Paul Hobson, Wildlife Watch: June
PUBLISHED: 12:41 29 April 2010 | UPDATED: 16:00 20 February 2013
On the wing in June with butterflies and birds.
Sometimes the most common species provide the best wildlife experiences, at others it's the sheer rareness of a bird or plant that takes your breath away.
June is a month when many birds are at full speed feeding lusty chicks in the nest. In many cases it's a simple matter to find a good vantage point which doesn't disturb the parents and then sit back to watch the incredible efforts they go to. Last June I was on my way home one day after spending the morning photographing green hairstreak butterflies in a lovely bilberry patch when I walked past a small wood.
I was quickly drawn to a pair of blue tits who seemed to be really busy working through the oak tree canopy. I wasn't in a rush so I sat down for an hour to watch the birds. It soon became apparent that they were feeding a brood of very demanding youngsters in a hole in an old alder tree. I could hear the chicks calling from quite a distance as the parents approached the nest and I decided to count how many times they fed the youngsters in an hour. I was staggered to find that it was more than a hundred times. I couldn't tell the two birds apart, so if we assume that the male and female shared their duties equally each bird was feeding at an average of just over 50 times i.e. almost once per minute. I imagine that they can't keep this up all day and having spent countless hours in hides watching birds at the nest I know that they do go through periods of intense activity followed by slack times. Often these slack times coincide with midday, a siesta perhaps? Or a time when the parents actually feed themselves and indulge in a little R+R!
Green hairstreaks are early moorland butterflies in terms of the time of year they emerge. In flight they are very quick and difficult to really appreciate, but when they land and you can get your eye in to spot them, they are absolutely gorgeous. The upper wing is really a dull brown but the under wing, which is on show when they land, is a stunning metallic green. It's not that hard to find a colony. They like areas with good patches of bilberry on sunny banks. A sunny, still day in late May or early June is the ideal time to look for them.
June should be the time we hear the cuckoo calling across moorland and farmland alike. Unfortunately the number of cuckoos has declined dramatically over the last two decades in the Peak District. The reasons are not entirely clear, it is certainly not to do with a lack of their 'hosts'. Meadow pipits are still the ubiquitous bird of the moorlands. Hedge sparrows or, to use their modern name, dunnocks are still one of the most frequently met birds in the farmland and dales of the White Peak. The decline may have something to do with a possible decrease in their preferred food of large hairy caterpillars or perhaps global warming is causing them to appear at a subtly different time.
I am reminded by the cuckoo's call of other birds that have distinctive songs and one that springs to mind is the corncrake. It used to breed commonly throughout our country and county and is hopefully staging a comeback. Corncrakes disappeared as farming techniques, especially the growing and mowing of hay, changed. This is a case in point of just how fast we can remove a common bird completely from our landscape. Corncrakes became extinct as a breeding bird in England in less than a hundred years from the advent of these agricultural changes. Luckily they still hang on in a few Scottish islands and at present there is a captive breeding and reintroduction scheme in England to allow these birds to appear once again.
For most of us though, even if we do get them back into Derbyshire, we are far more likely to hear the highly distinctive call than actually to see the birds. The call closely resembles someone running their finger nails along a comb and gives rise to the bird's Latin name, Crex crex.
As the weather gets warmer our local dragons and damsels (as many people now refer to dragonflies and damselflies) will start to appear around ponds and streams. Their breeding times, like those of birds, are very specific and different species emerge in different months. June is early in the year from a dragon's and damsel's perspective and only a few species are about now. Four spot chaser is a medium sized dragon which is on the wing in June. Four spots are easy to watch because they like to use the same perch to hunt from. Once you have seen it perch there is a fair chance it will return to the same place in under a minute. Simply sit down and remain still. If you shuffle on your bottom slowly you can get quite close to the perch without the four spot getting alarmed. Be careful though, since the perch is almost certainly in a pond or wetland area you are likely to get a wet bottom, but it is worth it!