We're racing through the year now eh, grapple fans. Soon be Christmas and all that?
July then - the driest for 111 years I've read - and yes... it WAS dry wasn't it? And hot. VERY hot indeed. RECORD BREAKING hot, in fact (it got to 40 degrees here on the 19th, as I drove my eldest boy and me back from St.Andrews - but more on that later).
I've run out of emergency rain water, held for two years in five water butts around the garden, the pond is looking lower and lower and I hear we're not expecting any significant rain for a while yet. Hosepipe bans are imminent I'm sure.
Right. That's enough about the weather (and climate change). What have I seen in this hottest, driest ever July then?
I ended June's monthly summary with a rather sad note that our screaming, banging, prospecting swifts had not been visiting the house nor school for some time (at least not in the way they had) but luckily, at the start of July, they returned, as magnificently as ever.
On the 2nd of July, our first pond water lilies flowered. There'd be a few flowering over the month (perhaps a dozen) but most were hidden by the rampant lily pads themselves.
On the 4th of July, (isn't it interesting by the way, how Americans insist on saying JULY 2nd, July 5th, August 11th etc... UNTIL their Independence Day when they then (and only then) insist on joining the rest of the world by saying "4th of July" instead of "July 4th" (I don't make the rules)), I discovered a Gypsy Moth caterpillar on the underside of a flower pot
... and the 4th of July was the night when I also was delighted to see that we had baby hedgehogs in the garden for the first time in a decade! This was to be the start of much hedgehog comings-and-goings which I'll go into in a minute.
On the night of the 5th, Ben and I were again made up when we discovered a shocking pink elephant hawk moth in the moth trap (I think we only set the trap up a couple of times in July). This moth has now already climbed to the lofty heights of number 2 in Ben's favourite moths (the top 3 being Gypsy moth, Elephant hawk-moth and Burnished brass).
During the 1st and 2nd weeks of July we were treated to the sight of at least three (I only saw three together... there may of course have been more that I didn't see) baby hedgehogs in the garden. They tended to arrive (from we suspect under the decking of our neighbours' to the east) well before sunset and I took the time to video them on my DSLR, my trail-camera and the thermal camera. Wonderful wee things. A few of these videos can be seen below.
In the video below, I've glued together footage of the young (and mother) from mid July to footage of the adults from the fourth week of the month. I noticed that we had at least three adults visiting our garden each night too, one being a female (the mother of the three young) and one very large, fat male with another smaller male... and perhaps another male with what appeared to be a hip or foot problem.
I'll carry on writing about hedgehogs and move to the end of the month (before returning to the middle of the month on other subjects below) by showing you one final video clip from this month of three of our adult hedgehogs in a courtship and or territorial dispute on the night of the 26th.
I should perhaps again bring to your attention that this blog is not Springwatch. So I'm not going to name these individual hedgehogs for you. Nor write about them being "friends" with each other. Or "in love". Or that they "wait" for each other or "miss" each other. That's for other British wildlife lovers to write about. You know me better than that.
It would be very fair to say that a lot of July has been spent watching these hedgehogs in our garden. The slightly worrying thing I suppose, is that I've not actually seen ANY of the three young since the middle of July. Admittedly I was away for 6 nights in the middle of the month - and at that time in the 2nd and 3rd weeks of July, we had real heatwave conditions... but even so, I'd have thought I'd have seen them at some point in the third or fourth week or recorded them on my trail camera.
Not a peep.
I assume they've already moved on (as I don't think they'd have starved or become dehydrated like many other animals would have done this month because of the heat) as we left lots of water and food out for them each night - as we always have done. I guess they might have died (fallen into the neighbours' concrete fish pond, been turned over by a fox, what have you) but I just like to think they've moved on and not all died!
From the video above you'll see their mother is being "courted" again by a small, aggressive male, and it's true that occasionally hedgehogs DO have two broods of young a year - so we'll see what happens in August and September (and October) won't we?
OK. That's enough about our excellent hedgehogs. What else have I (we) seen in July?
On the 13th (at 5am... at the start of another dawn walk) I noticed an evening primrose flower burst out from under a wall on a pavement up the road. Life will always find a way eh?
