Early Summer 2013

The Blackthorn failed to flower until the first week of May this year, indicating the impact of a late winter and this continued to effect the timings of many other blossoms, including Hawthorn, that eventually came out in June.

Swifts arrived a day or two later than previous years over the reservoir on the 8th May, but the weather continued to be wet and cold for another week or two afterwards. A pair of oystercatchers spent an evening flying around the reservoir on the 7th May, but were not seen again. I have not heard any cuckoos calling around the allotment this spring, even at dawn, but it may be as much to do with poor weather as anything else.

Woodpigeons on the other hand have been very common and have enjoyed eating soft fruit and newly planted brassicas on areas where they have not been covered up sufficiently! I am pleased as an allotment holder that I have not seen the cock pheasant again this year, as it too can cause damage to young plants, especially young peas and beans. Foxes and the odd muntjac add to the hazards we face, although they seem to do little damage?

The spring period is a quiet time for birds as they maintain a low profile over the breeding season but as they leave their nests it starts to become more active and interesting again. In late June a party of 20 long tailed tits flew around from tree to tree looking for food. However despite putting up several boxes none were occupied this season by blue or great tits, so they must be being spoiled for choice elsewhere!


Birds of prey have been hard to spot too, but the recent heat wave has helped to produce rising thermals and brought the buzzards and sparrowhawks out and easy to see circling high in the sky. Back on the land both green and greater spotted woodpeckers have been about, but relatively inconspicuous, as they feed their young. The reservoir grassy banks are perfect for ants and the green woodpeckers check these areas out regularly. There have been a pair of lesser black backed gulls hanging around the water for much of the spring and by mid July 20 or 30 black headed gulls returned from their breeding grounds on upland moorlands, loudly proclaiming their arrival back. Also a pair of common terns came too and stayed for a few days, giving away their presence with their distinctive piping calls as they flew above the water.

The whitethroat seen in early spring stayed on to nest, while other migrants from Africa such as blackcaps and chiffchaffs bred successfully too in the surrounding trees. A pair of swallows raised a family of four again, nesting in a brick built shed, and they used the wire cables above our heads to launch their search for insects in the early evenings, returning to the same wire and twittering to each other. I am sure that different areas of the allotments have their own resident song thrush and so often in the evenings they have belted out their amazingly varied and colourful song to keep our spirits raised! It is a good idea to cover up slug bait (if you use it) with bits of wood so that the thrushes (and hedgehogs) do not eat the poisoned slugs, as it has been blamed on their recent decline in our gardens.

I have been pleased to see plenty of house sparrows about this month and it really does indicate a healthy environment if these can survive alongside all the other birds that we enjoy seeing. Robins, blackbirds, hedge sparrows and starlings all seem to have done well too. Herons fly overhead quite often along with the occasional mute swan or Canada goose and it is definitely worth keeping an eye on the sky to see what is about. We had a pair of kingfishers chasing each other over the allotment and reservoir in mid July, and the previous day a nuthatch was flying and calling from high up in the trees, both seemed rather out of place and did not stay for long!

Paul Snell