The record-breaking wet conditions of the last few weeks may have been good news for plantlife and for replenishing our waterways, but they have presented major problems for many birds and insects. The surprisingly low temperatures have hampered insect emergence and been less than ideal for birds with eggs and small young. Many birds have lost their first clutches, or not even attempted to nest yet – ground-nesting species like lapwings are especially vulnerable. Yet despite the predominantly northerly winds, most migrants have somehow struggled in and almost all our familiar summer visitors are now here.
Cuckoos are calling widely across the Stour Valley area, and there are plenty of swallows and swifts about. Warblers are especially noticeable right now. I visited Arger Fen this week and heard several garden warblers, blackcaps and chiffchaffs, as well as the scratchy song of the whitethroat and the lovely liquid notes of the willow warbler. Reed and sedge warblers are also back in their reedbed haunts at places such as Flatford Mill.
Traditionally one of the last summer birds to return is the turtle dove. I’ve yet to hear one this year, but keep an ear out for their soft purring song, usually coming from a thick copse or overgrown hedge. Their numbers have collapsed in recent decades, and the RSPB has just launched a special campaign to help them – see www.operationturtledove.org.
The last few weeks have been especially dire for butterflies. With so few sunny days, and temperatures consistently below average, they have been unable to fly for much of the time and therefore feed. Many will have starved to death. I was at Cornard Country Park yesterday – a rare sunny day – and only saw three butterflies all afternoon: a couple of orange tips and a single speckled wood. However, I did find a stunning cinnabar moth, in great condition and probably only just emerged from its pupa. Hopefully with a few warmer days more butterflies and moths will be out and about. One special species really worth looking for at this time of year is the green hairstreak – check out stands of gorse and broom in sheltered spots. Their emerald-green underparts are iridescent but can be hard to pick up when the butterflies are at rest.
All the rain has meant boom-time for plants – there have been great displays of bluebells at places like Spouse’s Grove, as well as plenty of woodland indicator species such as yellow archangel. And aquatic plants are also set for a good showing, especially in lakes and ponds that had run very low over the winter or even dried out completely. Cornard Mere seems to be shaping up well for a great summer display, and the pond in Arger Fen is full of fabulous water-violets right now – definitely worth making a trip to see.