June suddenly - this June bringing real heat (34C where we are) as well as a month, for me, to concentrate on our local swifts. More on that later.
June began on the 4th, with the always welcome sight for me of bee orchids appearing on my daily walks around town.
These were of course mostly mown to the ground within hours, by the environmentally-ignorant council (and I'm talking WILFUL ignorance again here, unfortunately), but at least they accidentally left one standing, to be pollinated perhaps.
The very pretty pyramidal orchids also appeared in early June, at their traditional spot on a edge-of-town roundabout too. Fewer than last year and the year before, but always good to see.
On the 5th, in the drizzle, I noticed that for the first time this year, my swift MP3 call had attracted a prospecting squadron of swifts to our gable end and in fact one alighted at my internal swift box entrance. Always nice to see.
On the 6th I noticed for the first time ever (I think) a rogue bunch of crimson clover flowering between our nearest golf driving range (which my eldest boy and I are at a lot) and a building site. A lovely flower I think - hope to see more of these!
These crimson clover flowers were soon joined by post-box red poppies. I obviously had to get a photo, even if with just my phone!
On the 8th, in favourable conditions (relatively still, relatively warm) I noticed that "our" hornet moths had started to emerge from the roots of our biggest poplar tree.
Last year something like 60 emerged in June (mainly) and early July. June 2022 brought far fewer. Fourteen at last count - and at the time of writing this post, I've only found the discarded (shed) pupal cases of these wonderful moths. I've not even seen ONE adult this year, let alone many like last year. That may change of course as we get to mid July. I hope so.
On my walks the clover flowers in particular were looking rampant this year - whole waves of red and white blooms were washing over local meadows and SANGs.
June 9th brought with it the first swift of 2022 to actually explore our swift entrance tunnel.
My eldest boy Ben witnessed this before 7am as he practiced his golf swing in the back garden - but unfortunately I didn't see it nor did I see anything similar in the rest of the month, even if I did see a few swifts land on the wall BESIDE the tunnel. That's not it for swifts though. As I'd discovered that our local prospecting swifts HAD found a site they clearly liked on the 10th June - at the school opposite our house.
On the 10th of June, Ben and I actually WATCHED swifts enter an old overflow pipe hole in the bricks of his school hall. The overflow pipe itself (from a water tank you'd assume) had been moved a few bricks to the right, many years ago - but now the swifts had discovered a potential and vacant site where the old overflow pipe used to be.
I informed the school site manager, a brilliant bloke called Steve, who informed me that CALAMITY!!!! The school was due to re-roof that building in July. Steve kindly copied me into an email he sent the ecologist who surveyed the school for bats and I then informed everyone involved that swifts were at least prospecting (or "dry-running") or even BREEDING in the building that they were planning to re-roof in July. Any work started on that roof before the protected birds left would be a clear offence under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act - and the Ecologist emailed me back to suggest that "I should be assured that no works will commence with active nests in place".
I am a scientist by qualification however (like the ecologist you'd assume) and try to look for evidence before being "assured" or "reassured" or forming opinions.
Fact is, many ecological surveys are just boxes being ticked not only by the owners' of the buildings being surveyed but also the ecologist surveyors themselves. Look... if a school can tick a (legal) box to demonstrate that they've undergone a (protected) bat survey (in April say) then that's pretty well that. That is all they are obliged to do. And the small firm of ecologists will duly turn up in April or even May and survey for bats, find none and no evidence of bats in the two hours that they're on site, and move on to the next paid surveying task.
They won't (often) return a few times. At different times of day (and night if necessary) on different months... INCLUDING (and this is important) on the months that the work is due to go ahead the following year. They WON'T therefore perhaps see or record protected migratory species such as swifts on their surveys at the site.
Strange this here is (and again this doesn't reassure me at all), that they DID allegedly find evidence of starlings roosting at this site (using the same entrance hole that the swifts were using in June - you can see the starlings' droppings in the photo below - swifts don't produce this sort of mess) and DID allegedly see what one ecologist surveyor "thought might be a swift" enter the entrance hole whilst they carried out the survey.
I'm less and less reassured now I'm afraid. They THOUGHT??!!! they saw a swift enter the entrance hole (then they must have carried out that survey in VERY late May or perhaps the first week of June) but thought nothing of it really and only found evidence of starlings. But it took me to email them, remind them and the school and the contractors of their legal responsibilities with regards to (especially) swifts and also starlings.
I am told now that work will not take place until mid August (which I had to specify) which I've taken from "I should be assured that no works will commence with active nests in place". The key word is "active" here though - and so far I have little faith in ecologists who survey poorly - this applies to many ecologists as far as I can see. (I've battled with other firms recently too who surveyed a local farm for barn owls, found none, so I had to inform them of just where ALL the owls were that they'd missed).
Be warned! I will watch with KEEN interest from over the road - as I think the swifts are (at best) "dry-running" now, with sterile eggs, rather than actually bringing up nestlings. They're still exploring the school hall AND our house presently - they're clearly "planning" for the next years. But to disturb that planning is STILL an offence under the 1981 W&CA, any readers of this should note as this "planning" or "dry-running" is VERY much part of the breeding technique or protocol or procedure or whatever-you-want-to-call-it for the Swift. To disturb that wilfully or indeed recklessly would disturb very much the foundations being laid for these birds breeding at this site and still be a contravention of the law.
