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Summer 2006

The summer of 2006 seems to have oscillated between extremes of weather from a wet and cool May to a warm and dry June, and now a very humid spell of weather in July. This weather pattern has generally suited our farmers but the consequences for wild life are not so straightforward.

The cold and wet weather in May certainly adversely affected many of our nesting birds. Single brooded species will have suffered the worst , particularly insectivorous birds who could not find enough "prey" to sustain their young, and which unlike many of our familiar garden species do not get the opportunity to raise additional broods.

The expansion of the Common Buzzard population in Lincolnshire continues apace with a prominent local ringer claiming they are breeding in virtually every wood in south west Lincolnshire, however he added that in common with many species brood sizes were abnormally low this year; one to two young rather than the usual three. A few weeks ago I was treated to the sight and sound of no less than 5 Buzzards wheeling high over my Rippingale garden, calling to each other as they rode the thermals. A Kestrel rose up to mob them but as they rose higher and higher on the thermals it eventually gave up, and practiced a peregrine like stoop to bring it back down to a reasonable altitude!

At least one pair of Red Kites have nested in Lincolnshire this year, at closely guarded secret locations, and the latest news is that a pair are now feeding three young. These elegant birds with their distinctive fork tails are seen ever more frequently in this area and earlier this year I have had several sightings within just a few miles of Rippingale.

In addition to Kestrels, Sparrowhawks and Common Buzzards, both Marsh Harrier and Hobby can usually be encountered in or close to Rippingale in the late summer.

If you were a butterfly enthusiast where would you choose to live? Well I am sure the south downs for a variety of blues and skippers, or perhaps near to a southern oak wood with sunny glades would be among your first ideas. I would wager Lincolnshire would not figure very highly.

Well a rethink might well be in order! I have recorded 22 species of butterfly in my Rippingale garden over the twenty years I have lived here. Admittedly some species, particularly the grassland specialists, no longer occur, mainly as a result of loss of habitat across the road (rough grassland and scrub now growing a good crop of houses!) but others such as Speckled Wood and Holly Blue, have increased quite markedly.

Visit some of our local woodlands and limestone grass outcrops and you may be surprised to find some of the "southern" species apparently doing rather well at the extreme northern edge of their range. Bourne Wood has a particularly diverse insect population and both White Letter and Purple Hairstreaks can still be found there. The former are now quite rare since the loss of our elms to Dutch Elm Disease, and the latter can be quite difficult to see due to them spending much of their time high in the canopies of oak trees. One of the southern species that occurs in Bourne Wood is the spectacular White Admiral. Look for this butterfly from late June onwards in the glades were honeysuckle is abundant. A blue butterfly that is actually brown in colour, the Brown Argus can also be found in Bourne Wood as well as the Lincs Wildlife Trust reserve at Thurlby Fen Slipe, along with both Common and Holly Blues.

A little further afield the National Nature Reserve at Barnack Hills and Hollows near Stamford, a limestone grassland reserve is well worth a summer visit for butterflies and other invertebrates as well as its limestone loving flowers. The Marbled White, which is really a member of the brown family is quite common, but you can also see four different blues, five skippers and a host of other butterflies and day flying moths.

A little further away still, at another national nature reserve; Glapthorn Cow Pastures just down the road from Stamford in Northamptonshire, the rare Black Hairsreak can be found. This species is best looked for in May on the sunny side of Blackthorn bushes. It is confined in the UK to only 30 colonies on low lying Oxford clay between Oxford and Peterborough.

If venturing out is not your scene then why not try to encourage butterflies in to your garden? Buddlia is of course essential but many garden flowers are attractive sources of nectar for butterflies and bees. You could also try planting the butterflies food plant. The provision of Alder Buckthorn in our garden resulted in both Brimstones breeding on it and to my surprise, also Holly Blues. Leaving a few "weeds" such as Garlic Mustard has helped us see more Orange Tips and of course you must leave some stinging nettles for the Small Tortoiseshells!

Migrant butterflies and moths add an exotic flavour to our gardens. Most of our Red Admirals, many of our Large Whites and all of the Painted Ladies are migrants from at least as far as continental Europe and some might have flown from as far as Africa. The rarer Clouded Yellow might well put in an appearance and it is also worth looking out for the day flying and very aptly named, Hummingbird Hawkmoth. So, I hope that you enjoy the rest of the summer and that we all benefit from more good weather and lots more butterflies.

Ian Misselbrook
July 2006.


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