Wildlife Sightings June-July 2020

By the end of July, I think most of us were disappointed to still be in some form of lockdown. Some restrictions had lifted. Unless you had special health concerns, many of us were about to travel to visit other sites in the area, and many people had gone back to work. But it is only very recently that we have been able to stay away from home overnight. So our visits to the local countryside remain very important to us. Thanks for all your sightings – either on our TDEG Facebook page or now on our new web site .

I’ve tried to summarise some of those sightings here and list all the species mentioned in the list alongside (or below – if you are on a mobile phone). I have not repeated those we mentioned in the last list for spring 2020 .

We talk a lot about birds – those we see in our gardens and those we travel further afield to watch. But this June, we had an amazing visitor of the feathered kind to our area. A bearded vulture arrived in Derbyshire at the end of June, probably having flown all the way from its home in the Alps. This was a young bird, born in the wild to parents who are part of a reintroduction programme on the French-Italian border. Immature birds are known to fly hundreds of miles searching for new territories, but crossing the English Channel is very unusual.

Bearded vulture mobbed by ravens in Cressbrook Dale (Wndy Birks)

Bearded vultures (or lammergeiers) have a wingspan of 8-10m – they are huge! They scavenge on the carcasses of dead animals, and take their bones high up in the sky, then drop them on rocks to smash them open, and eat the marrow and smaller bones. Wendy Birks managed to film this amazing bird flying up Cressbrook Dale, on her phone. So this definitely qualifies as a local sighting. You can compare its size in the video still above to the two ravens which are harassing it. It spent much of July roosting up above the Upper Derwent Valley on Derwent Edge, attracting dozens of bird watchers in the process, and even making the national news. 

Other raptors (or birds of prey) also appeared in several of your reports over the last two months. It was very interesting to hear several people say they had seen red kites in our area (npics yet). These magnificent birds used to be common, but were virtually extinct by the start of the 20th century due to persecution. They have now been reintroduced in several places in England, and have been gradually making their way further north over the last few years. They are very easy to identify, with a distinctive forked tail. So hopefully we will have some photos soon.

Bearded vulture in the BBC News

 We have two records of sparrowhawks taking birds in gardens in the last month – one at Townhead, Tideswell, and one in Great Longstone. Both a bit gory, but “nature- red in tooth and claw” literally. 

We have also been sent some nice photos of young birds – such as Nikki Grainger’s photos of a male Great Spotted Woodpecker and its young on their feeder at Townhead in Tideswell.

Sparrowhawk with prey, Great Longstone (Nick Loveday)
Sparrowhawk with prey, Townhead, Tideswell (Phil Grainger)
Great spotted woodpecker, Townhead, Tideswell (Nikki Grainger)

But this is not just about the birds. The summer months are also wonderful for butterflies, moths and other invertebrates. We have seen many different species, particularly in the local limestone dales and wild flower meadows. The very wet weather in July did not make for great butterfly spotting – but we did have some warm, sunny days with many interesting species on the wing. Alison Rooke captured some lovely images of butterflies near Litton and in Tansley Dale. Several people reported also humming bird moths and ermine moths in their gardens.

Small skipper, near Litton (Alison Rooke)
Common blue butterfly, near Litton (Alison Rooke)
Dark green fritillary, near Litton (Alison Rooke)
Brown argus, near Litton (Alison Rooke)
Ermine moths, Tideswell (Nikky Whittle)

Species List

Birds

Bearded vulture             

Red kite

Redstart

Linnet

Insects

Dark green fritillary

Brown argus butterfly

Meadow brown butterfly

Ringlet butterfly

Small skipper

Common blue butterfly

Large white butterfly

Peacock butterfly

Red admiral butterfly

Ermine moth

Hummingbird hawk moth

Cinnebar moth caterpillar

Snouted moth

Mammals

Shrew

Reptiles

Slow worm

Freshwater invertebrates

Fingernail clam

Flatworm

Water fleas

Rat-tailed maggots

Wild Flowers

Common spotted orchid

Chalk fragrant orchid

Bee orchid

Spear thistle

Field thistle

Nodding thistle

Marsh thistle

Wood sage

Wild basil

Wild marjoram

Wild thyme

Tufted vetch

Birds foot trefoil

Eyebright

Common valerian

Field scabious

Common knapweed

Greater knapweed

Betony

Selfheal

Yarrow

Goatsbeard

Meadowsweet

Lady’s bedstraw

Hogweed

Chicory

Ragwort

Rosebay willowherb

Yellow rattle

 

It’s also encouraging to report more sightings of hedgehogs, both in Tideswell and Litton. Phil Grainger’s images from his Townhead garden have been great – regularly spotting not just his family of hedgehogs, but also a fox visitor as well. We’ve also had reports of other animals – including shrews in Cressbrook and Tideswell, and a magnificent slow worm near Millers Dale.

