Blooming July

Well, that’s the first week in July over. I don’t know where the year is going, it seems to be rattling past at a rate of knots. At this time of year, the passing days are marked by the seemingly endless procession of wildflowers coming into bloom and the reserve arguably looks at its best right now, with every path lined with flowers.

Bird’s foot trefoil

These are great for butterflies. Lots of nectar to feed on and they are the favoured food plant of the beautiful dusky-blue common blue butterfly.

Common blue butterfly

One plant that loves path edges, doing well on the short grass caused by the trampling of many feet, is the wild thyme. Its purple flowers are beloved of bees and celebrated in song – though I don’t really think ours qualifies as ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’!

Thyme

Scattered in amongst the thyme and through the grass are other tiny white flowers. These are eyebrights, so called as they were used as soothing eyewashes in the past. I don’t think there is any medical evidence for this, but they are hemi-parasites on grass roots, stealing some of their nutrients and helping to keep the grass short.

Thyme and eyebright.

Also prevalent along path edges, the sweet-smelling lady’s bedstraw was one used to stuff mattresses as its scent acted as a flea repellant. It was also used to make red and yellow dyes and flavour alcoholic drinks! Now we just appreciate it for its beauty.

Lady’s bedstraw

And the hawkbits are forming yellow meadows in some of the dune slacks. Now, I’ll freely admit I’m not very good at telling these apart, going with descriptions like ‘yellow things’ or ‘the ones that look like dandelions but aren’t’! The ‘hawk’ in their name comes from an old story that hawks ate them to gain visual acuity – not true, obviously, but a hawk’s eye is yellow like the flowers, so that’s where the myth originated. But forget about hawks, the bees love them and they are yet another important plant for pollinators here.

Hawkbits
Bee on hawkbit

Another plant much- beloved by the insects – but much-hated by gardeners – is the creeping thistle. Out on the dunes, a small patch no more than 10m square held over 50 dark green fritillary butterflies.

Dark green ‘frits’ on creeping thistle

Look closely and you can tell the male and female butterflies apart: he is bright orange, while she carries much more black upon her wings. As with most creatures, he seeks to impress, while she is trying not to get eaten!

Male dark green fritillary
Female dark green fritillary

Away from the flowers, we see the summer move on as our terns finally start to leave the colony. With avian ‘flu being an ever-present threat, we are desperate to see them fly and disperse, so it’s wonderful to see them gathering on the beach prior to migrating away from the colony. These Sandwich terns are the first terns to leave, and we wish them well on their travels. They will hopefully play an important role in helping rebuild their population, which, elsewhere, has been devastated by bird flu.

Sandwich terns with fledged young on beach (although some appear ill, they’re mercifully not – they’re just spread out on the sand to cool down, as it was very hot when the picture was taken!)

But the Arctic and common terns still have a way go until they fledge. The first to go should be within the next week, but it’ll be nearer the end on the month until they are all done. In the meantime, we will maintain their predator-proof fence and hope for the best. They, on the other hand, wish we would naff and die, and make this quite clear with a succession of swoops, pecks and a lot of tern swearing!

Arctic tern – you’ve been spotted…
…attacking out of the sun, like a fighter pilot…
…INCOMING!!!

But we forgive them because, after all, they are one of the most beautiful birds in the world. Well, we think so anyway!

Arctic tern

Fingers crossed for another three or four disease-free weeks, to give these fabulous birds the chance to fledge their young and disperse into the wider world. Now that would be a blooming relief for us all.