Saturday, 7 July 2018

Nature in the Summer

     For the second year in a row I have been involved in monitoring an artificial mound designed to encourage Sand Martins (Riparia riparia) to nest there. 

     Unfortunately, this structure has been a complete failure both years. There has not been the slightest interest in it; in fact, I have never even seen a Sand Martin in the vicinity of it. I think there are various reasons why it has not been used and I hope that a serious reevaluation will be made by the Land Trust responsible for it. I will be happy to share my ideas and I hope that if anyone reading this account has experience with a structure like this they will offer any critiques or suggestions they may have.
     I know that in Europe walls with pipes filled with sand have been used successfully and perhaps that is the answer here. Whether a wall has even been tried in North America I have no idea, but I have been unable to find evidence of it. Location is certainly a factor too.
     Butterflies abound in mid summer and there were lots of Northern Pearly-eye (Enodia anthedon) flitting around in the meadows. Fortunately the odd one landed on a desirable piece of vegetation, at least long enough to take a picture.

     A male Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) was singing its head off; I am not quite sure why at this late stage in the breeding season, perhaps in defence of territory.

     After such a strenuous performance a little preening was in order.

     Upon leaving the reserve, as I pulled away in my car, I spotted a large Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) basking in the middle of the gravel road. I stopped the car and got out gingerly and walked around the vehicle to the back so that the sun would be behind me for a picture. Careful as I might have been, I had obviously spooked the snake and it was slithering away quickly into the grass. I succeeded in getting only one picture before it disappeared from view. At least it was no longer in danger of being run over.

     After lunch Miriam and I decided to go out and check a few local spots, given the fact that the temperature was a pleasant 24 degrees, in sharp contrast with the hot spell we have been having recently, when air temperatures have been soaring to 35 degrees, and with humidity factored in, into the low forties - not pleasant at all.
     A pair of Western Ospreys (Pandion haliaeetus) have nested on a communications tower for the past few years and two birds were on the nest.

     I suspect that these two birds are the young of the year, now as big as their parents and ready to fledge at any time.
     Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) are common and we were surprised to see only one individual.

     In fact birds were very scarce, perhaps resting during the heat of the day. Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) were taking advantage of the thermals and it was rarely that we looked up without seeing a couple soaring overhead.
     It was easier to find butterflies, with Cabbage White (Pieris rapae) being the most common species.

    Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice) was a close second.

     A lone Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus), feeding at the edge of a pond which is rapidly drying up, appeared to be benefitting from the lack of competition.

     We spotted several Eastern Commas (Polygonia comma) but it took a bit of patience to wait for one to land. In fact, no sooner had one landed than a second one joined it.

     Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota) is blooming everywhere, and we checked for the caterpillar of the Carrot Seed Moth ((Sitochroa palealis) which uses Queen Anne's Lace as a host plant and we were able to find a few.

     The meadows are a riot of wildflowers at present.

     Lots of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) was in bloom but try as we might we were unable to locate even one caterpillar of a Monarch (Danaus plexippus), and we have seen only two or three of this enigmatic butterfly this year.

     Japanese Beetle (Popilla japonica) is a serious invasive pest and seems to be quite catholic in its taste. I have lost count of the number of native plants on which I have seen it feeding.

     A couple of other butterflies rounded out our walk. If I am not mistaken this is our first Spring Azure (Celastrina lucia) of the year and it is already July!

     A Northern Crescent (Phyciodes cocyta) was partially hidden in the grasses, but Miriam managed to capture this shot.

     We saw several other interesting species of various taxa during our walk, most without photographs and a couple upon which we are awaiting ID confirmation. 
     It was great to be out and about on a fine summer's day. We will do it many times again before the cool winds of fall nip at our cheeks.


  1. Hari OM
    Butterflies make an excellent 'wing-change' when birds are scarce! YAM xx

  2. Butterflies are ephemeral magic aren't they? I loved seeing yours. And the birds you captured.
    I do hope that a more successful trial to encourage the Sand Martins can be developed.

  3. When there are so many butterflies, a rushed snake is looking quickly.

  4. Nature is very beautiful in your photos.

  5. I've seen a few Sand Martin walls here in the UK and they all have pipes set into a vertical wall. In some cases the holes have been drilled into a quarry face but many others are simply bits of drain-pipe set in concrete, and don't look in the slightest bit natural. Unpleasing as they may be to our eyes, the Sand Martins nest in them quite happily.

  6. Hello David,

    Beautiful photos of the butterflies!

  7. Hi David.

    Beautifully the flowers, butterflies and birds.

    Groettie from Patricia.

  8. Lovely selection of photos - oh the snake, not always good to see one especially if they are poisonous - I looked that snake up..

