A year can be a long time in anyone’s book, let alone in the world of conservation and the environment. This time last year my article centred on the ‘maelstrom of dodgy weather’ and how I expected to see all the animals walking two-by-two to avoid the biblical floods at the bottom of the hill I live on. Well, true to form, our unpredictable climate in the UK has given us a cornucopia of weather delights throughout our summer so far. I was still not surprised to hear that July was only the 5th hottest this past century, giving an indication as to how rare an event it is. Still, I’m not complaining as I love the heat, and so does wildlife.
After two or three years of ‘inclement’ weather with prophets of doom around every corner, it could be said to be just part of the natural pattern of things. What is certain is that the late winter-spring cold spell only helped to spur Mother Nature on, as ‘the wild things’ have certainly been making hay whilst the sun shines.
I can’t remember such an abundant year within my local garden or area, with several triple broods and late broods into late-July and August. As I write this, in the last days of July, I still have dunnocks feeding young in a bush at the bottom of my neighbour’s garden, and song thrushes collecting worms from the lawn for young elsewhere. I had a late brood of great tits fledge from one of my boxes and tawny owls have again graced my local park.
Out wider afield, insects such as butterflies are on the wing too, and I have seen good numbers of the meadow species around - browns, walls and ringlets - as flowering sites and meadows have done well too. I think the wet soils and heat have combined to create a great growing period. Certainly my allotment is in overdrive, with fruits of every variety bursting at the seams. I don’t think I have ever had ripe tomatoes in the greenhouse before the end of July.
The mid-summer months are always a busy time for me as I can get a lot of field work done, and this often allows me to get into those little unique places not many people get to see, tucked away in ‘desolate’ corners of the North East. I have been fortunate this year to get back onto some of the region’s watercourses looking for crayfish, native ones this time. The results have been quite encouraging as I have been able to re-establish the presence of this endangered species on several burns where it was thought to have become extinct. These have been mainly on the north Tyne catchment and around Hadrian’s Wall country.
I found some good mixed-age range populations on these burns, which gives encouragement that with careful management and educational awareness they can recover and stay isolated from non-natives species for some time to come. The surveys have uncovered intriguing aspects of this species that is fascinating, such as their longevity and breeding strategy.
We found tiny youngsters and females still carrying young, and giant hoary old males - unfortunately the largest of which had met his nemesis in the shape of Mr Otter, but nevertheless his remains proved to be from the biggest native white-clawed crayfish I have ever found. To have reached that size he must have been over 10 years old before falling onto an otter’s smorgasbord.
His passing was made up by the numbers and variation in age classes we found on the streams where they had previously been thought absent…all told it was very exciting, if you like that sort of thing of course!
Other activities that have kept me busy have been some meadow surveys and fishing. I actually found some time to fish my favourite streams for those candid wild brown trout. The warm weather, a few showers and plenty of insects meant that the trout were fed and so was I. I don’t take many these days for the purpose of sustainability, so these fine specimens will be my quota for the season. It does give me time to relax and see the river go by with kingfishers and sand martins to keep me company. In these locations the air is filled with trilling sandpipers and overhead oyster catchers, and all in life seems well at the moment.
So nice has it been that, unlike last year, the threads of Vaughan Williams’ ‘The Lark Ascending’ have constantly filled my ears as I have kicked dust up from the track I walk in the evenings with the dogs, as the glorious evening sun sets.
So what happens through the month of August? Watch out for swifts gathering early in the month to return early from their brief sortie in the UK airspace. This year has, like many, been good for those who have managed to return - I have seen and heard many screaming packs above as opposed to few in recent years. I didn’t hear another cuckoo this year so that was a downer but others have made up for it.
In and around the fields the roebuck rut will be upon us, so watch out for bolshie young bucks in the morning, sparring on the woodland edges. The young of many mammal species will be dispersing too at this time of the year, so it’s a good time to see the lesser-viewed animals such as young stoats, weasels, foxes and hares which are all a little less cautious as their youthful energy carries them through the dispersal period. Soon however, the harsh realities of life will dawn on them, as food becomes less abundant and the temperatures drop. This is a critical time for many species, as the lead up to autumn and winter means they need to quickly learn the perils, and several do succumb.
Elsewhere expect to see late broods of swallows; they often have very late broods. Most however, are preparing for the autumn exodus, feeding up and gathering in quite large congregations on wires and fences, chattering away - a great sight.
In the hedgerows this time of year I would expect bumper crops of ripening berries and fruits, that is of course if they haven’t been flailed to within an inch of their life. And one thing I will have this year is conkers, present and ripening as we speak – last year I had not one conker on the horse chestnuts outside my house because of the dreadful weather. This year all is well; it is a time of change and preparation but also one of plenty, so let’s hope we can play out the remainder of the summer with some fine blue skies and warm temperatures, and I can keep my tan topped up until my autumn sunshine break.
Category: Northumbria Wildlife