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Summer

Kingfisher, Heather BurnsKingfisher, Heather Burns

Bats and kingfishers - it's heating up! Here are the top Derbyshire wildlife experiences for summer...

 

SUMMER – June

Fall for THE fastest bird

The peregrine – the fastest bird in the world - has found a place to live in the middle of our cities.

The peregrine falcon epitomises wildness. A powerful hunter that specialises in catching birds, swooping down onto its prey at high speed, the peregrine is the fastest animal on the planet, having been clocked diving at a mind-boggling 242 miles per hour. Once a bird of wild places, of windswept moorlands, of craggy mountain tops and of remote coastal cliffs, the peregrine has experienced something of a renaissance during the 21st century, and nesting birds have developed a taste for urban high rise living.

Replacing cliffs and mountain ledges with cathedral spires and power station window ledges, you are now probably more likely to see a peregrine in town than you are out in the wilds, where it still suffers from persecution.

HOW TO DO IT

Many of our cities now have their own pair of nesting peregrines, with peregrine pairs resident on such iconic buildings as Durham Cathedral, the Arndale Centre in Manchester and Tate Modern in London. Derby, Sheffield, Cambridge, Norwich, Nottingham, Exeter, Southampton, Winchester and Bath are just some of the cities where peregrines are now a familiar part of the scenery. Just find the tallest building and look up! Or find out about special viewpoints that may be set up during the summer. Birds are most obvious during their noisy courtship early in the spring, and then through the summer as the adults bring food in to the growing chicks.

If you can’t get to the special places listed below…

You can get up close and personal with nesting peregrines without having to leave the comfort of your laptop, by watching the antics of the pair who have nested on Derby Cathedral since 2006. Watch the webcams here and see live footage streaming direct from the nest.

Urban peregrines are definitely here to stay.

And when the nesting birds are sleeping, try reading “The Peregrine” by J A Baker, a classic.

SPECIAL SPOTS

Derby Cathedral

The Derby Catherdral Peregrine Project runs free ‘peregrine watchpoints’ on Saturdays and Wednesdays between the middle of May and the start of July, with volunteers on hand on Cathedral Green behind the cathedral with telescopes and binoculars to give close up views of the nesting birds.

 

 

SUMMER – June

Exalt at skylarks’ song

The song of the skylark is a quintessential part of the summer in our countryside.

“He rises and begins to round, he drops the silver chain of sound.” So begins the famous poem “The Lark Ascending” by George Meredith. The skylark is Wordsworth’s ‘ethereal minstrel,’ Shelley’s ‘blithe spirit´ that ‘from heaven, or near it, pourest thy full heart in profuse strains of unpremeditated art’. John Clare proposes we ‘listen to its song, and smile and fancy’. The song of the skylark has inspired more poets than any other.

A tiny speck high in the sky as it soars and falls singing beautiful, long and complicated songs above cowslip-studded grasslands, rolling downs, coastal saltmarshes and wide arable fields. Changes in farming have led to skylark populations crashing, which is why they are now a Red List species of conservation concern.

HOW TO DO IT

When you see or hear one stop awhile – or better still, lie down and give your neck a rest – so you can enjoy an ‘exaltation of skylarks’ - the wonderfully descriptive collective noun for this little bird.

If you can’t get to the special places listed below…

Try reading some of the poems that the song of the skylark has inspired. “To the Skylark” by William Wordsworth, “To a Skylark” by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ted Hughes’ “Skylarks”, John Clare’s “The Skylark” and George Meredith’s lyrical poem “The Lark Ascending” and then listen to Vaughan Williams’ orchestral piece of the same name, inspired by the poem.

SPECIAL SPOTS

The Avenue Washlands, Derbyshire

 

 

SUMMER – June/July

Wear a hat for terns

Visit a tern colony but don’t get too close: tern parents are notoriously feisty! A hat may come in handy!

During the summer, several species of tern return to nest on shingle beaches, gravel spits and low lying islands around the coast, and increasingly on islands and rafts on gravel pits and reservoirs inland.

All our terns look superficially similar, like a small, elegant gull with a long swallow-like forked tail, slender wings and a black cap setting off the silvery grey plumage. Of the five species which nest here the one you are most likely to see, especially if you don’t live by the sea, is the common tern. But while it is the most widespread of the terns, it’s not actually the commonest, despite its name. That title goes to the closely related Arctic tern, which nests in busy colonies on northern coasts and islands.

A tern colony is a noisy, hectic thing. Birds are continually coming and going, adults bringing fish back for their chicks or their sitting mate, young birds calling for their parents, and angry adults chasing off intruders of all shapes and sizes. Those dagger-like bills are quick to turn on intruding visitors to their summer breeding colonies, so beware of getting too close, or perhaps just take a slightly taller friend with you.

