearwaters and petrels are common sights during September as they head off to spend the winter months at sea.
Hobby chicks have fledged and so there are more birds in flight during this season feeding on dragonflies in preparation for the migration to Africa, while swallows and house martins won’t be far behind. Our burgeoning hedgerows are bustling with bright and noisy goldfinches foraging, while linnet flocks start to build up on arable land and fallow fields, feeding on the seeds of arable weeds. Many other migrant birds such as chats and warblers feed on the fruits and berries. Flycatchers are a common sight in September as they too prepare for the long flight to Africa. Autumn migration of waders such as little stint, sandpipers and ruff is now in full swing, as many species rest on British shores to refuel as they fly south from their arctic breeding grounds.
Our wasp populations are still going strong and although dragonflies are declining in number, hawkers, common and ruddy darters are still visible hunting for insects over ponds and rivers. Spiders appear in greater numbers and their dew-laden webs are a beautiful sight on a misty September morning. Many species of bee and hoverfly feed from late summer flowers in the countryside and gardens. This is a also good month to spot migrant butterflies such as the clouded yellow and painted lady.
September is showcase season for Britain’s fungi, with a brief foray in any woodland likely to be successful. Magpie inkcap, chanterelle, yellow stag’s horn, sickener, penny bun and wax cap are among the many species to be found. If you are considering collecting edible fungi, make sure that you are 100% sure of your identification and remember not to deplete the autumn food stocks of our native wildlife.
Hedgerows and woodlands are starting to produce their autumn bounty. Look out for rosehips, blackberries, guelder rose berries, hazelnuts and acorns, which provide welcome food for squirrels, dormice, migrant birds, woodpigeons and jays. In damp meadows and waste ground, hemp agrimony with its pink flowers still in bloom and attracting many nectar-feeding insects. Coastal plants such as sea aster and sea spurrey are still very evident during September. Two rare and spectacular autumn-flowering wildflowers to look out for are the autumn crocus and marsh gentian.
Events and activities
September is a good month to start thinking about helping wildlife through the winter, for example by installing a hedgehog house or bee hotel in your garden. Many nature reserves are also in need of maintenance after the summer months with their heavy footfall. Check out the website of you local Wildlife Trust, or you could contact a regional group of the National Trust or RSPB for more details of how to volunteer, or if you are passionate about Britain’s woodlands, check out opportunities with the Woodland Trust. The Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean runs from 20th-23rd September, with dozens of events at various locations around the UK coastline.