  9. Hello, beautiful birds and butterflies. The artificial mound is interesting. I thought the bank swallows are seen near river banks? Are they the same as Sand Martins? I love the Orioles, gorgeous birds. Great collection of photos. Happy Sunday, enjoy your day!

    1. Good morning Eileen: Bank Swallow and Sand Martin are interchangeable terms. Only in North America is this species called Bank Swallow. I use the taxonomy of the IOC which has adopted Sand Martin and since the audience for my blog is world wide and most are familiar with the name Sand Martin that makes sense. I have never been able to understand why in North America we have different names for some species when the rest of the world has a perfectly good name in common usage.

  10. Hi David

    My first thought is that the bank doesn't look big enough, in height or width but the photo may be deceptive. Is there a colony of Sand Martins in a natural site fairly near and do you have water on site, preferably a large area of open water with lots of insects?

    I'm sending a couple of links but none that you can’t find yourself and have probably already done so.

    If it’s any consolation, this has been tried at Marton Mere near here where Sand Martins pass through in good numbers in spring and autumn but in two years, zilch. As we know, if any site is not 100% to a species’ liking, natural or man-made, they will not use it

    Our only Sand Martin colony locally is 30ft up the steep face of a gravel quarry that has three areas of open water. It is in a very rural area close to the coastal marsh of Cockerham, south Morecambe Bay. These birds are fairly recent since the quarry began excavation about 8/10 years ago. The original inhabitants almost certainly came from a number of riverside colonies along the River Lune north of Lancaster City.

    1. It is in my estimation way too small and is too distant from water. These are the two main issues as I see them.

  11. Another thing. The birds may sense if a site is vulnerable to predators. Badgers in Britain have a bad reputation for destroying Sand Martin colonies, going back time after time until they have ripped out all the holes. You must make such a site secure from any local predators.

    1. This is another issue that will have to be dealt with. Badgers are extremely rare here but there is no shortage of other predators. I am sure that an industrious raccoon could quickly wreak havoc.

  12. Riparia Riparia heter backsvala på svenska. Jag minns dem från min ungdom då vi kunde se deras häckningsplatser i stora sanduttag. Mycket länge sedan jag sett en backsvala, populationen är på nedgång och prognosen är dyster. Jag antar att det har att göra med deras speciella biotopkrav.

    Just nu gläder jag mig åt tornseglanra (Apus Apus) som häckar här hos oss under takpannorna på den gamla ladugården. Ny flyger båda föräldrarna och jag har räknat dem så det borde vara fem föryngringar i år. Det är en förfärlig torka och värme här så jag undrar hur ungarna skall klara sig i värmen, solen bränner på taket varje dag. Varm luft stiger ja, med det måste blir fruktansvärt varmt ändå. Här i svenska tidningar skrevs också om den värmebölja som drabbat er.

    Värmen och torkan är anledning till att jag inte skrivit ett enda inlägg på bloggen, så mycket far illa i trädgården, en del växter dör av torkan. Känns som en mardröm som aldrig tar slut.

    1. I really hope the swifts survive the heat, Gunilla. It truly is excessive this year, and for long periods too. We need rain badly here.

  13. Preciosa entrada amigo David y buen paseo tan gratificante así como tan bellas fotos. No debes de lamentar que esa colina artificial no haya funcionado, ha sido realizada con toda la buena intención, probablemente encuentres la explicación y puedas dar una solución para años venideros.
    Cordiales saludos desde Alicante-España

  14. Hi David - lovely to see these species identified for us ... with as the others have remarked excellent photos. Looking forward to your return journeys and recordings. Lovely flutterbyes! oh and that Oriole, snake, killdeer et al ... cheers Hilary

  15. Sorry about the Sand Martins, but, you found the Eastern Garter Snake, lucky.

  16. Beauty in all those nature, birds and butterflies photos. I love the Baltimore Oriole, he has something to say. :)

    Thanks for sharing.

  17. A shame the banking hasn't been used, you're right we do use sand filled holes (pipes) here, there are three artificial banks in use by the Sand Martins around Leeds that I can think of. Something to look into for a revamp?

  18. This is an exciting mixed bag of nature, enjoyed seeing all the insects, flowers, and birds. Maybe the sand is just too loose for nesting cavities...more clay in the soil maybe...although you did't really mention the type soil it looks like sand. Adding the pipes may be the answer. We had one day of better temps today so nice we opened up all the windows and sat on the porch with coffee and breakfast!