HOW TO DO IT

One of the easiest ways to tell the different tern species apart is by looking at their bills. Carrot red with a black tip makes it a common tern; blood red is an Arctic tern; black with a yellow tip (together with a shaggy black crest) tells you you’re looking at a Sandwich tern; while the tiny little tern has a yellow bill tipped with black, as well as a white forehead.

If you can’t get to the special places listed below…

The Wildlife Trusts have live webcams at two tern colonies, beaming live images during the summer from Brownsea Island in Dorset and Montrose Basin in Angus.

SPECIAL SPOTS

Willington Gravel Pits, Derbyshire

 

 

SUMMER – June/July

Be spellbound by summer orchids

Enter a bewitching world of men and monkeys, ladies and lizards, frogs and flies – our summer orchids.

Summer is a time for wild flower meadows, hillsides ablaze with colour and a-buzz with insects. The superstars of the wild flower world are the orchids, and now is the best time to go out and enjoy their glamorous allure. Of the fifty or so species that are native to the UK, some are surprisingly common and widespread, while others are our most sought after rarities, found only in a select handful of special places.

The beautiful bee orchid, whose flower famously mimics a furry-bodied bee to fool its pollinator, is actually amongst the more common species, often turning up on road verges as well as grasslands and open ground around gravel pits. Its more understated cousin, the fly orchid pulls off a similar trick on the edge of woodland. Look for the bizarre bird’s-nest orchid deeper in the woods. Growing up from the dense leaf litter, the bird’s-nest orchid is a parasite which steals all its nutrients from the roots of trees. As a result it has dispensed with the green chlorophyll that other plants use to make their food, and is a ghostly creamy-brown colour all over.

On chalk grassland, look for the dense pink flower spikes of pyramidal orchids and the taller, cylindrical spikes of fragrant orchid, which smell sweetly, especially in the evening. Less ‘fragrant’ and more ‘smelly’ is the lizard orchid. A rarity found at just a few sites in the south of England, this giant among orchids has a spike of gorgeously twisty, spiral-lipped ‘lizard’ flowers, and smells strongly of billy goats.

HOW TO DO IT

The key to finding orchids is to do your research beforehand: target the right habitats at the right times of year. There are many sources of information: start with your local Wildlife Trust.

Be very careful where you tread. As well as the obvious flower spikes there will be plenty of non-flowering leaf rosettes which you should avoid trampling.
Tempting as it may be, don’t pick the flowers. Orchids look their best out in the wild, and some species are legally protected: you could be breaking the law.

If you can’t get to the special places listed below…

Orchids can be found in all parts of the UK, in many different habitats and flowering throughout the year from the April spikes of early purple orchid in the spring to the delicate spirals of autumn ladies tresses in September.

SPECIAL SPOTS

Priestcliffe Lees, Derbyshire 
Rose End Meadows, Derbyshire 

 

 

SUMMER – July

Thrill to damsels and dragons

Take a front row seat for a colourful show of aerodynamics at the water’s edge.

The height of the summer sees the emergence of a multitude of dragonflies and damselflies (their smaller more delicate relatives), together known as Odonata. Electric blue damselflies, the size of a darning needle, flutter through the reeds. Demoiselles, with beautiful coppery blue patches in their wings flap out from overhanging willow branches along the river bank, males battling low over the water to secure the best territories. Small blood-red darters, powder blue skimmers and chasers, and large powerful hawkers all do exactly what their names suggest, darting and skimming, chasing and hawking, busy hunting for their insect prey.

Our largest dragonflies are two very different beasts. Around ponds and lakes in the lowlands of England and south Wales lives the big boss, the sky blue emperor dragonfly, which can often be seen patrolling back and forth over the water. But you will have to head to the uplands to catch sight of, the beautiful golden-ringed dragonfly. An impressive black flyer, with apple green eyes and bright yellow bands ringing the body, the female reaches over 8cm in length, making her Britain’s longest insect. They patrol small moorland streams in Scotland, Wales, the north of England and the south west.

These two species may seem big, but they are mere whipper-snappers when compared with the fossil dragonflies: the largest fossil found had a quite mindboggling wingspan that measured 75cm across! Dragonflies have been around at least 325million years. They were around for 100 million years before the dinosaurs turned up, and have outlived them by another 66million years.

That makes them pretty successful survivors.

HOW TO DO IT

There are more than 40 species of dragonfly and damselfly in the UK, found in almost every habitat. The earliest damselflies are on the wing by early May, while the last common darter of the year might still be flying on a warm day in late October. The highest number of species can be found during July and August.

Like most insects, dragonflies are at their most active in warm sunny conditions, so pick your day wisely.

Binoculars will come in handy, as most species of odonata will fly off if you get too close.

And of course, take care at the water’s edge.

If you can’t get to the special places listed below…

There are very few places where you don’t stand a chance of finding a dragonfly. Several species travel a long way away from water, to feed in gardens, fields and woodland edges. One of the greatest wanderers is the migrant hawker, which you can often find hunting along sheltered hedgerows in August and September.

