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September Wildlife in the Garden

What Garden Wildlife to Look out for in September: Cranefly, Garden Spider, Silver Y, Speckled Wood, Whitethroat and Jay.

Great news to start with is that we have reached 399 in our species tally so we only need one more to achieve our target!! Please keep your donations coming so we can reach our £1,000 target! Thanks :)

It is a common misconception that spring and summer are the best seasons for wildlife. While it is certainly true that there is plenty to see in spring and summer, that overlooks the great things to be seen in the colder months. September is one of my favorites months for wildlife, with bird migration and everything that goes with the change of season, but still if we’re lucky a last bit of summer warmth. There is definitely the smell of Autumn in the air with the leaves just beginning to show signs of turning. I have managed to go on a few walks recently and I also found a good number of berries, which is really encouraging for our winter visiting birds. My dad and I found some Sloes which I said would be good for gin making! My dad likes making home brews, or potions as we affectionately call them. We even sponsored a Sloe Pug moth which got a dedication to him in the Moth Atlas that Butterfly Conservation recently published.

The Cranefly, or Daddy Longlegs as many people call them, is a common sight in our homes and gardens this time of year. From my research, according to the RSPB and others there are around 300 species in the uk which can be seen throughout the year. They are however very difficult to identify to species level with some requiring a microscope. Daddy Longlegs are a type of Cranefly not a spider. There is however, just to be confusing, a Daddy Longlegs Spider which mostly lives in our houses all year round. They have long gangly legs, but tiny bodies, and being a spider have no wings, and eight legs not six. It is very random, but I once named one that lived in my room Jim-bob Zebedee, which I can never live down! Swiftly moving on, a popular myth is that they are poisonous, which is not the case. According to my research, they are incapable of biting humans anyway, so even if they were poisonous, they could not harm you. The larvae are known as Leatherjackets and spend a lot of the time underground eating mostly roots and other plant matter. They can be a bit of a pest in gardens, but they are a great source of food for birds like robins and other wild animals. The adults are also a good source of food for birds like Swallows that need to stoke up before migration. The adult Craneflies only live for 10-15 days, their sole purpose is to find a mate and lay eggs before they die. In this time they do not eat, like many other insects.

A sight that is synonymous with Autumn is the beautiful, dewed spider’s webs in our gardens and the hedgerows. Most of which are created by the Garden Spider, our most common species of Orb Web Spider. These spiders are associated with this time of the year, however they can be seen at any time from May starting off as tiny yellow and black Spiderlings. Having constructed a web, that amazingly takes only an hour to build, they sit in the middle waiting for unsuspecting insects to come along. Garden Spiders eat a wide variety of insects and I have even seen them tackling wasps, impressive considering the wasp could do the spider some serious damage too! To capture their prey they wrap the creature up in silk before despatching it with a venomous bite. Do not be alarmed however, they are no danger to people and no species in the UK can seriously harm you. All spiders bite, but only 12 out of 600+ species in Britain are able to penetrate human skin, so most could not bite you even if they wanted to! I think they are beautiful creatures with striking markings and great fun to watch as they build their webs.

Here's an image I took a good few years ago that I think shows how beautiful spiders can be!

There is still plenty of moths and butterflies to see running into autumn, but they will start to be less active as the weather gets colder. Especially look out for them with sunny spells and on plants like Ivy are a good place to start. Two species you might encounter are the Silver Y moth and Speckled Wood butterfly. The Sliver Y is a good moth for beginners as they are pretty easy to identify, with the distinctive Y mark it gets the name from, and although they do fly at night, they are also a day flying species, which always helps! They are a common migrant coming over in large numbers each year from the continent. They can be seen throughout the year, but they are most numerous in late summer to early autumn and in my experience, they are by far the most common day flying moth in September. The Speckled Wood I always think is a charming sight of August through to September in woodland clearings on walks, but they are also common in gardens. Many butterflies and moths such as the Speckled Wood have several generations in a year, which just refers to when the adults emerge. The ones we see this time of year are a third generation with two earlier in April and June. Unusually for butterflies they feed mostly on honeydew in the trees, which is a sweet sticky liquid secreted by insects like aphids. Somewhat surprisingly the caterpillars on the other hand eat grasses like Cock’s Fook and False Brome.

To my mind the birds are the main event this time of year with migration reaching its peak. One bird I was delighted to see recently in my garden was a Whitethroat on its migration to Africa. To my mind the birds are the main event this time of year with migration reaching its peak. One bird I was delighted to see recently in my garden was a Whitethroat on its migration to Africa. When you think of bird migration most people think of birds flying south for the winter to places like Africa. This is of course absolutely true, but not all birds do with Redwings and Fieldfares coming across to the UK from the east for example. The Whitethroat is a species of Warbler in the same group as the Blackcap. They make the journey to our shores each year to breed and then they start to return to Africa to avoid the cold in September and October. These birds eat mostly insects, but also eat berries and other fruit in the autumn. They are not the typical bird to find in gardens preferring scrubby areas and hedgerows so they can sculk through the undergrowth. It is important to keep your eyes peeled this time of year with so many birds on the move as you just do not know what might turn up. Our resident birds are busy too, mostly stocking up for the winter while they can. One such bird that is much more conspicuous at this time of year and is arguably our most beautiful crow is the Jay. Much of the year these birds are quite allusive spending their time in woodland. In autumn however it is like a switch has been flipped and suddenly they are everywhere. A lot of this is to do with their search for food in particular their love of acorns. Like squirrels they berry them in a safe place and have an amazing ability to remember where they put most of them, but they will also steal from squirrels sometimes.

I hope you enjoyed reading about September wildlife and I have left you excited to see for yourself what is in your own gardens.

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