  19. Spring and summer come with an explosion of life and diversity, living beings take advantage of good conditions in climates with seasons marked to procreate new generations that will surely spend the winter in the form of egg or larva, insects are characterized by that. Good diversity of butterflies in your post, I never imagined there were so many in a place so far north. Here lamentably they are in remarkable decrease due to the agrochemicals; I remember when I was little and there were huge numbers of butterflies migrating, we caught them with branches or we made nets with onion bags; such an event no longer exists in my town

  20. Good morning David,
    What a fantastic things you have photographed. Helas only a few butterfly´s to see overhere. In Holland we live with a lot of people in a very small country. The gardens
    are very small and young people are not interested in nature or gardening. It hurt´s my hart to see when another container is stuffed with green from another garden that´s paved. These days people are gardening with a vacuumcleaner and high presure pomps. I think they miss a lot of beauty.
    Have a wonderful day.

  21. Hi David. It's great to see such a beautiful array of butterflies in this post.

    Birds seem a bit thin on the ground here too, at the moment - we too have had a long period of (unpleasantly) hot and dry (but humid) weather, but not as extreme as yours, I'm relieved to say.

    The Sand Martin walls in these parts seem to get almost instant take-up. They are all of the 'concrete with pipes' construction, all quite large, and all very close to water. Some are built like war-time bunkers with human access to the inside so that monitoring can be carried out.

    In your recent comment to my blog, you mention the dangers of getting interested in moths as a taxon. It seems that I may have already fallen into that trap (excuse the pun - no, my moth trap isn't that big!). I'll probably do a blog post on this subject sometime.

    With love to you and Miriam - stay cool! - - - Richard

  22. You may not be seeing sand martins but you've had more than your fill of seeing many gorgeous things! I'm so glad you shared the diversity of birds, butterflies and flowers you saw. (Not so much the snake!) It sounds like a wonderful excursion.

    Thanks for your visits to my blog. Your Boeuf B. sounds pretty divine! I suspect you are right though, about company never saying anything but! Cheers!

  23. Hi David,
    Super varied post with some excellent images of birds, flowers and butterflies.
    I'm not sure as to when you visited Rutland Water that the Sand Martin walls were in place but they from what I have seen and been told, have dome reasonably well again this year. They are of concrete and brick construction and close to water. We have some closer at Sence park that are doing well likewise.
    The Boltimore Oriole is a real beauty, and good to see your Ospreys.
    All the best to you both, John

  24. Super set of images David. Insect, bird, all are plaisant !
    Sometimes on France, The swallow towers are not occupied. I hope one day you see this embankment busy!

  25. Hope your perfect summer weather lasts for months!! Beautiful butterfly collection. There's an osprey nest with a nest cam on the University of Oregon campus and I want to drive over there to see it 'in person' .... Bill is laughing at me a little because in Florida we see ospreys everywhere -- everytime we drive anywhere at all! But these are Oregon Ospreys ;>)

    1. Go for it, I say. You can’t see too many Ospreys.

  26. Hi David,
    A pity that the sand martins don't appreciate your efforts. I understand that you are aware of the European system that has approved many times to be succesful. But, not a 100% guarantee.
    This is the time of the year you don't see very much activities with the birds, but fortunatly dragonflies and butterflies are bringing al lot of distraction. Not surprising that you show us here a few types not being common in the west of Europe.
    Greetings, Kees

  27. too bad about the sand martins project - sometimes, even when we have the best of intentions, mother nature knows best! now that i have said that - i know nothing about this particular intervention!

    gorgeous butterflies, i have not seen one this season. the captures of the baltimore oriole are exceptional. we don't get them here but one winter i had one, for the entire winter. i fed it all of it's favorites and come summer, it left...never to be seen again!

    i enjoyed all of your images today, the wives too!!!

  28. Hola David, hermosas fotos y en las cuales no nos falta de nada, preciosas aves y mariposas y la serpiente genial. En cuanto a las estructuras que les colocamos las aves suelen ser recelosas y no se fían demasiado. Un abrazo.

  29. Natures are always there to admire. Beautiful captures! Enjoyed seeing them:)

  30. Too bad the project with the ants did not succeed David.
    Beautiful pictures of the birds and the butterflies.
    Greetings Tinie

  31. Hello David,
    Wonderful series of photos of the birds, flowers and butterflies.
    Best regards, Irma

  32. Shame about the sand martins project, but you've shared some wonderful photographs here.
    Thank you.

    All the best Jan

  33. It is a pity that this artificial hill has become a failure. Maybe you can find out why this artificial hill is not used by the birds.
    Your birds, butterfly, hazelworm are really pearls of nature again, The Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) is a beautiful butterfly. Of course the other butterflies are also very beautiful, but I never saw this butterfly.
    Kind regards, Helma