OK enough of the swifts. For now.
On the 11th, I saw the first hobby I'd ever seen from the garden, soar high over the house, checking out swifts as it did so. A real belter of a bird and Ben's 109th species for the year so far. (We're running another "Around the birds in 80 aves" challenge this year).
On the 15th I set up our moth trap in the garden in very warm weather. Weather that seemed to bring out all the "bugs". June bugs (summer chafers) which did what June bugs do each summer, buzz around the tops of trees in balmy nights then all drown in pools by the morning,
and of course the moths below (burnished brass, buff tip and buff ermine):
On the 17th, in (almost) record-breaking heat around 34C (photos below taken just after dawn at a favourite local meadow, the first and second with a DSLR, the third with my old phone):
...a pipistrelle bat found its way onto the floor of my wife's childhood bedroom in Shrewsbury. I learned about this unfortunate event from my mother-in-law who took the photo below
I never actually saw the bat as I was 150 miles away in Berkshire, looking at my second favourite bird - the nightjar with my eldest boy Ben on our annual "NIGHTJAR SAFARI" - always an evening that we just love. I took a wee video of a nightjar churring and wing-clapping below. Just like barn ows in my opinion, we are SO fortunate to be able to regularly see nightjars where we live right now. Wonderful, wonderful birds.
The brief but very hot heatwave disappeared for a few days at the end of the third week of the month, so I took the opportunity to take a few more photos of a few more flowers - below you can see some birds foot trefoil (which again seems to be absolutely rampant this year) and a flowering rush.
I started this blog post with orchids and now I'll return to them. On the 20th of June, a superb surprise greeted me at dawn on my daily walk around town - not a rare orchid but a first for me in town. A common spotted orchid. Proud as you like. Just by the side of the road. I only hope those bleeding council contractors don't strim this within hours too, just like they do with everything else.
As June drew to a close, we returned to some heat (28C) and sun (albeit interspersed with thundery showers) and watched not only one of "our" hedgehogs wander around our garden at lunchtime on a very sunny day (22nd) - always a bit worrying, but just as importantly, the squadron of normally five or six swifts return each day (primarily around 8am, once or twice during the day and again at around 930pm) scream around our house and the school opposite.
The month ended with a bit of an unwelcome visitor to our sitting room, in the form of an unexpected "pale giant horsefly" (Tabanus bovinus). I have no idea how or why it got in the house (well... other than through a window of course) but on closer inspection I realised that this was a male horsefly and not a female - so it was never going to bite anyone in the house as only the females (like mosquitos) drink blood from big mammals such as horses and cows (and occasionally humans!).
No... the male horsefly doesn't have a great big penis dangling under its body. That's not how I identified this as a male.
Look at the first & second of the three photos below I took of this horsefly and tell me how I established this was a male?
If you said this fly has HOLOPTIC eyes (the two compound eyes touch & meet in the middle at the top of the head) rather than DICHOPTIC eyes (the two compound eyes are separated by a bridge or gap) and holoptic eyes are indicative of nectar-feeding males rather than blood-sucking females, then you'd be right.
But why do males' eyes meet in the middle as opposed to the females' eyes which don't?
Well... in short, the male needs bigger eyes (which are in effect, squashed together they're so big) as they need to look out for female horseflies.
Female horseflies however, basically just need to look out for HUGE mammals, which are of course MUCH bigger than horseflies.
There endeth the dipteran biology lesson for today students. Please ensure you read chapter 8 of "The Evolutionary biology of flies" published by Columbia University Press, before next week, as we'll be having a spot test on that then.
OK, just quickly then, before I end with "my" beloved swifts.
It was nice to go on a wee walk with my eldest yesterday and have him point out interesting stuff to me for once, with his keen eyes. Firstly a knot grass moth caterpillar, clad in the beginnings of its pupal case by the look of it - although it'll do well to pupate under a tarmac road, which is where Ben found it and where I took the photo below. (We moved it to under a hedge by the way).
Also great (I think!) that Ben pointed out this rather lovely six-spot burnet moth (below) on a verge of flowers in an industrial estate that we were walking through. This moth is a big, perhaps the biggest reason why I leave our front lawn unmown - and so watch loads of birdsfoot trefoil come up under our windows. This moth LOVES birdsfoot trefoil, and we often have these beautiful moths (so much more beautiful than Cinnabar moths I think) breeding in our long front lawn.
I'm writing the end of this blog post at the very end of the month - and it would be very fair to say that the swifts that have been exploring the school opposite and our house have done so less and less as the month of June went on. I see them perhaps twice a day now, briefly, whereas earlier in the month I could see them every time I went outside and I could hear them from inside the house without even going outside!
I can only, very tentatively presume that they've seen enough of the local vacant nest sites for next year and are now just occasionally dropping by to ensure that nothing has changed. For next year that is.
Look... I could be very wrong. We still know SO little about swifts - even the head of Swift conservation, Edward Mayer, admitted as much when I contacted him about the local swifts during June.
Anyway.... Only 4 or 5 more weeks or so and that will be that for another year. I'm already preparing to miss them you know!
I should pull myself together really eh? Live in the moment and all that. So that's what I intend to do with July.
I hope you have a great July too.
See you anon.