Summer 2000 on the Fields

It’s been a strange summer for the wildlife!

The weather, that dictates much of the activity, has generally been cool, damp and certainly not hot! Public walks to view the orchids in June (when they would normally be in flower) were disappointing, by late June only 5 were found. Yet, in the first week of July, they were out, hundreds of them on the plateau overlooking the moated site to such an extent that it was considered by seasoned orchid watchers to be the best show for years! Coinciding with the flowering of the orchids is the emergence of 6 spot burnet moths. Again they were late but we were not disappointed. Great “clouds” of these attractive red and black moths were around well into July. Butterflies were also affected by the weather, but on the warmer, drier days, many were seen with meadow brown and small and large skippers abundant. Other common species were speckled wood, mainly along the Greenway, small copper, gatekeeper, common blue and green veined white.

The populations of great crested newts and water voles held up well but the breeding bird numbers increased. A detailed survey 3 years ago of skylarks showed there were 13 pairs nesting on our part of the fields. This year that has increased to 15. Grey partridge numbers are difficult to monitor, but there were possibly 2 pairs, the same as 3 years ago, although wet weather in late June, when the young emerge, may have affected their survival rate. The most critical time for young partridges in the first 3 weeks of their life during which they feed on a diet of insects, in particular the larvae of a saw fly. Wet weather means a drastic reduction in this food supply. If they survive this period they then take on the diet of the adults, almost entirely seeds, of which there is a plentiful supply on Berryhill. The population of one bird species that has “exploded” this year is the whitethroat, a member of the warbler family that migrates annually to and from its wintering grounds in western Africa. A steady number of around 8 – 10 pairs are expected each spring but this year the number is in excess of 20 pairs! We’re still waiting for the official number. Another bird to increase dramatically is the goldfinch. Berryhill provides a ready food source, particularly in late summer when the thistle heads ripen. During August flocks, or charms as they are collectively known, in excess of 50 birds were regularly recorded.

By the end of August a lot of the breeding activity was over and many birds were silent whilst undertaking their late summer moult, preparing for the coming winter. Swifts, the first of our migrants to return to Africa, were gone early in the month. Swallows and house martins started to gather in flocks whilst feeding low over the Fields, preparing for their long and dangerous journeys back to Africa. Swallows fly all the way to South Africa, a journey of 6000 miles, hopefully some will survive to return next year.

The orchids flowered until the end of July, but many other plants will be in full bloom well into September. These include ox eye daisy, various vetches, bird’s foot trefoil and field scabious, all providing a food source for active insects whilst the emerging berries and other seeds are preparing food for the autumn and winter birds and mammals.