Sunshine at last!

Sunshine at last!
August 20, 2012 Adrian Walters

A few rays of glorious sunshine soon dim the memory of the very wet weather. Sadly the effects of the unseasonal amounts of rainfall affected riverside wildlife.

Back in May the swans experienced a disastrous nesting season and only one cygnet remains on the river. At that time the coot’s nest was swept away at the Floodgates Pool and the young kingfishers were drowned out on King’s Marsh.

In July following particularly heavy rainfall the river levels once again rose to the top of the banks with equally serious consequences for some of our water birds. It was noted on a guided walk on 14th July that the adult kingfishers had ceased their
constant journeying with small fish indicating that their second brood had drowned in the rising floodwater. On the same day the reed warbler’s nest of
eggs or chicks was dunked in the river below Manscroft Bridge as swirling torrents of water bent the reeds almost horizontal. A common tern swooped about over the river in a vain attempt to spot small fish in the turbid water. Only the skylarks continued to parachute onto Freemen’s Common apparently oblivious to the atrocious conditions and a little egret dabbed here and there in a ditch seeking out frogs and small fish. In the absence of any dragonflies to feed on, a fast moving hobby was seen attempting a rather half-hearted strike on a house martin over the Garden Place cottages.

Plants certainly faired better taking advantage of the excess moisture following drought conditions last year. The orchids bloomed in spectacular numbers and the hundreds of blooms will add thousands of new seeds to the seed bank, a percentage of which will germinate to swell the increasing populations.

The water-logged conditions delayed the annual cutting of creeping thistle but that is now well underway. Access improvements to the cattle loading pound and footpaths were similarly delayed but should be completed by the autumn.

In spite of the poor summer there is still so much to see and enjoy. Generally the small invertebrates are overlooked simply because they are not impressive but binoculars and cameras provide useful aids to watching and identifying a myriad of small insects. Although butterflies and dragonflies have been conspicuously absent except on the rare sunny day, there are other insects on wing or hiding in the vegetation such as the sulphur knapweed moth measuring in at around one centimetre in length. This colourful though rather insignificant beast is used as a
biological pest control on knapweed species in the USA. The larvae tunnel in the roots of the plant and weaken it.

At the other end of the scale the breeding buzzards at Ballingdon are now regularly in the skies, their plaintive ‘mewing’ cries advertising when they are on wing high over the riverside. And what a spectacular sight they make!