SPECIAL SPOTS

Carr Vale Flash, Derbyshire 
The Avenue Washlands, Derbyshire 

 

 

SUMMER – July

Hurrah for the king

Head to the river bank for a chance of spotting a kingfisher.

A summer’s day: blue skies, the wind blowing in the willow trees, damselflies flitting about on the water’s edge, with the sound of running water. What better time is there to be by the riverside?

But amongst the buzzing of the bees, the hiccupping of the moorhens and the song of the willow warbler, listen out for a high pitched, urgent ‘peep peep peep’ piping. That’s your sign to quickly look up and down the river: a kingfisher is flying past.

For such a brightly coloured bird, the kingfisher can be surprisingly tricky to spot. He spends much of his time sitting quietly on a perch, in the shade of the overhanging branches, his bright orange breast on show. But when he’s disturbed, the kingfisher is transformed. A blazing streak of electric blue, skimming fast and low over the water’s surface. He speeds past, ‘peep peep’ing, before swerving round the bend in the river and out of sight.

HOW TO DO IT

Many people are surprised by how small a kingfisher is when they first see one: only slightly bigger than a house sparrow.

If you’re lucky enough to get a closer view, pay close attention to that dagger-like bill: the male’s is all black whereas the female wears red lipstick on her lower mandible.

If you can’t get to the special places listed below…

Kingfishers can be seen on almost any river, canal, park lake or gravel pit. Sometimes they will even fish at large garden ponds. You just have to keep a good look out, and keep your fingers crossed.

SPECIAL SPOTS

Willington Gravel Pits, Derbyshire 
Hilton Gravel Pits, Derbyshire 

 

 

SUMMER – July

Join the toadlet exodus

Watch thousands of tiny toads head out into the big wide world. Common toads famously return to the ponds in which they were born in which to spawn. Early in the spring, they gather en masse to go about their noisy and sometimes boisterous courtship over a couple of weeks. Once the spawn is laid, the adults hop off again, leaving their tadpoles to their own luck.

Over the spring and summer those tadpoles have been eating and growing, going from vegetarians to hungry meat eaters, and finally exchanging their tail for legs. By July, they are ready to leave the water and go make their way in the world of dry land. All together.

If you’ve never experienced the sheer weight of numbers these tiny amphibian youngsters produce as they leave their birth ponds for the first time, you’re in for quite a surprise!

HOW TO DO IT

Tread carefully – the tiny toadlets are well-camouflaged, making them hard to spot until they leap in the grass ahead of you.

If you can’t get to the special places listed below…

The common toad is commonly found throughout Britain, so you shouldn’t be too far from a place where toads breed. In the spring listen out for their courting croaks, and look for the spawn laid in strings, rather than the big globular masses of frogs.

If you find a place where toads breed, revisit later in the summer and you may be lucky enough to witness the exodus.

SPECIAL SPOTS

Oakerthorpe, Derbyshire (or should that be Croakerthorpe?)

 

 

SUMMER – August

Go batty as night falls

Explore the nocturnal world of the bat. As dusk falls on a late summer’s evening, the swallows go to their roosts under the eaves and the swifts make one last screaming sortie over the rooftops before heading up high to dose the night away. The light thickens, the last robin sings his song, and then the bats come out.

Unseen and unnoticed by most of us, the countryside fills up with these nocturnal insectivores, fluttering out to feed for the night. Pipistrelles flit over the garden, brown long-eared bats swoop along the hedgerows, Daubenton’s bats skim over the river, noctules hawk high up above the canopy.

Bats find their way around by echolocation, using a series of very high pitched clicks and burps and listening out for the echoes that bounce off their surroundings and their prey. Although not audible to the human ear, we can use a special bat detector to listen to the echolocation calls of bats. Each species has its own characteristic pattern and frequency of calls. The pitter patter of a calling pipistrelle turns into a buzzing burp as it closes in on its moth meal, while a noctule shouts ‘chop chip chop chip’ as he swoops over the tree tops.

HOW TO DO IT

The best way to discover more about bats is in the company of an expert. Check your local Wildlife Trust website for bat walks and other batty events, where you will be able to use a bat detector and learn more about the lives of bats.

International Bat Night takes place during the last weekend in August. Put up a bat box and give them a helping hand in your garden! The location is all important: nail it up on a sheltered sunny spot, high up under the eaves if it’s on a building and preferably away from outside lights. Buy one or make one. Take part in this year’s bat-themed Wild About Gardens Week.

If you can’t get to the special places listed below…

Bats have declined in numbers, but they can still be found in towns and villages. At dusk, spend some time in the garden or go to your local park, and look up: you never know what you might see.

SPECIAL SPOTS

Hilton Gravel Pits, Derbyshire 
 

 

Peregrine © Nick Moyes, Skylark © Ian Wilson, Common tern © Richard Pittam, Bee orchid © Jonathan Preston, Emperor dragonfly © Toni Pioli, Kingfisher © Heather Burns, Toad and bat © Amy Lewis.