Histon wildlife

I’ve been meandering around the country over the summer so my local flora and fauna have been a tad neglected here. So here are a few of my favourite photographs from Histon.

Wild flowers and grasses shot up to shoulder height in no time at all through the spring and into the summer and everywhere was lush and verdant, watered by the seemingly endless rain that started a few days after the hosepipe ban at the beginning of April, and carried on until early July. The rains were good for the greenery but not good for butterflies and other insects, so it was good to see the large skippers emerge at the end of June.

Large skipper  – Ochlodes faunus

The large skipper ususally emerges in June and July, so the earlier stages in its life cycle must be particularly well water-proofed to have survived the spring! The caterpillars feed on orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata) which is common in meadows and hedgerows, and the adults seek nectar from a range of flowers including birdsfoot trefoil, dandelion, yarrow and field scabius. All of these are common in my local fields which explains their annual presence around here.

Small skipper – Thymelicus sylvestris

Both the skippers here appear to be females, the genders are differentiated by the presence of ‘androconica‘ on the forewings of the males. These are lines of dark, specialised pheromone producing cells which appear to be absent on both these butterflies.

Field poppies – Papaver rhoeas

A journey through the countryside in July and August was a gorgeous sight this year due to the abundance of poppies. The red field poppy, also called the ‘Flanders poppy’ is, of course, the symbol of remembrance in the UK for the slain of the two World Wars. They seemed to be everywhere, and fields which would normally be plain green were a sea of red, and my local fields were no different. It transpired that this was also a consequence of the rains but not for the reason you may think. As well as watering the earth and creating good conditions for alot of plants the rain also washed away the herbicides used by the farmers to protect the monocultures we’re accustomed to seeing in the fields. Which shows how rapidly nature can regain lost territory when the opportunity arises.

Corn bunting – Emberiza calandra

Another of my local fields was planted up with rape this year. I’ve previously disliked rape because it has a completely unnatural colour, and the smell is not too pleasant either. But since I’ve been getting close to it and seeing the variety of birdlife it supports I’m changing my mind. Not least because it plays host to corn bunting which are becoming increasingly uncommon due to loss of habitat. This rape field regularly had linnet, reed bunting and corn bunting feeding on the seedpods which are extremely rich in oil and therefore a good energy source for small songbirds.

Reed bunting male – Emberiza schoeniclus – perched on top of the mature rape plants resplendent with his black head and white collar

Skylark numbers have been dropping across the UK due to modern farming methods but I hope that my local patch is bucking the trend because year on year there always appear to be good numbers of them. The combined song of a multitude of skylarks as they slowly climb and then drop like a stone is one of natures wonders in my opinion, so it’s good to see them in the skies here.

Skylark – Alauda arvensis

Looking through my photographs for this year there has been alot to see but it seems it many species were scarce until July. Maybe that’s because the dreadful weather meant that I wasn’t looking quite so hard, but I think many natural phenomena were late this year due to climatic extremes. But many species eventually appeared so they are still out there. I’m hoping we now have a year of relatively normal weather from here on so the wildlife has a chance to recover.

15 responses to “Histon wildlife

  1. Interesting, as always, Finn…thank you. I hope we all get some “normal” weather this winter….

    • Hello Scott, you and me both! Have your winters been wild too? I keep on hearing about local weather extremes happening all over the world – persistent floods in the UK, droubt in the U.S., tornados in Poland, melting sea ice in the Arctic – it’s really scary, especially for the children.

      And what’s the response of our species to potential climactic Armageddon? Seems to me it’s something like this: “Wey,hey now all the ice has gone we can get into the Arctic and drill out all that oil and gas to burn. And as the atmospheric CO2 levels increase even further the Antarctic ice will melt and then we can go and drill out all the oil and gas there too. And we’ll be so unbelievably wealthy.” I don’t think equal consideration has been given to the flipside of that coin!

      • Yes, Finn…this will be my third winter in Salt Lake…the first one had record snow-falls…and last year we had very little…and I think you’re right…those of our species who are in the position to make serious changes, seem to be interested in their own monetary gain…and seem to often share a mindset that they’re going to live somewhere better when they’re no longer living on this planet, so it doesn’t matter how bad it gets here…but that might be a completely different topic altogether!

      • Certainly is 🙂

        But whatever the underlying justification it seems plain suicidal to me. The beauty of dollars just can’t compete with the beauty of the natural world. And it’s free to enjoy at will!

      • I agree on all points, Finn…. 🙂

  2. Thanks, Finn. It was a pleasure, not only to read your post and see the photos, but also to read some good news. I’d give my right arm to hear skylarks.

    I was interested to read about the rain washing out the herbicides. In the case of meadows, my understanding was that the main problem was the application of nitrogen early in the season, the effect of which is to promote the grass and choke out the wildflowers. Perhaps the heavy rains washed out some of the fertilizers too?

    • Hello Robert, we’re spoilt just here with the skylarks, there are lots of them just up the road. As well as their song they’re good fun to watch.

      I reckon the rains must have washed away all types of agrochemicals applied in the spring. I don’t know what effect it has had on crop yields here in the UK, but I’d be keen to hear the stats.

  3. What a lovely selection of photos, I particularly like the reed bunting, he’s a beauty. Who would have thought that rape fields would encourage birds, I’m quite surprised by that. The poppies are glorious, and not something I see much of in Scotland. I’m wondering what sort of a winter we’re going to have, and hoping for a relatively snow-free one (2 years ago we had 5 solid months of snow, which was enough to put me off the stuff). Surprisingly few of the trees have started to turn here, usually there’s already quite a bit of flame-coloured magnificence by now. Perhaps the lack of frost is to blame, we’ve only had a few frosty mornings so far. It’s a funny old thing, the climate, isn’t it?

    • Thanks Lorna, the climate is indeed getting more unpredictable by the year. I’m hoping for a less bitter winter this year too, or at least not so cold for quite as long as the last two winters.

      Aren’t the poppies magnificent! Do you not have them up your way? Years ago I used to do alot of flying in light aircraft and the patchwork of fields full of poppies and linseed flowers are the most glorious scene from 2000 feet.

      • That must indeed have been magnificent! Are you a trained pilot? It’s a strange thing about poppies, but in my experience it’s quite rare to see fields of them in Scotland, in any part of the country I’m familiar with at least. I think of it as very exotic!

      • My friend was the trained pilot, we used to go flying once a week over the Wiltshire/Hampshire/Dorset countryside, it was a great way to see it.

        I didn’t realise poppies were more scarce in Scotland, I guess it must be a habitat/terrain phenomenon. They’re my favourite wild flower, there’s nothing quite as beautiful as a field full of them.

  4. The birds look as if they are standing in the air!

  5. Quite a year, indeed, Finn, and especially nice birds. It’s wonderful to see how the various species adapt and rally when unusual weather patterns skew the usual balance of things.

    • The weather patterns here have been weird for the last few years, brutally cold winters, random storms, two years of little or no rainfall and now insane amounts of rain. It’s remarkable that some species are surviving at all, but the resilience of the natural world is a source of wonder. Although I do wonder how long humans can keep stretching it to breaking point without some apocalytic ramifications!

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