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Summer Diary 2013

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After the coldest spring for 50 years in the UK, we are at last enjoying some decent summer weather, although you would have to move strategically around the country to derive maximum benefit.

Green-veined White on Wild Garlic

Summer for us started the first week in June when we had our usual week in Pembrokeshire, West Wales. In complete contrast to 2012, when it rained every day we enjoyed a sunny week. In truth it felt more like spring than early summer with many of the cliff top flowers we normally enjoy at this time of year yet to bloom, but spring flowers like primroses and bluebells still very much in evidence. Ramsoms or Wild Garlic seems to be particularly common in that part of the world and the blooms are enjoyed by Green-veined White Butterflies.

Chough in Flight

I usually take a boat trip to Skomer, but this year I rang the changes and went to the RSPB;s Ramsey Island instead. Most of the birds associated with Skomer also nest on Ramsey, with the exception of Puffins which were wiped out by Brown Rats which had probably arrived on the island with debris from shipwrecks. However the rats have now been exterminated and the RSPB are trying to entice Puffins back by putting models on the cliff tops. The lack of Puffins is compensated for by a good selection of breeding birds including a healthy population of Choughs.

I was choughed with this shot
Although members of the crow family which are usually noted for their omnivorous diet and adaptability to man made changes to the environment, Choughs by contrast are true specialists. They use their curved red beaks to probe for insects in short cropped turf and the rabbit grazed turf on Ramsey Island (and Skomer) is ideal. Although they feed on the cliff tops they like to nest in caves, which again imposes a major restriction in terms of available habitat.

Male Stonechat

Other avian attractions on Ramsey include an incredibly dense population of Northern Wheatears; more than one hundred pairs of this moorland chat in fact. The closely related Stonechat is also well represented and during that first week in June many were already feeding young.

Ramsey is also a good place to practice your identification skills on separating Meadow Pipits from Rock Pipits; both of which are abundant.


If small passerines don't float your boat Ramsey also hosts at least two pairs of Peregrine, several Ravens and a few pairs of Little Owls which nest in the dry stone walls.

Peregrines are well distributed around the Pembrokeshire coast and we noted them every day during our week's stay there.

Rock Pipit

Meanwhile back in Lincolnshire resident birds seem to be enjoying a much better breeding season than during the wet summer of 2012 with lots of fledged young in evidence. But, unfortunately, so many of our summer migrant breeders failed to arrive. Spotted Flycatchers are down in numbers again with none in my village again this year and only one pair in the neighbouring village which last year hosted four pairs. Turtle Doves, Cuckoos, Sand Martins, Tree Pipits, Whinchats and Grasshopper Warblers are all very hard to find this year and it seems likely that most are perishing during migration.

White Winged Crow

Common birds with unusual plumages can often cause excitement and the photograph sent in by Brant Broughton resident Thomas Jolliffe which he correctly identified as a Carrion Crow with unusual white feathers, is no exception. A less able observer might have misidentified it as a Hooded Crow (not normally found south of Scotland) which could have led to a mass "twitch", which may or may not have been welcomed by the residents of this quiet Lincolnshire village!

Despite the relatively good weather this year butterflies seem to be really scarce and I can only surmise that the combination of wet weather last summer and cold spring has dealt the population a serious blow.


Small Heaths mating

In response to requests from the BTO (British Trust For Ornithology) for members surveying breeding birds in the spring to revisit their survey sites during the summer months, I am now recording the butterflies at my site for the organisation; “Butterfly Conservation” ( with mixed results. I am fortunate in that my site includes some areas of lime rich grassland rich in flowers typical of limestone. This floristically rich grassland is normally very attractive to butterflies and other insects, but so far this year numbers of butterflies on the wing have been disappointing. A small colony of Small Heath butterflies was a nice find and I was lucky to be there when these insects were mating as the photograph illustrates.


Another species in serious decline is the Hedgehog. Although cars have always been their chief enemy the lack of flattened hedgehogs in recent years would seem to indicate other reasons for their decline. Lack of insect prey, increased badger numbers and again cold springs have all been mooted as reasons. We are lucky enough to still have one visit our garden, albeit infrequently.


After the spawn was destroyed by late frosts in 2012, I am happy to report that Frogs have been far more successful in our garden pond this year. At least 300 well grown tadpoles have survived despite the presence of fish and several pairs of Smooth Newts are also present. If you want to create biodiversity in your garden then build a pond. Mine hosts diving beetles, including the impressively large Great Diving Beetle, Water Boatmen, Pond Skaters and many smaller forms of animal life.It has also attracted at least eight species of Dragon and Damselflies and even in one year a Hobby feeding on them!


Ian Misselbrook
July 2013


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