It’s amazing the difference a week makes. Last week was positively non-descript weather- wise and this week has been glorious! But it won’t last- the schools break up today and that’s usually the cue for rain!
The reserve has been baking hot some days this week- it topped 30 degrees centigrade on Wednesday. Some of the wildlife has come up with enterprising ways of keeping cool- this newt was in the dog water bowl! We gently evicted him to somewhere damp and shady before a thirsty dog arrived.
The heat has affected the wildlife in different ways. The toads have been loving it- you can’t move for them in the mornings as they bask on the paths. And you find yourself doing the “Dance of the Toad” as you wobble on one leg, trying to avoid treading on them! Sadly, that’s not an option for drivers and there has been a high butcher’s bill on the roads this past week, with over 40 toads squashed in less than 400 yards (plus one rabbit, one bird and one slow worm). Multiply that up over the UK’s estimated 240,000 miles of roads and that’s quite a scary amount of wildlife not making it to the other side.
Elsewhere, we’re starting to come into the quiet summer period. There are still lots of young birds appearing but the birdsong has fairly died off and a lot of birds are now skulking in the bushes or reeds as they start to moult their feathers. The most obvious of these are the ducks- the males moult into their dull “eclipse” plumage and often resemble the females.
One time that the birds aren’t quiet is when they’re alarmed about something. I could hear the willow warblers getting positively frantic about something- and it wasn’t me, they were all looking at the ground. They were so close I thought one was going to land on my hat!
It wasn’t until this stoat popped out a hole that we worked out what all the fuss was about. A stoat could easily empty a ground-nesting willow warbler nest.
Our spotted flycatchers have fledged! It’s amazing how quickly young birds grow up. They hatched on 18th June and fledged on the 1st July. You can see the difference in the birds even three days apart. And, as I write this, the adult is investigating the nest again- fingers crossed for a second brood. It’ll mean another few weeks of being sworn at in flycatcher every time we go in and out- she has quite a foul mouth on her- but well worth it to see these birds doing well here.
There are still plenty of young redstarts in the woods too. They have a distinctive “hooo-eet, tut tut” alarm call – which is the only reason you spot them sometimes!
Their distinctive (if dull) song is a good way to spot reed buntings. This handsome male was singing down you the loch.
And some other willow warblers has a good reason for alarm calling- these three absolutely adorable chicks have just left the nest and are still huddled close for protection and comfort.
Speaking of adorable youngsters, these teal ducklings also qualify! They look just like young mallards but are a fair bit smaller- properly tiny!
The lapwings are still on guard in their fields. Most of their chicks have fledged now but there are still a few small fluffy ones wandering around. This parent bird flew over us, complaining constantly, until we were out of sight- and that was while we were on the path!
We’ve also seen some of the first signs of autumn this week. High overhead, there have been the calls of southbound curlew These birds will have failed to breed in the arctic and are now heading south. How quickly the year turns.
One of the nice things about working on NNRs is you sometimes get to visit other sites as well. I was lucky enough to have a day at Morrone Birwood this week, and can thoroughly recommend it to anyone who likes wild flowers. Morrone has calcareous soil, the result of being an ocean floor once upon a long ago, and this makes for a great diversity of wild flowers. So we’ll finish off this week’s blog with some of these.