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Summer 2018

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Having endured a long winter and a cold, wet spring we have been rewarded by good summer weather. According to the weather experts June was the warmest since 1976 when we had a long, hot, summer and now in late July we have recorded the driest summer since the 1960's and have broken the record for the highest temperatures.

Unfortunately, far fewer of our summer nesting birds returned than normal to enjoy this clement weather. Swallows, House Martins and Swifts arrived much later in the spring than usual and in much fewer numbers. A friend of mine in Suffolk commented that he counted over fifty Swallows gathered on the telephone wires before migrating south last autumn, but only six returned. Blackcaps, however seem to have increased but Nightingales and Spotted Flycatchers have all but disappeared from their usual haunts in Lincolnshire. Turtle Doves continue to decline but one of the fens near me seems to be bucking the trend as we have three pairs of Turtle Doves. The "purring" song of the Turtle Dove along with the screeching of Swifts soaring overhead epitomises summer to me.

Two resident woodland species seem to be having a good breeding season if the number of fledglings is anything to go by. Earlier in the summer, in one of the nearby woods I came across at least three family parities of Great Spotted Woodpeckers and two families of Nuthatches. Two pairs of Marsh Tits were also feeding fledged young.


Kittiwakes at Bempton


During June and early July I visited two of our larger seabird colonies; RSPB Bempton Cliff in Yorkshire which has Britain's only mainland Gannet colony as well as most of the more common seabirds including Fulmar, Kittiwake, Shag, Razorbills, Common Guillemot and the ever popular Puffins. An added bonus at Bempton is that some of the much declined, farmland birds; Tree Sparrows and Corn Buntings, both nest there.

Puffin and Razorbills



The other seabird colony that I visited was the RSPB reserve of Ramsey Island. Despite successfully eradicating the rat population Puffins have not returned to breed but most of the other seabirds that favour cliff ledges rather than burrows seem to be thriving.



Chough


The other two avian stars on Ramsey are Choughs and Wheatears. Choughs are a very specialised member of the crow family. They sport bright red legs and a long, curved bill to match. Choughs are very particular in their requirements. They like to nest in caves in the cliffs and feed on closely grazed turf on the clifftops by probing for grubs with their long slender bills. They are quite vocal and seem to call their name and in flight they are delightfully aerobatic. Eleven pairs of Choughs nested on Ramsey this year and a total of twenty-two young were fledged

Juvenile Wheatear on Ramsey

Rabbits, Red Deer, Sheep and Ponies are responsible for grazing the turf to meet the Choughs requirements.

The other prominent species on Ramsey is no rarity but impressive none the less due to the extraordinary high population. That is the Northern Wheatear of which there is thought to be approaching seventy pairs on the island during the summer months.



Atlantic Grey Seals


Birds are not the only attraction on Ramsey. You would have to be really unlucky not to see Atlantic Grey Seals hauled out on the rocky beaches or swimming close to the shore. On our visit we also saw a group of Harbour Porpoises between Ramsey and the mainland of the Pembrokeshire coast.



Common Snipe


At the RSPB reserve at Frampton Marsh "autumn passage" of waders was well underway by mid -July. In one week 25 species of wader were recorded! On my recent visit Common Snipe, Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits were conspicuous and numerous. Many still had the vestiges of their summer plumage. But for some Frampton residents it is still a time for breeding as the photo of a Little Ringed Plover with a chick depicts.

Ruff







Black tailed Godwit




Little Ringed Plover and chick



The sunny weather seems to have favoured insects with bees, butterflies, moths and dragonflies very conspicuous. However, as the drought goes on the respite for some of these creatures maybe short lived as the food plants of the caterpillars of butterflies and moths in particular, wither and die.

Silver washed Fritillary
Open country species may fair worst whilst woodland species not affected by the heat should do well. One woodland species that was previously thought to be extinct in Lincolnshire that I wrote about last year; the Silver Washed Fritillary has increased in numbers again and other "lost" species such as Purple Emperor have been reported locally. In the same wood as the Fritillaries, at the end of July,

Purple Hairstreak
I observed good numbers of Purple Hairstreaks. This delicate species lays its eggs on oak leaves and the adults spend most of the time up in the canopy. I was lucky to see them early one morning on one of the hottest days coming down to take nectar from the woodland flowers.

Small Copper



Beautiful Demoiselle


Dragonflies and Damselflies are a good indicator of climate change and the Willow Emerald Damselfly which stirred up a lot of excitement just a few years ago now seems to be widespread and no doubt other European species will have been reported by the end of the summer. One of my favourite Damselflies is the Beautiful Demoiselle most often found near rivers rather than still ponds. The National Trust reserve of Marloes Mere in Pembrokeshire is very good for Damselflies and Dragonflies and so is the RSPB reserve at Lakenheath Suffolk if you are interested in encountering these amazing insects.

 



Ian Misselbrook
July 2018

 

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