I can’t remember a bank holiday weekend where I’ve seen more species of bird in finer weather. Heading to the North Norfolk coast was a superb last minute decision. It’s a part of the world I remember fondly from many childhood visits and holidays, and Titchwell – well, the beach if I’m honest – was a regular feature as my mum was an RSPB member.
It’s that time of year when you’re kind of half expecting some unexpected birds. After arriving at the ample Titchwell carpark we were thrilled to hear from the extremely friendly volunteer at the welcome desk that there had been some good sightings today already. Several birds, such as Sandwich terns, grey plovers and spoonbills I hadn’t see this year, and an Arctic skua had been sighted from the beach. After a quick cuppa from the pleasant café, we headed towards the beach intent on seeing as much as we could before we settled in the dunes and had a swim.
RSPB Titchwell Marsh comprises freshwater reedbeds, salt lagoons and a stunning sandy beach. With wheelchair accessible hides, a well-stocked shop and café, and big Norfolk skies, Titchwell has become extremely popular. It’s a nationally important reserve for avocets, and an internationally important reserve for other waders that winter there. A lot of work has been put into conserving the reserve's habitats and improving the site to ensure that everyone can come to Titchwell and enjoy the nature it protects.
RSPB Titchwell didn’t disappoint. We saw 17 species of wader on our hour-long walk to the beach, and saw many other spectacular birds such as the soaring and graceful marsh harrier. Here are some shots of my bird highlights, and some of those stunning views and endless skies.
The beach approach (Photo: Jack Plumb)
I love the little stumpy beaks ringed plovers have! (Photo: Flickr creative commons, Ekaterina Chernetsova)
Flying on the coast can get pretty tiring if you're a Sandwich tern... (Photo: Flickr creative commons, Sciadopitys)
A beak full of mud for this grey plover - hopefully whatever it ate was worth it (Photo: Flickr creative commons, Tony Sutton)
And now it's time for home (Photo: Jack Plumb)
It’s all go in September, no matter where you live, or where you look. Migration is in full swing and millions of birds are heading your way from all corners of the globe. There are fabulous insects to seek in the September sunshine and fungi are popping up everywhere following the late summer rain. There’s not a minute to waste, so to get you in the mood for a September to remember, and 30 days of nature’s finest, here are my 10 “must sees” for this magic month.You'll find dozens of different species of fungi in September. Parasol mushrooms can easily grow over a foot tall (Mark Ward)
1.Watch the waves. Seabirds, from skuas and storm-petrels to shearwaters and Sabine’s gulls are on the move around the coast. The sleek sooty shearwater is an all black, stiff-winged ocean wanderer with a silver lining to its wings. In September, it disperses into the northern hemisphere’s seas having bred in the southern hemisphere on islands off New Zealand and South America. On days with a strong onshore wind, get yourself to the coast and scan out to sea for the sight of these marvellous migrants arching up over the waves before plunging back down into a trough at rapid speed.
Head for the coast and if the wind is in your face, scan the waves for passing seabirds this September (Mark Ward)
2. Make your way to the fungi festival. You might associate autumn’s bonanza of weird and wonderful fungi with October, but September is just as good - especially as there has been plenty of rain to encourage the fruiting bodies to pop out from the soil. Mixed woodland provides a great range of species, so get down to your local wood to see what you can find. From toadstools and clubs, earthstars and earthballs to stinkhorns and puffballs there’s a bewildering array of shapes, sizes and colours to match those nifty names. There are some smelly ones too. Stinkhorns live up to their name and the chicken-run and aniseed funnels provide some interesting alternative aromas. Check out my blog from a couple of years ago for more on September's fab fungi and a look back at some of the species I found last autumn. Let us know how you get on!
September has plenty of smells too - keep your nose to the ground for the stinkhorn (Mark Ward)
3.Watch birds on a wire. Swallows, sand martins and house martins gather in family groups before finally heading off south to Africa for winter. Watch them closely and listen to their conversational calls and you can sense the excitement. Are they discussing when to go and which route to take? We’ll probably never know for sure. What do you think?
House martins, swallows and sand martins gather on telephone wires before taking their final bow and heading south (Nick Upton rspb-images.com)
4.Eye up some ivy. There’s a new bee in town and it’s coming to an ivy near you. The ivy colletes has colonised naturally, spreading gradually northwards through the UK. It is a gorgeous bee with a super stripy abdomen. Ivy flowers are a great late source of nectar for bees and hoverflies, so when the sun shines stand under some ivy– and prepare to be impressed! I'd also highly recommend checking out our the superb blog of Nature's Home's gardening guru, Adrian Thomas, for more September gardening ideas.
Keep an eye on ivy flowers this September - they teem with insect life (Andy Hay rspb-images.com)
5.See a Siberian sprite. Yellow-browed warblers are tiny birds from the forests of Siberia, weighting less than a 50 pence piece. Their lively “Tsoo-eet” calls carry far and wide for such a tiddler. They have become much commoner in the last few years, turning up anywhere and everywhere in autumn. It’s though that they may even be establishing new migration routes and wintering grounds, so keep your eyes and ears peeled this September.
6.Admire autumn moths. The leaves they are-a-changing on the trees and there are plenty of autumn moths now on the wing that mirror those beautiful autumn shades. The canary-shouldered thorn has a brilliant yellow thorax that gives it its name, sallows come in a variety of pinks and yellows and the angle-shades looks like a crinkled autumn leaf! Don't just take my word for it though. Check out this great "Myth-busting moths" feature7. Experience a feast from the east. What you REALLY want in September is a nice long spell of east or north-east winds. If this coincides with high pressure over Scandinavia which brings clear skies to encourage birds to set off on migration, they are “drifted” towards the UK. A big band of rain on the east coast forces them to make landfall and hey presto, it’s a fall of migrants when birds such as goldcrests (below), cryptically-coloured wrynecks, redstarts, flycatchers and beetle-munching red-backed shrikes appear.
