Best wildlife watching experiences for September
We round up the best wildlife watching experiences for September, with ideas for days out, weekends away and short and long haul breaks - but which gets your vote?
DAY TRIP | UKA night in the woods
Old Henley Farm, Buckland Newton, Dorset
Staking out a badger sett can be rewarding throughout spring and summer, but badgers are particularly active feeding during September as they build up body fat in preparation for winter. Old Henley Farm offers floodlit viewing of a large sett in Dorset thought to be around 100 years old and currently home to a clan of about a dozen adult badgers. Two hides – each accommodating up to 12 people – face a sheltered beech copse on a gentle slope of chalk grassland. This is badger watching in style. The hides have comfortable seats and reading lights, while carpeted floors deaden the sound of footfalls as you arrive in the early evening to take up your vigil.
You may need to wait an hour or two before the first black and white face appears in the dark maw of one of the sett’s burrows. Sitting quietly, though, you’ll quickly tune in to the subtle sights and sounds that accompany the transition from day to night shift in the English countryside: a blackbird singing, pheasants settling down to roost, a fox flowing like a wisp of russet smoke along the woodland edge… With luck you’ll hear tawny owls calling or glimpse the flickering shapes of bats.
If they feel safe, the badgers will emerge onto this twilight stage, raising their snouts to scent for possible danger before settling into their nocturnal routines. As well as feeding behaviour, you may also observe them grooming, mating, fighting or even doing a spot of housework, dragging old bedding material out of the sett and replacing it with fresh grass and leaves. Cubs are usually born in February, venturing outside for the first time around mid-April. By September, they’ll be nearly as big as the adults. Depending on how long summer lingers into September, cubs will be busy play fighting or feeding alongside grown-ups to put on winter fat.
AT A GLANCE
Cost Rating: *
When to go: Badgers are active year round, but spring and summer are the best times for viewing them
Other wildlife: Tawny owls, foxes, rabbits and bats
Book now: Badger Watch Dorset (www.badgerwatchdorset.co.uk)
LONG WEEKEND | UK
Winging it on the south coast
Isle of Wight
With flower-speckled swathes of chalk downland, the Isle of Wight is a summer hotspot for butterflies. Around 40 of the UK’s 61 species are resident here – look for the rare Glanville fritillary on the coastal cliffs of Compton Bay, chalkhill and Adonis blues on Tennyson Downs and the purple hairstreak and pearl-bordered fritillary at Walter’s Copse and Parkhurst Forest.
Its southerly location means the Isle of Wight can stay sunny and warm well into September – so it's a great place to see late summer insects on the wing, including migrant butterflies such as the clouded yellow. Spilling across the Channel from continental Europe, these delicate but determined travellers occasionally form spectacular swarms over the clover-rich downland. They begin making landfall along the UK’s south coast as early as May, but August and September can see the greatest numbers as the main influx gets all of a flutter with the newly emerged offspring of early arrivals.
Keep an eye out, too, for other migrants such as the zippy day-flying hummingbird hawkmoth, the less flashy silver Y moth and the ever-so-elegant painted lady butterfly. Seaside parks and gardens with late-flowering, nectar-rich plants are good hunting grounds. With its Mediterranean style planting, Ventnor Botanic Gardens will seem like home-from-home for these long-distance fliers.
It’s not only insects that are seduced by the Isle of Wight’s balmy climate. Migrant birds also make a point of dropping by to rest and refuel on their southerly autumn migrations. Ventnor Downs is an excellent vantage from which to spot common species such as finches, larks and pipits, as well as scarcer migrant raptors such as ospreys, honey buzzards and black kites.
AT A GLANCE
Cost Rating: *
When to go: Summer and early autumn for butterflies
Other wildlife: Mainland rarities such as red squirrels, dormice and water voles thrive on the Isle of Wight
Book now: Visit Isle of Wight (www.visitisleofwight.co.uk)
MINI BREAK / ROMANIA
Watching the fly-past
Danube Delta, Romania
A major flyway for migratory birds, the Danube Delta is a mecca to birdwatchers at this time of year. Visit in late spring and you’ll be spellbound by resident breeding species such as pelicans, flying in undulating lines above sun-spangled lagoons, or nesting colonies of glossy ibis, spoonbill, pygmy cormorant, white stork and collared pratincole. But visit in September and you’ll go into ornithological overdrive. When the autumn migration funnels birds through the Danube on their epic transit between Eurasia and Africa, this immense wetland stages one of the world’s greatest wildlife spectacles. The southern part of the delta – particular Sacaline, a 20km-long sandy peninsula on the Black Sea coast – offers a front-row seat for watching raptors, waders, storks and passerines on the move.
Fussing through shoreline vegetation, large flocks of bee-eaters, blackcaps, robins, redstarts, tits, thrushes and warblers can be seen, along with red-breasted flycatchers, red-backed shrikes and thrush nightingales. Among the waders, broad-billed and terek sandpipers will also be moving south, while overhead, birds of prey to watch for include both common and honey buzzards, greater spotted and steppe eagles, hobby and red-footed falcons, marsh and pallid harriers, Levant sparrowhawks and lesser kestrels.
For unrivalled views of the Danube’s prolific birdlife, be sure to spend a few days on one of the Delta’s hotel-boats, drifting through the vast network of rivers, lakes and reedbeds. Just to the south of the Danube, Sinoe makes a good base for visiting Histria on Romania’s Black Sea coast, where you can watch waves of migrant birds passing overhead. The Danube also combines well with the nearby Macin Mountains – a particularly good spot for watching migrant raptors.
AT A GLANCE
Cost Rating: ***
When to go: Spring or autumn for bird migrations
Other wildlife: Resident birds of the Danube include white and Dalmatian pelicans, grebes, herons and cormorants
Book now: Limosa Holidays (www.limosaholidays.co.uk)
LONG HAUL | BRAZIL
Panthers on the prowl
The Pantanal, Brazil
With numbers probably higher than anywhere else in South America, Brazil's great wetland is one of the best places to spot the elusive and notoriously shy jaguar. The chances of an encounter increase during the dry season (June to November) when shrinking wetland areas concentrate predator and prey
In one particular part of the north-central Pantanal, strict protection from hunting combined with abundant food has further weighed in the jaguars’ favour. SouthWild, which operates two floating hotels in the area, has guaranteed jaguar viewing on the Cuiabá, Three Brothers and Piquiri Rivers since 2006. The cats are sometimes seen within 5m of the ‘flotels’, but more often than not you will need to venture out on early morning boat safaris or evening spotlighting excursions to catch a glimpse of this fine feline, lying in the shade of dense riverine forest or wading through the shallows.
If you’re extremely lucky, you might witness South America’s top land predator hunting. The name ‘jaguar’ is derived from the Native American word yaguar, which means “he who kills with one leap” – a technique the big cat uses to dispatch anything from fish, turtles and caimans to capybaras, peccaries and tapirs.
To be honest, though, a jaguar sighting is the cherry on the top of the Pantanal’s rather generous cake. The place is positively squirming with wildlife, including some 30 million caiman, half a million capybara and over 650 species of birds, including the gorgeous hyacinth macaw. Add to this, the exuberant giant river otter and extraordinary giant anteater, plus anacondas, armadillos, ocelots and howler monkeys and you have a wildlife experience every bit as compelling and rewarding as Africa’s Okavango Delta or Australia’s Kakadu National Park.
AT A GLANCE
Cost Rating: ****
When to go: June to November
Other wildlife: Without doubt caiman and capybara; with luck giant anteater, giant river otter and hyacinth macaw
Book now: Naturetrek (www.naturetrek.co.uk)