Nature Diary September

A sudden drop in night temperature is a sign that the seasons are changing. By dawn, the grass is covered with dew, which lingers until late morning, as the sun rises later and lower in the sky.

The autumnal harvest gets into full swing as bramble, rowan and hawthorn berries ripen. These make interesting close-up photographic subjects themselves, but also attract a wide variety of birds and mammals looking out for a feast. And the first signs of yellow begin to appear on trees with beech, horse chestnut and elder being the first to turn.

Although we often associate rabbits with spring this is a good month for photographing them. After a productive summer when the living is (comparatively) easy warren populations will now have peaked. Individuals may forage at up to 400m from the warren. Look for signs of active warrens and check how far the rabbits disperse. Ideally you will find a regular grazing area close to a road where you can use your car as a hide. Arrive early (at least one hour before sunrise or two hours before sunset), be patient and move slowly. Don't give up if they run away, by sitting still they will often return to favoured areas.

Keep your eyes open and your camera ready. Young cuckoos can sometimes be seen sitting on wires and fence posts, looking for juicy caterpillars to feast on before flying south for the winter.

If you intend to photograph woodland birds in late winter (when they begin to look their best) start feeding them now. Set up a simple bird table and provide a mix of seed and fruit. It is regular feeding that will attract the largest numbers. Choose a position that catches good light. Where sunlight falls now will be a guide to where it will fall in March. Once birds start coming into your garden you can entice them onto all sorts of twigs and branches for a variety of settings.

Jays tend to be secretive during the nesting season, but in autumn their affinity for acorns makes them easy to find in oak woods. Seeing a jay is one thing, but getting close enough to photograph one is a different matter entirely. Be quiet and patient, and hopefully one will be distracted enough while feeding to give you the chance of getting a photograph. This is a long-lens operation.

Autumn's natural litter is composed not only of fallen leaves but also of literally billions of feathers - shed by birds that need to renew their plumage to face the oncoming winter or to prepare for migration. A bird has an average of 5-10,000 feathers, most of which are barely visible when shed, but the larger distinctive feathers from the wings or tail can make excellent photographic studies. Try placing a feather on a complimentary background, or go in really close for an abstract pattern type of effect.

In sheltered sunny places swarms of nectar eating late-summer butterflies will gather. On a calm day there will be ample opportunity to photograph them. A breeze will cool the air making them less able to fly and also render photography with natural light impossible. You may need to support whatever plant your subject is on to ensure a sharp photograph.

This is probably the best time of year to photograph spider webs. Damp mornings will hold a heavy dew. By selecting a good position and backlighting the beads of water stunning photographs can be taken, a lens hood is essential. Thistles in flower will be attracting the maximum number of flies just before they go to seed towards the end of this month. Spiders with their webs will be in attendance, lining up for the feast. You won't need to travel far for these, probably no further than your own garden.

House spiders are now moving around. Males wander around buildings and houses looking for a mate. These are one of the largest spiders in Europe and make a good macro lens subject.

The second generation of painted lady butterflies will be hatching about now. Boosting whatever numbers of this butterfly have already made it to our shores. Look out for them on thistles, ice plants and similar nectar-rich blooms.

September is the month in which fly agaric (the classic red with white spots toadstool) begins to appear. It can be found in birch and pinewoods throughout Britain. As the fungi develops it continues to increase in size from small and rounded to large and flat. So it will always be worth going back for a second or third visit to any examples that you find.

August  Index  October

The Locations: Where grid references are given they are based on the Ordnance Survey Landranger Grid.
Where possible postcode/map links have been provided to Google Maps showing the exact location.