The rain over the last few days has given a new burst of life to our native plants.
100 microspecies of bramble in Dorset!
Now that September has arrived, the brambles are yielding a good crop of blackberries. Have you noticed the way in which individual bushes differ in their fruiting time and also the size and taste of their blackberries?
Specialists have described over 300 ‘microspecies’ of bramble, of which around 100 occur in Dorset!
Look out for shieldbugs
As you collect blackberries, you will probably see some shieldbugs including the dock bug. There is one generation each year with adults mating and laying eggs in spring after which the larvae feed and grow on the leaves of various docks and sorrels. They become adults in August and can then be found in dense vegetation including hedgerows.
Hedgerows also provide sheltered locations for dragonflies to patrol and catch flying insects. Most inquisitive of the larger dragonflies at this time of the year is the southern hawker, which is predominantly green and black and will fly very close as you walk through its territory.
Somewhat smaller and appearing blue and black in flight is the migrant hawker, a less territorial species. It now breeds in England and sometimes several individuals can be seen flying somewhat higher when hawking for insects.
You've heard of "mixed nuts", watch out for "mixed birds"
The southward migration of our summer visitors is now in full swing with some migrants mingling with our resident birds in mixed flocks through woodlands and along hedgerows.
Don’t be surprised to see great, blue, coal and long-tailed tits in company with chiffchaffs, redstarts and spotted flycatchers as they feed on a variety of insects.
Redstarts, with their quivering rusty-red tails, arrive in numbers from the oakwoods of the north and west and never fail to impress.
From cows to antelope
If cattle are grazing in adjacent fields, take time to check if they have yellow wagtails snapping up insects disturbed by their moving feet. Sadly, this attractive bird no longer breeds in Dorset so late August and September are the best times to see family parties moving south.
Listen for their explosive ‘psit’ call as they take their leave and head towards west Africa where they will spend the winter eating insects disturbed by antelope and other herbivores.
As summer fades to autumn, the sight and sound of rooks, often accompanied by jackdaws becomes a familiar sight over arable land. At close quarters, the bare greyish skin around the base of the bill in the adult rook distinguishes it from carrion crow, which is much less gregarious.
Great weather for fungi
This month should provide us with an impressive display of mushrooms and toadstools if we get some more rain. The parasol mushroom, whose cap can be as much as 25 cm across is common in open woods, pastures and on chalk turf in Dorset.
In contrast, the fly agaric, so familiar from illustrated fairy tales, is found near birch or pine trees, with which it has a mutually beneficial association. Although attractive, it is best not to touch this poisonous species.
It's a hard life for a common shrew
Have you seen a common shrew recently - perhaps lying dead on a path or brought in by your cat? This is the second most common mammal in Great Britain with an estimated 40 million individuals.
They feed on insects, earthworms, small slugs and snails and must eat every 2-3 hours to survive. Spare a thought for the females which have between 4 and 7 litters of 5-7 young between May and September. Few individuals survive for more than 12 months and they can fall prey to tawny and barn owls plus foxes and stoats.
Feeding-up for the winter
Finally, our only flying mammals, the bats are still active in September. After the females have produced and suckled their young in midsummer when insect food is abundant they too have completed their parental responsibilities by September.
With the juveniles now catching food for themselves, the females seek out males and mating takes place, although development of the next generation within the mother will not start until next spring, after winter hibernation.
Written by John Wright
Dorset Wildlife Trust Member & Volunteer