Wee­don’s World

Mike packed a ses­sion vis­it­ing the Not­ting­hamshire Bee-eaters into a busy week­end of all-round sum­mer wildlife watch­ing

Bird Watching (UK) - - Con­tents - MIKE WEE­DON’S

Mike en­joyed a packed week­end full of sum­mer wildlife watch­ing

LLAST MONTH, I was wax­ing lyri­cal about sum­mer’s great dis­trac­tions, and the wealth of other wildlife you can en­joy dur­ing the long, warm sunny days, when the bird­ing is quiet. Well, at the week­end I tried to put this into prac­tice, in a way that I like to think would even have made wildlife poly­math James Lowen proud. Satur­day was spent hang­ing out with my daugh­ter Jas­mine, now freed from the hell of school ex­ams. Our first des­ti­na­tion was Bedford Purlieus NNR in the north-west cor­ner of Cam­bridgeshire (ie a few miles west of Peter­bor­ough). A fam­ily of Marsh Tits were one of the first things we en­coun­tered, proof that their lo­cal breed­ing pop­u­la­tion there is still sur­viv­ing. A cou­ple of Hob­bies went over our heads, ter­ri­fy­ing the lo­cal hirundines. But it was but­ter­flies that were the main attraction. It is no ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say I have never seen so many Sil­ver-washed Fri­t­il­lar­ies (scores) or White-let­ter Hairstreaks (dozens at least) in my life. And rarely have I seen such a ridicu­lous abun­dance of Mar­bled Whites. But the best but­ter­flies came cour­tesy of chat­ting to a knowl­edge­able lady who pointed us in the di­rec­tion of a flower meadow of great rich­ness, in which we watched at least four Dark Green Fri­t­il­lar­ies, a new species for me (and Jas­mine) in Peter­bor­ough. It was also a great dragon­fly day, with great num­bers of Brown Hawk­ers and Em­per­ors and Four-spot­ted Chasers and the first Com­mon Darters of the sea­son. We spent hours there be­fore hit­ting Bar­nack Hills and Holes, a for­mer open lime­stone quarry famed for its flora and fauna, as the tem­per­a­ture was cool­ing, slightly. There were still great stands of Pyra­mi­dal Orchids and the odd Knap­weed Broom­rape, and ev­ery stand of Knap­weed was drip­ping with roost­ing Mar­bled White but­ter­flies. The next day, Jas and I con­tin­ued our wildlife ex­trav­a­ganza by join­ing our friends Ray and Will Bow­ell on the pil­grim­age to the Notts/le­ics bor­der, to pay our due re­spects to the East Leake Bee-eaters. The stars of the show, four of them, were dis­tant (scope views) but so beau­ti­ful, and they showed amaz­ing ac­cu­racy in the hunt. Most of the time they sat on the outer branches of their favourite gi­ant Ash tree, but when the time was right they would swoop el­e­gantly down, and un­err­ingly pick out a bum­ble bee or a dragon­fly (Four-spot­ted Chasers and Brown Hawk­ers were among the vic­tims we iden­ti­fied). It was one of those oc­ca­sions when you stand and stare and stand and stare some more, and other stuff nat­u­rally ap­pears. A group of three Ravens passed be­hind the Bee-eater Ash. Fur­ther in the dis­tance, a Spar­rowhawk was mob­bing a Buz­zard. And, at one stage, a Hobby put the af­ter­burn­ers on and whizzed to­wards us, at the last mo­ment brak­ing and twist­ing to try to snatch a Sand Martin. It nar­rowly failed. On the way home, we called into the pits at Bas­ton (north of Peter­bor­ough) to year tick Wood Sand­piper and en­joy the young Red­shanks, gulls, duck­lings and so on, there, just to pack in a bit of ex­tra ac­tion. Back home that evening, I thought it would be a waste of a warm, still July evening not to go out and have a bit of a lis­ten for Quail. I went down to the Great Fen, near Holme Fen, as the sun was set­ting. The first thing I heard was the creak­ing evening call of a Grey Par­tridge (another year tick). The ‘rewil­ded’ fields of the Great Fen are an amaz­ing ar­ray of acres of wild flow­ers, which in them­selves are go­ing to re­quire a proper day­time visit for in­sects. I walked one of the loop paths into the heart of the flow­ery oa­sis and was re­warded by be­ing fright­ened out of my liv­ing soul by the hideous bark­ing of an un­seen Chi­nese Wa­ter Deer. Oth­er­wise, ev­ery­thing was still and the only sounds were the songs of Reed Bunt­ings and Reed War­blers along the reed-fringed ditches. No Quails. I no­ticed a bit of reed sway­ing along the edge of one ditch and could hear scrap­ing veg­e­ta­tion sounds. Aha, a chance for a view of a Chi­nese Wa­ter Deer, I thought, as I crept along to get level with the beastie. But in­stead of a deer emerg­ing, I saw the rounded, grey back­side of a big Badger, head­ing back­wards, drag­ging what I pre­sume was bed­ding down the bank. It didn’t see me, so re­turned to re­peat the trick. Then it en­coun­tered another Badger, be­trayed by weird chat­ter­ing calls I had never be­fore heard. Su­perb stuff, and a great way to end a week­end of wildlife ex­cite­ment. Good enough for you, James?

A Hobby put the af­ter­burn­ers on and whizzed to­wards us, at the last mo­ment brak­ing and twist­ing to try to snatch a Sand Martin

Mike is an ob­ses­sive patch lis­ter and keen wildlife pho­tog­ra­pher in his home city of Peter­bor­ough, where he lives with his wife, Jo, and chil­dren, Jas­mine and Ed­die. You can see his pho­tos at weed­world.blogspot.com

FRIT­IL­LARY Dark Green Frit­il­lary was a Peter­bor­ough area tick for Mike in early July

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