Hedghog, Townhead, Tideswell (Phil Grainger)
Night time visitors - fox and hedgehog (Phil Grainger)
Slow worm, Millers Dale (Sharon Rowarth)
Shrew, Cressbrook (Rowan Shaw)
Shrew, Cressbrook (Rowan Shaw)

Nikky Whittle’s family have been investigating pond life in both an old bath on their allotment in Tideswell, as well as a small pond created from a plastic kitchen bowl in their garden. Even the kitchen bowl pond contained some interesting rat-tailed maggots – an unfortunate name for the very interesting larvae of a hover fly. These larvae have a very long, tube-like organ (which give them that unfortunate name) used like a snorkel, so they can breathe air. The old bath revealed even more pond life, and we recommended they decant a bit of the water into a jar and then observe what appeared. The Whittle family went one better and also video-recorded what they saw. Water fleas, fingernail clams, and a flatworm were all revealed in the fascinating video they posted on our Facebook page (these are some stills from that video) – an alien, microscopic world! What a great project for a summer lockdown.

Rat-tailed maggot, Tideswell (Nikky Whittle)
Pond life, Tideswell (Nikky Whittle)
Pond life (Nikky Whittle)
Fingernail clams from the pond (Nikky Whittle)

Ponds are a vital contribution to biodiversity – and also great fun. We have had a quite formal pond for many years and it is always full of frogs and tadpoles, and the odd newt. We were also really pleased to see a red damsel fly nearby in June – the first we’ve seen in our garden. We added another pond at the beginning of the lockdown period (using a rigid, pre-formed pond liner we bought on line), higher up in our garden. Within a day of filling it, we had frogs in there and birds drinking from the shallow edges.

Of course, our local wild flowers continue to delight us all. The road verges (where left to grow a bit longer) were full of meadow cranesbill, cow parsley and field scabious. Walks in the limestone dales and in many of the old quarries which have now re-vegetated (and are often Derbyshire Wildlife Trust reserves locally) seemed particularly rich in colour and diversity. Nick Loveday’s photo of the wildflower meadow in Millers Dale quarry captures the diversity of flowers found there at this time of year. Many of these old quarries have very thin, infertile soils, which suit many different orchids, as well as other species. After the spring flush of early purple orchids, we are then treated to common spotted and fragrant orchids in the summer months, and even occasional rarities such as bee orchids. The taller meadow flora includes different knapweeds, betony, and common valerian. Yellow rattle is also a really important species in these meadows, as it is parasitic on grasses, so it reduces the vigour of the grasses so that other wild flowers can thrive.

Wild flower meadow, Millers Dale quarry (Nick Loveday)
Common spotted orchid, Millers Dale quarry (Lynn Crowe)
Chalk fragrant orchid, Chee Dale (Lynn Crowe)

These wonderful assemblages of wild flowers provide food for all our insects and butterflies, which in turn feed birds and other animals. It is often the caterpillars we see feeding on different flowers – ragwort is important for cinnebar moths, jack in the hedge (or garlic mustard) feeds our orange tip butterflies, common blue caterpillars are particularly keen on birds-foot trefoil. Thistles, sorrel and dandelion seedheads can feed flocks of gold finch, twite and linnets. Even the common nettle is essential for a range of caterpillars, including peacocks and small tortoiseshell butterflies. Without these plants, the rest of our wildlife would suffer. And of course, we also rely on bees and other pollinators to produce our own food – so we are part of this complex food web.

Four different thistles in Tideswell Dale (clockwise from top left) - spear, field, marsh & nodding (Laura Saunders)
Ragwort & cinnebar moth caterpillar (Howard Crowe)
Field scabious, Hay Dale (Adam Saunders)

Tideswell & District Environment Group hopes to work with Tideswell Parish Council over the coming few months to identify areas of land around the village which could be managed more effectively for more diverse and beautiful native wild flowers. Watch out for further updates on our Facebook page and in the local press!

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