Summer? What summer?!
As I write at the end of the wettest June on record there is little evidence of summer. April was warm and dry but after a promising start, but May soon deteriorated dominated by a constant succession of low pressure weather fronts and then with June came the monsoons!
I was encouraged by good emergences of butterflies in April and early May; Holly Blues, Brimstones, Peacocks, Orange Tips and Speckled Wood's all appeared in good numbers, but since then Butterflies are only conspicuous by their absence.
The wet weather has spelt disaster for many of our nesting birds. The evidence for this is obvious with very few fledglings in my garden. But it is not just the common birds that have been adversely affected. Nearly all the Bitterns on the east coast have had their nests washed away. This is disastrous when you consider that at the turn of the century the recovery programme was on coarse, with at one point "booming" males topping the 50 mark, but sadly, this spring only 44 "booming" males were located. Other reed nesting species have shared the same fate including Marsh Harriers which up until now have been increasing rapidly.
Unfortunately the challenges of nature are not the only ones facing our rare birds. Red kites, which I have previously mentioned as being on the verge of colonising Lincolnshire, from an expanding Northamptonshire population, where they were successfully established from a captive bird release site, are becoming increasingly frequent in the area. A pair bred successfully near Stamford last year and this year a further pair attempted to nest on a farm a little more than ten miles from Rippingale. Unfortunately, shortly after its discovery, the nest was shot out, by persons unknown and the fate of the sitting adult is, at this time also a mystery.
I suspect the fortunes of some of our local raptor population are fairing better. The rabbit population is high and I have reason to believe it is a good year for voles. Both of these represent important prey species for many raptors. Only yesterday I witnessed a buzzard struggling to take off with a half grown rabbit in its talons and between rain storms one evening last week, I watched no less than 7 Barn Owls hunting over set-aside land in Dunsby Fen.
Bank Voles in my garden are certainly at peak numbers. We have Bank Voles resident under both bird feeding stations at either end of the house where we watch them make forays from their holes to gather up a dropped seed and scuttle back underground with it.
Another rare bird that has taken up residence in the area is the elegant Montague's Harrier. A pair are currently nesting in a wheat field at Digby Fen near the village of North Kyme. The RSPB have set up an observation area at the roadside and for a donation of £2.00 you can watch the comings and goings of these delightful raptors. You may even witness the aerial food pass from hunting male to his partner. Marsh Harriers can also be seen from the observation area, so a visit is well worthwhile.
Or alternatively you can stay at home and watch the skies. I was confined to the garden one day in early June and during the course of the day watched a Hobby, a Kestrel, a Buzzard and to crown it all I was dragged out of the shower to watch a low flying Red Kite!
Both Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers regularly feed in the garden. The peanut basket regularly attracts both the male and female Great Spotted Woodpecker and the local Green Woodpecker often uses its' long tongue to find insects in the crevices of our dry stone wall.
July usually finds me attracted once more to our coastal marshes in the hope of finding some waders already on return passage along with resident breeding birds and given good weather, a wealth of grassland butterflies.
The Essex Skipper often outnumbers the more common Small Skipper on dyke side banks but a really close view is essential as they are best told apart from the underside tip on the antenna of the former species, being black. Most of the browns can be found including Ringlet, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Small Heath and perhaps with luck a Grayling. Common Blue and Small Copper are also resident but the real excitement comes with a fall of migrant species. Red Admiral, Painted Lady and scores of Large Whites are almost guaranteed but last year was a good one for rarer species such as Clouded Yellow and even the odd Camberwell Beauty.
One of the most under-rated of our marshland birds, in my opinion is the Redshank. It's noisy behaviour earnt it the nick name "Sentinel of the Marshes" or as one young novice birder asked me,
"What's that "in your face" wader?"
But I challenge you to find a more dapper sentinel. Just look at the gloriously bright red legs and beak of the displaying male in the photograph.
Another more secretive denizen of our marshes is the Common Snipe. Its' display flight is described as drumming because of the rhythmic noise that actually emanates from air passing through the feathers on its feet. In spring and summer they are also reasonably vocal making a di-syllabic contact call. The bird in the photo is uncharacteristically perched on a post.
Lapwings can also be found nesting on our coastal marshes like Frampton Fen and recently they have made a welcome return to our farmland, nesting mainly on set-aside land and sugar beet, along with Skylarks and Meadow Pipits. But what will these birds do in 2009 when set-aside is scrapped in favour of bio-fuel production?
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