The goldcrest weighing about the same as a 10p piece, is on its way from Scandinavia this September (Mark Ward)
8.Enjoy an Indian summer. Warm days with blue skies and sunshine provide great opportunities to see insects. Look for common darters sunning themselves on fenceposts, washing lines and paths. Migrant hawkers patrol the skies in groups – air traffic control at its best. You should still find plenty of butterflies from perfectly pink painted ladies from Morocco to buttercup-coloured clouded yellows dashing past.9.Pick a blackberry – or a basketful. Make sure you leave plenty for the birds and other wildlife though. Have you noticed blackberries appear at different times? And that there are big ones, small ones, juicy ones and some with big “bobbles? And that they all taste different? That’s because there are actually more than 300 different “microspecies” of bramble in the UK! Pick them before the end of September, otherwise the devil will spit on them, so legend has it...
Everyone loves a blackberry, including harvest mice (Ben Andrew rspb-images.com)
10. Take a break! With more than 200 RSPB nature reserves to choose from, why not get away for a break this September to really improve your chances of encountering something special? Our friends at uknaturebreaks.co.uk have a huge range of properties for you to choose, from hidden lodges in the woods to beautiful country cottages and many are close to RSPB reserves too. For every booking made they will donate 10% to the RSPB.
How's your autumn going?We'd love to know how you get on this September and what your favourite sights, sounds, smells and things to do are. You can leave a comment below, or email email@example.com Good luck and have a great month! Don't forget, there are loads more seasonal ideas for where, when and how to watch birds and other wildlife in Nature's Home magazine - free to every RSPB member four times a year.
I reckon this has been the wettest school summer holidays I can remember.
Not too chilly, and with bits of sunshine – I particularly enjoyed seeing a small ‘bite’ missing from the bottom of the golden sun as it set over Bath on Monday night; the tail end of the Great American Eclipse. But certainly, there’s been plenty of rain around here.
I’ve given up trying to deter the local slug armies from swarming my vegetable beds - they’re just everywhere, and good luck to them. But while the rain puts a dampener on my gardening efforts, it has brought out lots of amphibians. And those, I do like.
Did you know that the UK has only seven species of amphibian, falling into two groups? We have four species of frog and toad (two of each), and three types of newt. I’m going to disregard one of the frogs - the pool frog Pelophylax lessonae, because it only exists at a few secret sites in East Anglia (it was declared extinct in the UK in 1995, but descendants are being re-introduced). So, most of us will never see one of those.
Which leaves six to look for. Rain will often bring them out, otherwise they’ll be spending this time of year lurking under logs and rocks near calm water. So as they enjoy their moment in the perma-drizzle, here’s a few amphibious facts - and a challenge!
Can you find (and photograph) these 6 amphibians before they all melt away to their winter hiding-holes? There might just be a little prize for those who do (scroll to bottom to enter)!
Can you find these six this season? Click to enlarge.
Common newt, Triturus vulgaris
Vulgaris. Common as muck. Common in muck, too, at least in my garden…. these guys turn up under rocks and loose paving slabs in my garden, as well as in and around our tiny pond. Outside the breeding season, they’re greenish-brown and speckled, with an orange hue to the belly and pale, spotted throats.
Palmate newt, Lissotriton helveticus
Similar to the smooth newt, but usually a bit smaller and the pale throat will be un-spotted. Males have two ridges along either side of the back as well as the spine. You can also check for a dark stripe through the eye. At this time of year, they tend to be spotted near water after dark on rainy nights.
Great crested newt, Triturus cristatus
These are our rarest newt – and I’ve never yet seen one (despite peering into many a pond said to contain them). They’re also our largest, growing to around 15cm, so you’d think they’d be a bit easier to spot! Though they’ll have lost their glorious breeding ‘plumage’ by now, look for dark, knobbly skin with orange speckled belly, and a robust fin along the top and bottom of the tail. This year’s juveniles are emerging from their ponds this month - in isolated pockets around mainland Britain, but not Ireland.
FROGS & TOADS
Common frog, Rana temporaria
Should need no introduction - my garden is crawling with these guys, and they are very welcome to feast on all the slugs during any rain-induced bonanza. Colours and markings can vary widely (often to match their surroundings!), but they are delicately built and smooth-skinned.
Common toad, Bufo bufo
Deliciously warty and chunky-looking’ all bulges and carbuncles, in a lacklustre brownish-greenish-grey. I saw one this week, sitting motionless on a lawn with its eyes gazing forward - then realised it was dead, so didn’t count. This did allow me close inspection, though.
Natterjack toad, Epidalea calamita
A Red-Listed toad to get excited about - I want to give double points for this one. Natterjacks a bit more colourful than the old bufo bufo, with red or yellow warts and a yellow stripe along it back. Unlike common toads it’ll get about by walking or running, rather than hopping - hence it’s also known as the running toad. They’re only found at about 60 sites in the UK, mainly around sandy, coastal heaths in north-west England and western Scotland. Good luck!
GIVE AMPHIBIANS A HOME
The best way to encourage your own amphibian population (and keep those slugs at bay!) is to have your own pond. Mine is only a metre long, tucked into a corner, but it yields plenty of happy amphibians. Make sure there are rocks or loose slabs, and vegetation around it to give them shelter. You can also add a broken flowerpot or two on their side and cover with soil for insulation - or buy a ready-made frog shelter!
The first person to email us their own 2017 snaps of the six species above, gets to choose a free wildlife book from our current Nature's Home booklist. (We'll share your snaps, too!)