Kevin O’Hara, Conservation Officer for Northumberland Wildlife Trust, is the resident wildlife columnist here at This is Northumberland. His third column on July wildlife focuses firmly on the impact of the wet weather. And while there is no doubt that it is impacting tourism businesses, not all is bad. The heavy rain has resulted in a vibrant and colourful countryside ablaze with greens, purples and other colours. Young birds that have survived the bad weather are now thriving, including swifts and buzzards.
By Kevin O’Hara,
Northumberland Wildlife Trust
Let’s face it, things couldn’t get any worse. Those were those famous last words I uttered in my last column? Oh yes, “Flaming June”, well it was flaming right enough . . .flaming rubbish – another washed-out month.
It wasn’t just wet – it was freezing, so much so, I was still burning logs to warm the house in mid June and some of my plants in the allotment and garden suffered frost damage. There was some warmth on the horizon though as I embarked on my annual trip to the Algarve where I had some wonderful sightings of rarities such as purple gallinule, storks and black winged kites from numerous vantage points around the resort.
Bronzed and refreshed I am looking forward to the colours and scents of July around the lanes and hedges of the North-East; colour is everywhere in the countryside it has taken on a rich uniform green, punctuated with contrasting golden squares, where the hay and silage has been cut. A sunny July will see the wheat and the barley ripening. The air has a scent of cut grass and fizzes with insects; it’s as if summer starts to relax and enjoy itself.
As the warm breeze caresses the tall stems of the green corn ears, silver waves ripple across the fields reflecting the sunlight off the long seed whiskers unless, of course, as often happen, summer gives autumn a miss and goes straight into winter and further torrential downpours flatten and ruin yet another harvest – a cynical view I know but that’s all I ever remember of summer as far as I can remember; even looking through the rose-tinted specs of my youth, summer was regularly postponed or cancelled, hence my much stamped passport and my earnest need to continue to find hot climes as many times a year as possible.
There are times though when it does all come together and your eye is drawn to the hedgerows full with nettles, hedge parsley, burdock, cleavers, creeping thistle, meadow crane’s-bill, and grasses setting seed. Where the verges have escaped being cut, false-oat grass and cocksfoot are the most dominant grasses. As June progresses their ripening flower heads turn the roadside verges from green to flax yellow – to the delight of motorists but the horror of hay fever sufferers the world over.
Greater bindweed also climbs through the hedge with its big white trumpet flowers adding a splash of brightness as they open during the day then twist closed at night.
The teasel will also find a foothold in the hedge bottoms, its small purple flowers appear in whorls amidst its spiky flower heads much to the delight of goldfinches and siskin’s in autumn and winter as they feed on their seed with their tweezer like beaks. The teasel is a large attractive plant, a great subject for macro-photography as it attracts large numbers of insects, especially some of the butterflies like meadow brown, wall and speckled wood. The teasel has a number of unusual features including its role in the fabric industry where it was used for carding and napping cloths.
Another abundant plant at this time of the year is the burdock; traditionally used in lots of medicines and herbal treatments, it is its role in the development of Velcro by Swiss inventor named George de Mestral in 1940 that it is best known for – and how my border terriers know it as they fight with typical terrier tenacity as I try to remove the tats from their coats.
By now, most birds will have fledged and are feeding avidly, building up their strength for winter and their annual migrations – birds such as the cuckoo have already left and species like swifts won’t be far behind. Strange as it may seem, smaller species become independent quite quickly, with the adult birds starting a second or third brood, whereas larger species may take a long time to mature.
Larger birds like the buzzard (recently in the news headlines for all the wrong reasons) have young that will follow their parents around for most of the following year, and only reach breeding maturity after two years. If you hear a repeated plaintive buzzard call meowing from the middle of a tree, it will be a young one waiting to be fed; like all predators they are essential to the health of the countryside and without them the countryside will be much poorer.
How fabulous to see a family of buzzards soaring over the late season colours of the countryside with a back-drop of purple heather and blue skies, soaring majestically for all to see; I have waited all my life to see a buzzard fly over my home – this year they have breed nearby but will they be allowed to survive? Their fate is in the hands of the government.
Category: Northumbria Wildlife