Summertime on the sanctuaries
Is this what summers used to be like? Or, is this what summers are going to be like? I always thought that the long, hot summers of our childhood were the product of a selective memory, rather than a meteorological fact, but maybe all summers were like this once upon a time. Whatever the truth, we should all try to get out and make the most of the fine weather because for the majority of our wildlife at least, it is a bumper time.
Walking through the fields on Baronsdown this morning it was impossible not to be impressed by the sheer number of Meadow Brown butterflies that flew up in front of my feet and performed an erratic dance, before diving down into the grass again. The emergence of these lovely brown and orange butterflies means that summer is really in full flow. Often dismissed as widespread and common, agricultural intensification has resulted in the loss of many Meadow Brown colonies, but on the League’s wildlife sanctuaries butterflies and other insects thrive. On the wing too was a scattering of Ringlet, Small Skipper, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Large and Marbled White and Speckled Wood butterflies, as well as the odd Silver-Y moth, all enjoying their own specific ecological niche.
Of course, it is not just the good looking guys that are benefiting from the warm weather. Horseflies seem to be able to detect the smell of human from some distance away and they arrive en masse as soon as anyone dares to break sweat. Ticks on the other hand wait in ambush to latch on to the first animal (or human) that passes by, before sinking their mouthparts into any exposed bit of flesh. I always feel sorry for the animals without opposable thumbs, or a pair of tweezers, that have to rely on a good scratch to rid themselves of unwanted parasites. Lacking even a decent tail to swipe away tormentors, the Red Deer lie low in the grass with their ears twitching constantly or else they retreat to the woods.
Badgers, and to some extent foxes, are the unfortunate losers in this dry weather. The earthworms that badgers rely on so heavily descend deep into the soil, which means badgers have to forage for longer and over a wider area to find sufficient food and water. Many badger cubs will become malnourished or dehydrated and die as a result.
Nature does her best to maintain the balance though and everywhere you look on the League’s sanctuaries there are fluffy little birds with mouths wide open and wings fluttering, waiting to be fed by overworked parents. Golden-ringed Dragonflies patrol the pathways, throwbacks to prehistoric times, snatching flies in mid-air before perching on vegetation to devour them. The light evenings are a good time to see bats as they go out on patrol in search of moths and flying insects. An hour spent counting the Brown Long-eared bats emerging from the roof of my home on the League’s Baronsdown sanctuary revealed that the colony has doubled in size since last year, so we are obviously doing something right.