About Two Owls

Saturday 7 August 2021

July Birds and Wildlife

July is always a month that is usually slow for birds though often a rarity will turn up somewhere. Though the best recently have been a five hour drive away with Elegant Tern in Wales and Black-browed Albatross at Bempton RSPB which I have to say is still there as I write and is very tempting.

July is generally a month to catchup on the domestic chores to clear them for the autumn and fitting in a walk or two targeting certain species.  So our first highlight of the month was a evening trip out to Hartland Moor and Arne, where we had superb views of a Hobby hawking over the copse at the Stud farm for around fifteen minutes after which we moved on to Arne for Nightjar.  To save Jackie having to walk far we watched over Hyde's Heath area and saw both male and female Nightjar which performed well for us and I was able to get a few audio recordings of them.

A few weeks ago we had promised friends that as soon as we were back from our Welsh holiday we would arrange to meet them and take them to see Stone Curlew up on Salisbury Plain.   So on the 15th Jackie and I met with them at RSPB Winterbourne Downs reserve. Jackie and I haven't always been lucky here and have to go out on the plain itself to find them or to other locations we know.  So as we walked up the footpath to the screen that overlooks one of the Stone Curlew fields we weren't expecting to see very much.  As we approached the screen I heard a Stone Curlew call and saw a single bird flying across the field and pitching down and called to others and looking through the scope found four birds. Then another two Stone Curlew appeared though they all were on the opposite side of the field to us we could see them well.  Our friends were really pleased as they hadn't seen Stone Curlew for a few years. Little did we know at that point what the future was going to bring.  As we watched them moving around they seemed somewhat restless as all of a sudden they all lifted off calling and circled around and some going one way and some another.  They then settled again in the same area accept one bird which I picked up was flying directly towards us.  I called it to the others and we watched it fly in and pitch down just 20m from where we were behind the screen, only to be joined by two others just afterwards.  They were very alert and nervous and we realised that some people were walking the footpath the other side of the field and must have spooked them.  So we had excellent views very close before they decided it was ok to go back to where they had been a few minutes before. 

Collage of Stone Curlew shots - © Nick Hull

We had a nice picnic lunch and a catch-up with our friends and then left us so could get back for their dog which they left at home but not before adding Red Kite, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Buzzard to our day list.  We had decided to Langford Lakes nature reserve near Salisbury to see the 2cy Red-footed Falcon that had been there for a few days, hunting over the meadows.

When Jackie and I arrived at Langford Lakes it appeared fairly quiet so we wondered if the falcon had gone, but as we were there and hadn't visited the reserve for a few years we would take a look around anyway.  We spoke to a birder who was leaving and he said if we hurry the falcon was perched out the front of the hide to the left.  It was a good job Jackie had her scooter as we had to go to the furthest hide but it was worth it as we entered and joined around six other birders the bird was sitting more or less right in front of us on a dead upright wood perch.

2cy Red-footed Falcon - Langford Lakes Wiltshire © Nick Hull

We were very lucky as a minute or two later it took off and started catching dragonflies and eating them and a crow came and landed on the perch and she went off over the meadows behind the hide. Jackie and I decided to leave and we checked out over the meadow and found the Red-footed Falcon sat on an electricity post across the far side of the meadow but very distant. 

July is always a slow month for birding so we tend to go out looking for other local wildlife such as orchids, butterflies, dragonflies, wasp's and bee's. Starting with the botany I had promised Jackie that I would show her Lesser Butterfly Orchid which I was involved with surveying for Back from the Brink project but as 2020 was so restricting for travel we never got to see them.  So things eased this year and so I took Jackie to see these rare orchids and without too much hunting we found 15 spikes but later I heard their were many more which was very good news.

Lesser Butterfly Orchid © Nick Hull

A few days later we had to go to Arne to buy bird food and stopped off en-route and checked if the Marsh Helleborine's were out in flower and found three spikes but later heard there were around 25 a week later so we had obviously saw them right at the beginning. 

Marsh Helleborine © Nick Hull

At the end of the month I had a chance to do a little surveying on the local heaths and caught up with a few of the local specialty inverts like Heath Potter Wasp, Purbeck Mason Wasp also Heath Tiger Beetle and Mottled Bee-fly.

This Heath Potter Wasp is mining clay suitable for making her pot which she will place in the heather or in a gorse bush or sometimes attached to grass. She then catches and encloses a caterpillar into the pot lays an egg and then seals the pot, then starts again with the next.

Heath Potter Wasp © Nick Hull

The Purbeck Mason Wasp has a very localised distribution on our local Purbeck heathlands and is listed as endangered and was one of the Back from the Brink primary species.  They are a stunning wasp that exclusively predates on Acleris hyemana moth caterpillars.  She digs the burrow which will have 1-3 chambers which she will create cells in starting from the bottom. She will provide up to 20 caterpillars and once she has filled the chambers she will seal the burrow with a clay plug to disguise it.

Purbeck Mason Wasp - © Nick Hull

The day I went out with a friend to see this tiger beetle it was perfect conditions hot sunny and little wind, we only walked a couple of hundred metres and recorded 16 of these rare beetles.  They spend much of their life in a burrow in the ground and are only in their adult form for a few weeks a year to find a female and mate, job done.

Heath Tiger Beetle © Nick Hull

Mottle beefly are one of the host species of the Heath Sand Wasp Ammophila pubescens so can often be found in the same locations.
Mottled Bee-fly © Nick Hull

During a reptile survey on the 27th at Arne other than seeing a number of Sand Lizard Stewart managed to find a couple of female Hornet Robberflies a species which has had a 20% decline over recent years. They lay their eggs in manure preferring horse dung but they will use other animal manure if available. They are the largest of the robberflies and are quite a beast at up to 28mm but can be up to 35mm and will take large pry such as grasshoppers.

Hornet Robberfly © Nick Hull

That brings me to the end of July with 183 species to our birding list so far for the year and a nice list of scarce invertebrates coming along.  

For all of you that joined me for the walk on Tuesday I will put together another blog with a bit more about the digger and sand wasps we came across soon, just to help you remember what we saw.