And also on the 13th I noticed that at the site where I discovered our common spotted orchid last month, the council had designated a "roadside nature reserve". Good on them I say and I stand corrected with what I wrote last month ("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.")
From the 14th to the 19th of July, I drove myself and my eldest son up to St.Andrews in Fife to go and see the last two days of the 150th Open Championship golf. We took two days to get up there (stopped halfway at Shap Wells hotel near Penrith) and two days to get back, again stopping at Shap on our way back down.
We stopped at the Shap Wells Hotel (photo below taken just after dawn)
as it was nicely around halfway on our route, it was in the middle of nowhere, so we could get out of the car and stretch our legs a bit...
and also that we could see red squirrels there (who doesn't like red squirrels?!) and more importantly for me I think, dippers!
Well... we saw lots of red squirrels on our stay there on 14th (evening) and 15th (morning) but no dippers at all.
Instead of dippers though, we did see some lovely common sandpipers. They were very much acting as though they were still nesting. May have been I suppose - they were certainly very vocal.
Poor old Ben kept on having to listen to me bleat on and on at Shap that he was getting to see one of the more beautiful parts of England in weather that it basically NEVER experiences.
I mean it was BOILING in the hills. Clear blue skies. All the moss on the dry stone walls becoming crispy. The keeled skimmer dragonflies (photo below) having smaller and smaller bodies of water to patrol over and almost no bogs at all!
On our return stay on the evening of the 18th and morning of the 19th we did eventually see dippers. Three of them. But I took no photos... it was one of those times to just watch the wildlife and enjoy it without thinking about focal length or aperture etc!
Would I recommend Shap Wells Hotel? Yes... if you like peace and quiet and wildlife. N=And... well... no.. if you don't!
Ok... back to the golf at St.Andrews then.
Did we see anything there?
Of COURSE we did!
On our bus trip to the campsite (we stayed at the camping village at the Madras rugby club, behind the Old Course Hotel) we noticed, from the top deck of the double decker bus we were on, hundreds of oystercatchers in stubble fields inland from the Eden estuary and as soon as we'd unpacked into the tent we had "rented" for the weekend, we saw that the camping village had not one but two hares on site all weekend too.
To be honest, this discovery, within minutes of arriving at the camping village, was an absolute delight - and was undoubtedly my wildlife highlight of the trip and perhaps even the entire year. I ADORE hares, and the fact that we had two, darting in and out of the tents at a massively busy campsite (777 tents... yes we counted!) on Open weekend was completely unexpected and absolutely wonderful.
The camping village was very "festival-like" (I've been to six Glastonbury festivals, so I'm used to seeing turds in showers etc) but the hares made it all rather lovely, as did the oystercatchers flying overhead between hide tides and inland lakes. Unfortunately one of these oystercatchers made its home the rugby club during our stay there. It clearly had a very nasty injury to its right leg/foot. It couldn't even walk... it sort of hopped, with what looked like its foot hanging off. As is often the case with badly injured animals, it had been abandoned by its kind, and was left to well... die... on its own. Quite sad really. (A big difference between humans and the rest of the more highly-evolved animals that - we can and do (often) care for the chronically or acutely sick - animals don't tend to and can't risk it).
Other wildlife highlights from our time at St.Andrews included yellowhammers singing on the old course (which added to Ben's "Around the birds in eighty aves" total as we missed them down south when we walked along the ridgeway in the winter), curlews and more oystercatchers on the Eden estuary at low tide (behind the 11th and 7th shared green grandstand where we spent a couple of hours on Sunday morning)
and Sand martins with rafts of female and young Eider ducks on or from the West Sands, away from the golf course for an hour or so.
Our final wildlife highlight watching the golf was the sight of a young peregrine buzz the gulls and house martins and wagtails and pigeons at the Swilcan burn by the 18th and 1st fairways on the afternoon of Saturday the 16th.
The video below (shot by me on my phone - you're not allowed 'proper' cameras at golf tournaments) shows the view we had of the 18th tee and 1st and 18th fairways as we leant on the road wall behind the 17th green.
Please note the video below does NOT show the peregrine. I took the video a little later, just to show the view we had (the peregrine itself stooped behind the red flag on the 17th green from our (and now your) view. In the photo below we were standing behind the wall to the right, shooting the video.
