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Summer 2016

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Summer really did not arrive until the middle of July when we experienced a heatwave. The cold wet weather during most of May and throughout June caused insects to be scarce; including butterflies and many first broods of insectivorous birds failed to fledge due to lack of food.


Coastal species seemed to fair better as cooler sea temperatures made the availability of fish such as sand eels coincide with the breeding of seabirds such as guillemots and puffins. In previous years the seabird nesting season has been out of sync with the prey species.

Razorbills and Guillemots

Razorbills can be distinguished from their near relatives; guillemots by their dark black rather than charcoal plumage and the razor shaped bill from which the name is derived

Puffin and other seabirds

Our first visit to seabird colonies was a boat trip to the island of Ramsey, an RSPB reserve off the Pembrokeshire coast. Most of the seabirds thrive except Puffins which were wiped out by rats many years ago. The RSPB have now exterminated all the rats on the island and they are trying to entice the puffins back with plastic puffins placed strategically in suitable clifftop habitat and by playing puffin calls through loud speakers!

More successful but equally specialised are Choughs; the beautiful red-billed and red-legged member of the crow family that requires short, rabbit cropped turf and generally nests in caves or fissures in the cliff face. Ramsey boasts more than half a dozen breeding pairs and up to 40 birds may be present at any time.

Wheatear on Ramsey

Ramsey also has one of the highest densities of breeding Wheatears in Britain with over 80 pairs of this summer visitor present in 2016.

Ramsey is also a great place to practice your pipit identification with both Rock Pipits and Meadow Pipits overlapping.

Our next visit to a seabird colony was our annual pilgrimage to another RSPB reserve; Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire. Here they do have Puffins as well as all the other breeding auks and the only mainland nesting colony of Gannets.

Kittiwakes with chicks

Kittiwakes are surely one of the prettiest gulls and during our visit to Bempton Cliffs most pairs were busy feeding their young.

Kittiwakes at Bempton Cliff

Kittiwake in flight

Squabbling neighbours


Gannet at Bempton Cliff

Gannets collecting grass from clifftop

Tree Sparrows

Another avian attraction at Bempton is the thriving colony of Tree Sparrows. Tree Sparrows have declined by more than 80% since the mid 1980's and the decline is continuing. However close views can be enjoyed of them on the feeders by the visitor centre.

Small mammal populations seem to have recovered this year and indeed if it were not for the local cats we would have a thriving population of Bank Voles in our garden. Barn Owls, many of which did not even attempt to breed last year due to lack of prey, seem to be doing better this year. Their success would be greater if the spring and early summer rain had not hampered their ability to hunt.

1. Barn Owl searching for prey


The sequence of four photographs taken by Libby Owen depict a successful hunting trip for one of the local Barn Owls with the unfortunate vole meeting its' end in the bill of this silent hunter.  ©

2. The strike



3. Supper


4. Sleeping it off

Silver washed Fritilllary

Butterflies were rather scarce in spring and early summer with the exception of Holly Blues and Speckled Woods both of which were present in greater than normal numbers in our garden. Mid-July witnessed much better numbers and the continued expansion of the range of some species. Silver Washed Fritillaries are in flight in some Lincolnshire woodlands as I write, a species thought to be extinct in the county only a few years ago. Marbled Whites are also doing well colonising meadows and quarries in South-West Lincolnshire, but the White Admiral has disappeared from many of its former strongholds.

White Letter Hairstreak

Just over the border in the Greater Peterborough area some ancient woods and meadows still hold interesting species. The White Letter Hairstreak really suffered after Dutch Elm Disease all but wiped out its' host plant but I managed to photograph this lovely male when it dropped from the canopy to drink nectar from Wild Marjoram.

Dark Green Fritillary
The same wood close to Peterborough also had Silver Washed and Dark Green Fritillaries as well as very good numbers of more common species. In fact in one short visit of no more than three hours we saw thirteen species of butterfly.

Ringlets seem to be having a very good year and locally they out-number the Meadow Brown by at least five to one. Not long ago the Meadow Brown was considered to be Britain's most common Butterfly.

Southern Hawker ovipositing

Dragonflies were very scarce in the early summer but the later emerging species are now evident in reasonable numbers. The photo of the Southern Hawker was actually egg-laying in brackish water on the Suffolk coast. I am more used to seeing it in fresh water in my garden pond.


Ian Misselbrook
August 2016


© All Images are the copyright of Ian Misselbrook other than the Barn Owl sequence of photographs which are copyight of Libby Owen. For further information, please

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