Whilst the weather during May was generally very chilly, wildlife was still making the most of it. Warmth loving species such as damselflies and dragonflies may have been predictably absent from the waterways but in the bird world it has been all go.
Our summer migrants are now all back and hopefully they will experience a better breeding season than last year. Whilst birds may not be present in the extraordinary numbers that can still be seen in some parts of the country, the Sudbury riverside is still a wonderful place to hear and see a good variety.
Reed and sedge warblers are now flitting and skulking about in the rank vegetation on the riverside. This accumulated vegetation can be perceived as untidy but it provides essential habitat to these visitors along with our resident reed bunting. The cuckoo, whose call is still occasionally heard, will now be keeping a sharp look-out for reed warbler nesting activity.
Cattle numbers are now up to strength on the lush pastures and it is important to remember to leave the stock well alone. On the other hand it is equally important not to behave in an appropriate manner when approached by livestock. Their natural inquisitiveness will always lead them to sniff out petrified people and whether they are in an enquiring mood or running with the herd, movement by any individual in the form of arm waving and walking toward them will always ensure that they shy away. Stupid as it may seem talking to the cattle always ensures that they know you are in the vicinity and helps to keep them calm. Even a modest amount of country knowledge can be useful when walking in the farmed environment.
Above the grazing cattle the swallows, house martins and swifts are all very busy feeding on the thousands of insects that traditional farming encourages. Here a chemical free haven allows all kinds of mini-beasts to thrive, thus creating a food-chain that supports larger creatures. Whilst the swallows and martins provide much pleasure as groups of them cavort playfully through the air, it is the swifts that are the real aerial masters. These birds spend almost the whole of their lives airborne, having developed extremely long scimitar wings that aid powerful and enduring flight. By pure chance one may witness aerial mating, an act that takes just seconds as a pair comes together briefly in a perfectly timed and judged manoeuvre.
At an altogether lower level the kingfishers are busy dashing across the pastures to and from their nest sites feeding young that should escape the kind of flooding that the 2012 broods succumbed to. Whilst the adult birds will often select a perch to fish from there is something quite astonishing about a kingfisher hovering above a ditch or pool in the manner of a hummingbird before diving headlong into the water and emerging with a small fish.
Finally, enjoy the brief buttercup glory that May and early June provides on the pastures. This show demonstrates the almost perfect state of the pastures as a result of suitable grazing pressure. Too little and the buttercups disappear and coarse grasses gain. Too much and the rarer plants of interest such as adder’s tongue and round-fruited rush get eaten off before they have a chance to seed. A delicate balance is required when working with nature!