They have only been here for three months, but in early August our swifts will be heading back to Africa. It is difficult to record when they actually go without keeping a day to day note (i remember at the RSPB we had pinned to a notice board a newspaper clipping which said ‘Dear Editor, today i heard the last cuckoo!’). Although we may see the odd bird for a week or two, suddenly the groups of swifts screaming between the houses in our villages have gone.
One of the summer migrant birds I have mentioned as a real cause for concern is the spotted flycatcher. This is an unassuming pale brown bird recognisable by its rather upright posture when perched, and by the way it flutters upwards to capture flies, usually returning to the same perch. The spots of its name are rather faint and difficult to see. Having failed to find these birds last year, I was delighted to hear that as late as July they were nesting next door, typically amongst creeper on the wall of the house. It was good to see them, and that they reared young successfully. They have since been showing occasionally in the garden.
It has always struck me that some of the larger and more conspicuous wild flowers, which flower into the later summer, are those which grow in wet places. riverbanks, ditches, and the wetter parts of roadside verges can be quite colourful at this time of year. I am thinking particularly of the tall, pink rosebay willowherb, which is a feature for instance of the roadsides on the way to Framlingham. It is the main food plant of the extraordinary caterpillar of the elephant hawk moth, of which more another time. In similar places are the hemp agrimony (not related but whose leaves do resemble the hemp plant), with large pink clumps of flowers much visited by butterflies, and the creamy white clumps of meadowsweet, a relative of the garden spiraeas.
This month’s dragonflies are the large species with rows of blue spots along their bodies, known as hawkers. In our area the most usual is called the southern hawker, usually found flying near to water. It is unusual in that it often flies or hovers close to an observer, as if it were curious. When it does this it is close enough to see the two large yellow patches on its body, looking a bit like headlights. Another species without these marks is the migrant hawker, most of which really do migrate here from further south, although it is thought that these days some of them do breed here. Migrant hawkers may be found later in the year in some numbers, and often in places, such as gardens, well away from water.
By Geoffrey Abbott