It seems it has been another good year for butterflies, with plenty of the more common species on the wing throughout the summer.
This Speckled Wood was in the garden earlier in the week and I have spotted quite a few in the garden this year, which is the first year I have seen them here. I’d say the garden is quite well suited to them but it’s nice to see them doing so well nevertheless.
On Tuesday I was up at Simonside Hills near Rothbury and when the sun was out, in sheltered spots there were dozens and dozens of butterflies feeding on the heather.
Most abundant were Red Admirals like this one, as well as Peacock like the one below. The Red Admirals are definitely a butterfly of the autumn months for me as I see them feeding on my windfall apples in the garden.
There were also a few Small Tortoiseshells around on the heather. For one of the more common butterflies, they’re certainly one of the most attractive. I particularly like the tiny blue patches along the borders of their wings.
Another species which has been abundant this year is the Small Skipper, although this one was the first I had seen for a week or two – I guess they are fading now. I like their small size, as well as their almost golden ginger colouring.
Still no Painted Lady for me this year though – I wonder if I will get to see one? That would take my tally to nineteen species for the year, without really trying and would be my best ever year on record (only going back a few years though).
I have often wondered whether urban Peregrines had found their way to Newcastle but never really made enough effort to find out. I had never seen any, that’s for sure – until this weekend!
What looks like a pair can be found incredibly close to the centre of Newcastle (or Gateshead, depending on how you look at it). They are simply stunning birds and seem so well adapted to city life. If you didn’t know they were there, you would easily walk right by them without a second glance (as many Sunday morning walkers and joggers did this weekend).
Discovering these birds can be seen so close to home is just brilliant. Despite the fact I have been lucky enough to hold them before in both the desert in the United Arab Emirates and closer to home, at the Kielder Water Bird of Prey Centre, there’s nothing like watching them living wild in your own city.
The female was much bigger than the male and was perched a bit closer, allowing for some good views. She was monstrous in fact, whilst he was rather more delicate. I am very grateful to CityBirding who kindly helped me find these wonderful creatures.
After watching the Peregrine pair for a while I did a bit more inner city wildlife watching and again, I was amazed at what there is around the city in small pockets of green space and along the river front.
It seems there are parts of the Newcastle and Gateshead which are probably rarely visited by anyone, making these spots a real haven for wildlife.
It’s been a while since I have done any hedgerow birding but last Sunday Holywell Pond was as quiet as I have ever seen it. Just a few Mallard, two Grey Herons, a family party of Little Grebes and a group of Black Headed Gulls was all that was to be seen on the water.
The hedges along the southern boundary of the reserve were full of birds however. There were family parties of Blue Tit, Long Tailed Tit, Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Chiffchaff flitting about together in the hawthorn and the willow trees at the western edge. They were also joined by a number of the local Tree Sparrows although these were harder to spot amongst the shrubbery.
The hedgerows are not normally so full of birds, or haven’t been since last winter – I wondered if it was the beginning of an autumnal movement. Or perhaps they were all sheltering from the howling westerly wind!
Still, it was sunny and warm out of the breeze and this juvenile Chiffchaff spent ages preening with its back to me, seemingly oblivious to my presence.
This Sunday was the first ever Hen Harrier Day – a day of peaceful protest at a number of locations across England, against the illegal persecution of Hen Harriers.
The day was organised by Birders Against Wildlife Crime (“BAWC”), as a way of raising the profile of the illegal killing of these majestic birds in our uplands. Scientific research suggests there is enough suitable habitat to support around 300 breeding pairs of Hen Harriers in England, yet this year there have been just three successful nests.
The reason for the absence of Hen Harriers in England is illegal persecution, which occurs particularly where upland habitats are managed for driven grouse shooting.
One way or another this has to stop; be it through the more rigorous use of our existing wildlife legislation, the introduction of new legislation (such as vicarious liability which would hold to account landowners where illegal persecution has occurred) or through a total ban on driven grouse shooting.
I would very much like to see Hen Harriers on the uplands local to me and I would like my children to be afforded the same opportunity. It is not acceptable that a minority of people can almost wipe out a native British species, simply so a small number of people can shoot a large number of game birds.
I was proud to attend my local event in Northumberland and hopefully Hen Harrier Day 2014 will be the start of better days for English Hen Harriers. It was a fantastic day, based on a very simple idea – that we are missing our Hen Harriers.
To borrow the title of a novel by Julian Barnes, it certainly feels like the beginning of the end of summer. The wheat has been harvested from the fields nearby and the stubble already ploughed in. And what with the change in the weather over the last few days and the fact that my local Swifts seem to have already departed for Africa, it’s starting to feel a little autumnal.
I noticed the Swifts mustering over the rooftops on the final warm days in July – all the adult birds together with this year’s offspring whirling and screaming overhead, preparing for their long journey south. And now all is quiet in the skies above Monkseaton.
There are still plenty of Swifts about though. At Holywell Pond there were at least a dozen, together with numerous Swallows and House Martins hawking insects over the water. Another sure sign that the breeding season at least is over, was the presence of two Greenshank on the scrapes.
Summer is not completely finished though, and there are loads of butterflies around still.
This Large White was clinging to a bramble leaf in the strong breeze this morning.
There were plenty of opportunities for basking in the sun today – this Speckled Wood was doing just that.
And there were many Wall Brown butterflies on the wing this morning – the area around Holywell Pond seems to be a bit of stronghold for them.