Naturewatch Suffolk: July

PUBLISHED: 13:01 30 July 2010 | UPDATED: 17:38 20 February 2013

A curlew

A curlew

While sun-seekers flock to Suffolk's beaches, some birds are preparing for the long haul south, as John Grant reports

While sun-seekers flock to Suffolks beaches, some birds are preparing for the long haul south, as John Grant reports

High summer. High spirits on our glorious beaches, high expectations among our youngsters with the summer holidays spread out before them. And, hopefully, high temperatures too.
From a human perspective, the lazy, hazy days of summer are here. A time to relax. Perhaps, for some, a time to travel.
But for our birdlife surely it is simply a time for quietly getting on with the business of nurturing nestfulls of chicks isnt it? The springtime proclamations of territory and sexual bravado have subsided with very little birdsong still to be heard and parents knuckle down to the more mundane, but equally important task of rearing their offspring. Surely, the little matter of migration is a long way off for all our millions of migratory birds? Well, no its not not by a long way! At the height of summer, even as the sun beats down, there is a discernible hint of autumn that can be detected by the wildlife watcher.
When it comes to considering our avian friends, you have to think global. Here we are in Suffolk, thankfully. We are blessed with a relatively temperate climate. Relative, that is, to the vast expanses of the Arctic taiga and, especially, tundra that lie far to our north.
For much of the year these huge wildernesses lie dormant, under a cloak of snow and ice. As inhospitable as it is possible to imagine.
But for a short period, from about late May, through June and into early July, these areas, stretching north to well inside the Arctic Circle, positively explode with life on a veritable tropical scale. Invertebrates. Billlion upon seething billion of them. And making use of this abundant food supply amid this massive zone of vast horizons are members of a family of birds that are renowned globetrotters the waders.
The downside to travelling so far north to benefit from the bounty of food and nesting territory is fairly obvious when you come to think of it. No wader with any survival sense would want to be caught out on the tundra in a biting chill with not a hope of finding so much as a single midge. And that foodless, perishing period closes in all too quickly by mid-July its time to fly south to warmer, more hospitable climes.
By a bewildering array of strategies, from rampant promiscuity to a dereliction of egg-incubation and chick-rearing duties by one of the sexes, the wading species have evolved techniques that allow them to make maximum use of the short northern summer.
And so it is that, as high summer comes to Suffolk, so do the waders. Winging their way south in their droves to find respite on our wetlands before continuing onwards, sometimes to the very tip of South Africa.
Spotted redshanks are among the first wave in July all females who have left all domestic duties to the males in order to ease pressure on food supplies and, more importantly, safeguard themselves against any early onset of severe weather.
Our marshes ring to the calls of returning curlew and resplendent grey plovers, diminutive little stints and familiar dunlins are all on the move, to name but a few.
Observers in their deck chairs soaking up the sun on, say, Southwold or Felixstowe beaches are often treated to substantial flypasts of these astonishing travellers And it is on our beaches that another drama is unfolding the waders may be passing by but one very rare breeding bird is here for a few weeks yet, ekeing out a space on some of our shingle beaches amid the holidaymakers. Little tern.
This smart, chattering, darting little fellow pristine white with a dapper black cap, white eyeline and black-tipped yellow bill has a dangerous liking for the same beaches that many humans find irresistible. It is ground-nesting, with its nest simply a shallow scrape in the stones and thereby hangs its downfall. The increase in human use of our beaches entirely understandable when you consider how lovely they are has frequently edged out little terns. Now conservation agencies, such as the RSPB and Natural England, fence areas off to discourage human and canine entry. Hopefully such measures will prove to be a satisfactory compromise and sun-seekers and little terns, and the similarly-threatened ringed plover, will be ably to happily co-exist for a while yet.
There is plenty to interest and inspire the botanists this month, and our old friend Peter Lawson tells us: As the barley starts to ripen in early July, here and there masses of scarlet field poppies create a splash of colour in the countryside, much to the embarrassment of farmers.
This is the very best time to visit our wetlands, where lake and dyke margins can be colourful with a wide variety of plants such as purple loosestrife, great willow herb (or codlins and cream) and creamy meadowsweet. Suffolk Wildlife Trust reserves at Lackford Lakes, near Bury St Edmunds, and Carlton Marshes, near Lowestoft, are good places to see some of these, while there will be water soldier, frogbit and possibly arrow head in the Carlton dykes, overtopped by eight feet tall sow thistles among the reeds.
For a complete contrast, enjoy a picnic on the chalky Devils Dyke, a huge prehistoric earthwork near Newmarket, which is rich in wild flowers. Look out for the scarce stemless thistle though, before you sit down!
At the coast, the yellow horned poppies will be out and the blue spires of vipers bugloss colour the sandy margins of the arable fields in the Brecks and on the Sandling heaths.
Looking forward to August, the bird migration that is heralded by the waders gathers apace and the families of birds involved grows wider. Next month is also a great time to turn attention to dragonflies and damselflies, whose flight season can be remarkably short-lived. Like us, they too should make the most of high summer!


Grass snake: Somewhat overshadowed by its higher-profile relative the adder, the grass snake is often less obtrusive and frequently overlooked. However, with care, this is a species that can sometimes be seen and it is always a delight to encounter one. Look for the bright yellow patches just behind the head. Perhaps surprisingly, this species can sometimes be seen swimming in our ponds, rivers and streams a sighting at the ponds near the RSPBs Minsmere reserves visitor centre being a distinct possibility.

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