Blackwater Valley Countryside

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September in the Valley

As much as we like to think of September as part of the summer it is officially an autumn month. Swallow by Jerry O'BrienIn the natural world autumn is a time of all change and the bird migrations of the Valley are the highlight of the bird-watchers’ year. By September bird migration is well underway. Birds that have spent the summer breeding in the Valley will be moving south. Some, like Swallows, gather to form large flocks before setting out en masse. Others, such as the Chiffshaff, move as a constant procession of individuals.

The autumn migration is a chance to see birds that do not stay in this area over winter, but do use the gravel pits for re-fuelling during passage. Black Terns and Sandpipers are two examples of birds that may call in for no more than an hour or two before flying on.

It will be interesting to see what the weather conditions
will be like this autumn and how it will affect the Valley’s wildlife. Cool, damp conditions will allow many plants to extend their season. Late flowering species such as
Devils-bit Scabious, Hardheads, Toadflax and naturalised Michaelmas Daisies will last to the first
frosts. This will help support any autumn-flying, nectar-seeking insects.

Hawthorn berriesDamp conditions also
benefit berry-producing plants allowing the fruit to develop properly. Look for hedgerows filled with the fruits of Hawthorn (pictured), Sloe, Rowan
as well as Crab Apples. These support great numbers of berry-eating birds such as Redwings, Fieldfares and other Thrushes that flock to this country especially for the feast, as well as our permanent resident breeding population.

If the weather stays warm and sunny there will be more different species of butterfly still flying. One to watch out for is the Comma, found in moist places in the Valley nectaring or hovering Comma wings closed Chris Wirdnamaround banks of nettles in the sun. It is the only butterfly with ‘ragged’ and ‘torn’ looking wing edges and if it rests with its wings shut look for the white ‘comma’ on the undersides of both wings.

Elder berries



Did you know...

Elder Sambucus nigra flourishes wherever the nitrogen content of the soil
is high, such as near abandoned dwellings, in churchyards and around rabbit warrens and badger setts. In these places the
soil has been enriched by
the breakdown of organic matter like dung and refuse.

Seeds from elder berries are spread by birds who eat the berries then dispose of the seeds in their droppings. The plant can colonise an area quickly as it grows very vigorously.

At this time of year the branches of Elder bushes
are laden with dangling umbels of black berries,
a great favourite of birds
and small mammals such as voles and mice. Rich in vitamin C the berries make excellent wine and jam.

As you pick the berries take some time to admire the tree’s bark. Elder doesn’t often reach tree proportions but when it does the corky bark is a deeply furrowed network of ridges.

You’ll also find that the pith is easily cut from the stem and generations of children have hollowed out elder stems to make whistles and pea-shooters.

The old twigs are often decorated with yellow Xanthoria parientina lichen, which thrives on elder bark enriched with nitrogen from the droppings of birds that eat the berries.