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A spotlight on wetland wildlife - September 2020

Posted on 05 Oct 2020

Come with us on a journey across our reserves during the busy month that was September. Birds are truly on the move with autumn migration in full swing and the weather is feeling just that little bit cooler. Summer visitors are gone and the next shift is settling in for the long winter months.

September is the time that birds are moving from their summer breeding grounds to their wintering grounds, on both sides of the Atlantic. Sometimes, westerly storms can push American birds across to us that wouldn’t usually be here! This is the case with the recent lesser yellowlegs found at Slimbridge:

And the Martin Mere Wilson’s phalarope:

Both species would normally be on their way to winter in central and south America.

Meanwhile at both Welney and Caerlaverock, juveniles of the less scarce red-necked phalarope dropped in for a few days, migrating south from breeding grounds in Iceland or northern Scandinavia.

These birds are on their way to spend the winter on the Arabian Sea!

When birds get blown off course, they will look for refuge in suitable habitat for shelter and food. With climate change seeing more unsettled weather events throughout the year, it’s even more important that we protect our wetlands and keep them healthy so these birds have somewhere to go.

Old friends return

We’ve also welcomed back some of our more familiar winter visitors. Both Caerlaverock and Welney have seen numbers of whooper swan arrive, fresh from their Icelandic breeding grounds.

With Caerlaverock reporting another Icelandic breeder; pink-footed geese over the reserve:

And there are now over 10,000 at Martin Mere! Volume up!

Another bird returning for the winter is the bitterns at London – they’ll spend their time in the extensive reed beds, hunting for fish and amphibians.

Back at Welney and they’ve regularly been enjoying high numbers of common crane on Lady Fen.

These birds are gathering in a post-breeding flock to feed up, ready for the winter.

It's not just birds being seen this autumn

Caerlaverock have been finding all sorts of slippery characters, spotting the rare natterjack toad. And an eel in a puddle!

At Slimbridge, they have also seen eels but in a more formal manner; during their survey with Bournemouth University. Every year, some of the adult eels in the reserve are caught and implanted with microchips, to be scanned in the future to work out whether the fish stay put in one pond for years or move around the wetland. There’s even a scanning device set up over a ditch where the eels are thought to exit the wetland to begin their long journey to the Sargasso sea breeding grounds.

Staying with the serpentine, the team at Steart spotted a grass snake.

As have London:

They’ll soon be hibernating until it gets warmer again in the spring.

Back to Slimbridge and a mammal has entered the roundup! The rarely seen water shrew was photographed by a visitor, clambering out of one of the dragonfly ponds.

They’re our largest shrew and dive for their aquatic prey all year round. Interestingly they are also one of the very few mammals with a venomous bite.

At Castle Espie, they’ve been studying their wonderful moths. Not only beautiful, they are great indicators of ecosystem health.

Autumn is of course, fungi time!

These edible mushrooms won’t be around for long at Steart – once the caps open, they quickly dissolve to an inky mush. Because our reserves are protected areas, unfortunately you won’t be able to forage onsite, but it’s still fun to see what’s popping up.

Join us again next month as we get stuck into autumn proper; October. More and more wintering birds arrive at our wetlands, with hopefully some of our longer-range migrating geese and swans from arctic Russia. Fungi season will get into full swing as autumn continues, so we expect to have more weird and wonderful mycological oddities appearing soon.

Be sure to keep up-to-date with wildlife news on all centres social media channels or come and see it for yourself by booking a visit.

Autumn spectacle

Just as wetlands offer sanctuary to thousands of animals over the colder months, they also make the perfect place to safely escape the everyday and appreciate one of nature’s greatest shows - autumn.