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