June started hot and dry with high pressure over northern Europe creating light south and easterly airflow over Britain.
On these drifting winds some exciting scarce vagrants and rare migrants have occurred and a particularly large number of marsh warblers and Blyth’s reed warbler have been found around the UK, particularly in the east, but also into the northern isles. Marsh warbler is certainly a species to look out for in Herefordshire during spells of warm weather with easterly breezes in late May and June. They are usually identified by their vibrant, jazzy song with lots of mimicry and improvisation https://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Acrocephalus-palustris. It is worth checking out overgrown willow scrub and rosebay willow-herb along the edge of the River Wye. Another more common species but quite localised often found in June is reed warbler. Their slow chuntering songs can be heard in reed beds from mid-April, however there is a second peak of migrants arriving in late May and early June and one such bird spent a damp day singing from the willows at Glewstone Boat.
The same conditions have also brought good numbers of Rose-coloured starlings to the UK. This is not a true migration but is what is known as irruption. Irruptions typically occur when population levels are exceptionally high or food supplies are limited and part of the population is forced to move outside their typical range. Look out for a pink and black starling amongst local starling flocks around the county.
A first-summer Night Heron was brilliantly found by Toby Fountain skulking in the willows of the River Wye near Goodrich Castle, a great find and identification of a truly charismatic bird. Sadly its secretive habits made it hard to find and was only seen on three occasions by three birders (thanks to Toby’s kind tip-off myself and Tony Eveleigh managed a good view). Staying on herons, at least two non-breeding Great-white Egrets have been seen on the River Wye around Ross-on-Wye and in the north of the county.
As we move into July what are we likely to see? Well it is often considered a quiet month with many birds having finished breeding and stopped singing with many becoming very inobtrusive during the moult. However our hirundines are still nesting and if you are fortunate enough to have a local colony of swallows or house martins it can be a very rewarding study observing their nesting behaviour. Perhaps if you can see into nests consider monitoring them for the BTO Nest Record Scheme and provide some hugely valuable data on productivity for these two declining species.
For some birds late June and early July are the start of autumn, and migration may be under way. Two good species to look out for this month in the counties’ ponds, lakes, gravel pits and rivers are green sandpiper and common sandpiper.
Green sandpipers that have failed to breed or had nests predated in Scandinavia are likely to start their southwards migration to Africa or western Europe straight away. They are recognisable by their dark backs and white bellies and rumps, particularly noticeable when they take flight when their white rumps contrast with the dark back and wings, reminiscent of a giant house martin. They will often erupt from a river bank with twisting flight rapidly gaining height calling their ‘teeloo, teeloo, teeloo’ call. Both green and common have the habit of bobbing but it is far more noticeable in the common sandpiper. Common sandpipers are another small wader but have an olive green back with a white belly. They are often disturbed on gravel shoals on a river and fly low with fast, shallow wingbeats displaying a thin white wing bar. Their call is thinner and more rapid.
As the month continues start to look to the skies for the taught bow shapes of swifts as non-breeders and failed breeders start to head back to sub-Saharan Africa. Light south westerly winds and cloudy skies often provide the best afternoons for watching the spectacle of migrating swifts.
June and July are a great time to look for insects and I have really enjoyed watching large numbers of white-legged damselflies and the occasional Common club-tail dragonflies on the River Wye at Glewstone. Moth trapping reaches it’s peak and good nights with a light trap can yield thirty plus species. If you are seeing and able to identify some of these taxa why not try recording them on iRecord.
Next month we shall look at the highlights seen in July and look ahead to what August can bring.