On the highlight show (on BBC) we can be actually be seen by the road hole wall on 17. The below is a photo of the paused TV highlights programme. We (Ben and I) are actually in this shot. I'll leave you to work out where exactly!
There were DOZENS of THOUSANDS of people around. The young peregrine flew over from the old town and suddenly stooped over the burn. It seemed to just be testing itself and any potential prey rather than singling out something for tea as it came up with nothing and flew directly towards the town again... pursued by noisy, mobbing house martins.
At the time it stooped, I shouted "BEN! LOOK! A PEREGRINE!"
We both watched it... and even though we were surrounded by thousands of people... I honestly don't think ANYONE else saw it.
That sort of stuff makes me weep to be honest. I mean... I know I'm hyper aware, but really... what is the point of having eyes if you see nothing with them?!
Anyway... that was a really special moment for both Ben and I - I hope the trip and that moment in particular lives with him forever.
That was that for St.Andrews. Before we got the bus back to the car park, we said goodbye to the hares. They weren't interested of course.
We returned to the Shap wells Hotel to yes, see dippers and also Marsh Orchids (no photos) and the rather wonderful "Bog Asphodel". These yellow flowers appear all over the upland wetlands of the north and west and provide an abundant food source for many pollinators... including MALE horseflies... as their female counterparts try to feast on us instead (as they did on our walks around the hotel... I don't hate many types of wildlife but I really do HATE female horseflies!).
Bog Asphodel has a specific latin name of Ossifragum, by the way - which literally means "bone-breaking". It was given this name as it thought that the sheep that ingested a lot of Bog Asphodel on their upland pastures, developed brittle bones - and it was the yellow Bog Asphodel that caused this. All very unfair really as it simply is the lack of calcium on these upland pastures that caused brittle bones in livestock - nothing to do with the pretty Asphodel flowers at all!
OK. Back to birds now.
Before we left the Shap Wells Hotel, I thought I'd take a slo-mo video of the very pretty house martins that nested under the eaves of the back of the hotel. Now, house martins, unlike swifts, do leave a fair amount of mess under the nests each year, so I can understand why the manager of the hotel netted the front of the hotel... but I'm so glad he left the back for the martins to nest. They are such pretty birds - prettier than swifts I admit, even if they're far less spectacular and superb!
We'll end on swifts then shall we? No better place as far as I'm concerned, as you'll know by now.
We returned home on Tuesday 19th to (never experienced here before) 40 degree heat and (never experienced here before) mammatus clouds.
Our wonderful swifts hung around for a few days, screaming at the house every dusk but not really appearing UNTIL dusk.
On the evening of the 23rd, I thought I had seen them for the last time, as we had a little rain at sunset on the 24th (they didn't return at dusk therefore), nor did they return on 25th.
One bird on passage, silently flew through on the 26th... but on 27th at 9pm I was so excited to see our full squadron of five swifts give me a persona display again over the house and school. Well... I felt it was personal to me of course! I'm sure these five were the five that had been prospecting around the house and school earlier in the summer.
I took a few photos for posterity.
NB. We live quite close to Heathrow Airport and the plane in the shots below was a couple of minutes into an 8 hour flight to JFK airport, New York.
Its wheels would have touched down 8 hours after I took the photo.
The five swifts in the photo won't be touching down for another 9 MONTHS at least ... and much more likely another 21 MONTHS!
Absolutely ridiculous birds.
Absolutely awesome as my wife texted me that evening (she's away with the boys at her parents).
A couple of swifts (but not "ours" I think) flew very quickly over the house around 9pm on the 28th and didn't stop, so I think I was right, "our" swifts really did leave on the evening of the 27th... having made sure that they knew where to come back to next year, if they're one of the lucky ones...
Yes, a few swifts flew over the house up until the end of the month (although I didn't see any at all on the 31st, the final day of the month) and yes I KNOW there will be swifts up North still, which will fly south over Berkshire and potentially our house during August, but that really does feel like that for this year, as far as "our" swifts are concerned. As is traditional now, I'll give them their own blog post shortly.
There you go then, dear reader.