A year ago, the ‘winners and losers’ update reflected on the effects of the previous hot summer.
Well, that had nothing on 2022, which was not only extremely hot but very dry. Indeed, all the hottest recorded summers have occurred within the last ten years, so this is something that we shall have to get accustomed to as the climate changes. This can have implications for wildlife as well as creating a shortage of grazing for the cattle.
The winners over the past couple of years must be the red kites. They seem to be very common indeed now, but a sighting still thrills as they flap and drift in a seemingly languid manner overhead, not only over the riverside but also over the town. For those unfamiliar with kites their characteristic forked tail provides instant identification to distinguish them from the similarly sized buzzards. Kites seem to be more charismatic but perhaps that is that because they are relatively new to us here.
Ravens are slowly establishing too, although sighting are still uncommon. This is the largest of the
Corvid family which includes carrion crows, rooks, jackdaws, magpies and jays. Their throaty ‘cronk’ calls are unmistakable.
The beautiful barn owls continue to delight and have now raised twenty chicks on the riverside over a number of years. The secret to their success is in the provision of tussocky grassland habitats for voles, their favoured prey.
Hares on the riverside might seem to be a little far fetched but on our quiet meadows, away from people and dogs, they are actually very common. There is something about the hare that attracts us and while they may not be as popular as badgers, they can be seen much more frequently where they find a safe haven. As badgers are generally nocturnal they are very rarely seen even though they are all around the riverside.
Staying with our quieter areas, common lizards, grass snakes and slow worms seem to have done quite well. Perhaps they like the extra heat. If so, we might see an increase in those populations.
Over in Great Cornard Country Park, a silver-washed fritillary was seen. This was the first record for that large and attractive butterfly, but they may become a little more frequent as there are plenty of flowers for the adults to feed on. The caterpillars require dog violets as their food plant and although this is a fairly frequent plant, it can be rather localised.
Of course, kingfishers continue to delight and enthral. Small they might be, but a lack of size is more than made up by their gorgeous colours. Look out for them in their dashing flight or on a favourite perch watching the little fish below.
Speaking of fish, the Environment Agency carries out an annual fish survey in short sections of the river. Last year’s ‘haul’ included roach, bleak, pike, chub, dace, perch, bullhead (or miller’s thumb), three spined stickleback and minnow. Carp appear to be absent which may be a reflection of the successful otter population.
In terms of flora, there is certainly a repetition of the problems associated with the early marsh
orchids. The conditions were simply against them, and numbers continue to dwindle as a result of a lack of ground water during long periods of drought. On the other hand, the shy Deptford pink had another good year on the Valley Trail as the drought conditions reduced the competition which threatens them under normal circumstances.