5 July 2017

There's no place like home this Summer...

“Mountains green”1, “clouded hills”2, England’s “green and pleasant lands”3 are home to a stunning array of wildlife. No matter where you are through the UK, you can enjoy a wealth of beauty in a country that not only hosts but embraces nature and all its wonders.  It is hard not to feel privileged living in a country that offers acres of vast open country side, rolling valleys, deep woodlands, pretty beaches and of course all of the wildlife that accompanies it.  What makes us even more privileged is that we are able to enjoy this splendour all through the year although; the time when it is most prominent and most beautiful is arguably through the summer months.

Summer sees all sorts of native seasonal creatures whilst also hosting a range of summer arrivals from abroad. There are many creatures, especially birds that make the UK their home over the summer months and it is the warmer climes and the array of insects that draw them to our shores. 

One of the most well known UK summer visitors are Swallows. After spending the winter in Africa they make a staggering 8000 mile journey, up to 200 miles a day back to Britain to feed and breed. They often revisit the nesting site they used in previous years and usually have up to two broods. Each brood usually consists of 4-5 eggs which take anywhere from 10-21 days to hatch.

Another distinguished guest to UK soil through the summer is the Cuckoo.  While they are perhaps just as well known as their fellow summer visitors, the swallow, they are only really for their distinguished sound and in fact spotting them is quite rare. Not only do these birds rarely visit gardens as they predominantly abide in woodlands, they have also been marked on the red list by RSPB as a species that is in serious decline.  The blue grey dove sized birds have a long tail, pointed wings and a barred patterned chest and are more popular in southern England. They spend their winter in Africa, before heading back to the UK to breed. They usually have multiple broods occupying another bird’s nest in order to have their young.   This unique breeding trait, while interesting is sadly damaging to other birds and their breeding.

Less known yet still a predominant feature of wildlife through the summer in Britain, is the Pied Flycatcher. Akin to the Cuckoo and Swallow, these birds also spend their winters in Africa and return to the UK from late April.  In the UK, they reside largely in woodlands and parks and build their nest accordingly meaning you will often find them breeding in a tree hole in an open nest. However, Pied Flycatchers, being just smaller than a house sparrow, have been known to utilise nest boxes also, making them an occasional garden visitor.  They typically lay between 4-10 eggs however, like the Cuckoo they are also on the red list of birds that are in decline. The males are mostly black on the upper side of their body and white underneath while the females don a browner appearance.  

Not too dissimilar to the Pied Flycatcher is the Warbler, there are several types, including aquatic Warblers. These birds favour water and marshlands however are only often seen on the tip of the south coast of the UK. The Garden Warblers on the other hand are seen throughout the UK during the summer after spending the winters in Africa.  Despite the name, these birds are often found in or around woodlands, open areas as well as farmland and hedgerows.  Typically these birds will have 4-5 eggs in a clutch and incubation is shared between both adults. Unusually, the breeding period for these birds is prolonged and can vary depending on their location in Europe.  For instance, first eggs can be laid in late April in southern German whereas it is closer to late May in Finland. They delicate birds are around 14cm long and the young fledge just 10 days after hatching.

While Warblers and Cuckoos are perhaps not the first birds that spring to mind when you think of summer migrant birds, the Turtle Dove on the other hand might.  It is a particular favourite summer visitor here at Brinvale Farm especially as we have our own annual visitor. As with the other summer migrant birds, Turtle Dove also spend their winters in Africa and returns to the UK in late April. The reason we and other garden bird lovers are able to see them so often is because they favour open spaces over woodland and they enjoy feeding off the ground as with some garden birds. However, it is rare that they actually visit gardens or nest in them but do breed in the UK over the summer. Like other members of the dove family, the Turtle Dove is similar in size but is browner with black-and-white-striped patches on its body.

The RSPB note a staggering amount of bird species that migrate to the UK every summer. Others include Blackcaps, Yellow Wagtails, Pied Flycatchers, redstarts and nightjars to name a few.  This is as well as seabirds such as puffins and gannets that arrive on the shores after spending winter at sea. It seems then that no matter where you are this summer, you are sure to spot a rare and unusual summer bird visitor while you are out enjoy Britain and all its beauty.

1 William Blake, "And did those feet in ancient time" (1808) 
2William Blake, "And did those feet in ancient time" (1808) 
3William Blake, "And did those feet in ancient time" (1808) 
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posted by Brinvale