Midsummer Mayhem

Well, that’s the year turned (shall I be the fist to say ‘aye, the nights are fair drawin’ in?) and we’re just past the solstice and the year has now reached its most frantic point. Everything is growing, breeding or has bred and is now raising young. We are starting to see fledged young birds everywhere, from gulls on the estuary to sparrows around the visitor centre.

Black-headed gull fledging
Young house sparrows

It’s lovely to see al these youngsters around. With all the sad news about avian flu, every fledged young bird is a hope for the future. The young sandwich terns should fly any day now and we’re desperate to see them go and disperse from the colony where the risks from bird flu are at their highest.

Sandwich tern chick

However, the Arctic terns chicks aren’t long hatched and will need at least another 2-3 weeks before they fledge. They are gorgeous little things and start life as a fluffball with tiny, thumbnail-sized pink feet. While I try to be objective in my work, I must admit tern chicks are very cute and have been responsible for highly unprofessional statements like ‘Aww da fwuffies’ while walking round the ternery!

Arctic tern chick

Mind you, sometimes the birds aren’t easy to spot in the long grass – it’s a big part of the ‘everything growing’ part of the season. As hay fever sufferers will know, the grass is all flowering now. It has some great names, like cock’s foot, false oat grass, sweet vernal grass and crested dog’s tail. The pollen – not so great sometimes!

Wet cocks foot on a dewy morning

The growing grass keeps us busy; it needs cut far more often than we’d like. The paths all need strimmed at this time of year and it’s hot work in this weather!

Strimmed path
Sunset grass

It’s no wonder everything grows so well, with easily 20 hours of daylight just now. We’re right in the ‘simmer dim’ the half-light of June, where the nights never totally get dark. Even by not much gone 2am, the first rosy hues of sunrise are starting to creep across the sky.

Sunrise – though it never really sets!

Meanwhile, in amongst the flowers and the grass, the burnet moths are busy making more burnet moths. They are having a good year this year and seem to be everywhere, especially in the flower-rich dune slacks. They are one of those insects that almost looks too vivid to be true, their glossy black and scarlet spots almost clashing violently with the purple of the northern marsh orchids.

Burnet moth on Northern Marsh Orchid
6 spot burnet moth on Northern Marsh Orchid

The orchids themselves look fantastic. the best place to see them is round the Sand Loch trail but get out soon – the summer is moving on and they are starting to go over!

Northern marsh orchid

Another sign of the year moving on is new butterfly species appearing. We’re starting to see common blue butterflies appearing, along with meadow browns and dark-green fritillaries.

Common blue
Dark green fritillary

I always think ‘dark-green fritillary’ is an odd name for what, to all intents and purposes, is an orange butterfly – like most Scottish fritillaries. But the name comes from the underwing, which shows a distinct greenish colour in the right light.

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Dark-green fritillary underwing

The rapid turn of the seasons is never more pronounced than in the natural world and every new flower or insect, or fledged young bird, to us, is the year moving on. Already, as Daryl wrote in his last blog, there are signs of a-u-t-u-m-n creeping in, even to high summer, so I think the message for us all is to get out there and enjoy it while it lasts!

Peacock butterfly