Murder Update-July 2008
the schools have broken up, many of us are making holiday plans, and for
those departing by air for locations far and wide, you may well be
followed shortly by hordes of summer migrants on their way back to
of birds visit us for these few short weeks to breed, murdering
multi-millions of our insects before escaping via every available port
before being tracked down for their crimes. The first to escape will be
the Swifts, the majority of whom do not breed for the first 4 years of
their lives so spend the entire time with us swooping around gobbling up
untold numbers of midges and flying ants to wile away the days.
House Martins are generally considered closely related to Swifts,
but in fact this is not the case; they simply share the same dining
table! However, the Martins have not been doing well in recent years and
indeed I went as far as saying recently that I could find none nesting
in the Cookhams this summer. But then the messages started coming in so
at least we now know of 2 nests! Still a very poor result – there used
to several dozen around a decade or two back.
bird I have missed over the Cookhams this summer has been the Hobby. I
suspect they came back in typical numbers (I saw 6 in one afternoon in
May) but it has actually been a poor year for insects after the weather
of 2007 disrupting insect breeding cycles. As they spend most of the
first few weeks feeding almost entirely on flying insects, I think they
may have decided against mass breeding. This in turn will have reduced
the murder rate of House Martins, the Hobby’s favourite snack for
their youngsters in the nesting season.
evidence of a poor start to the insect season comes from the few of us
locally who operate moth traps in the evenings. Catches were extremely
small in the first few weeks, and emergence dates for many species were
up to a month later than usual. But nice finds in the village have
included Poplar Hawk Moths, lots of Swallowtail moths, a beautiful
Arches and a stunning Black Arches. With some 2000 moth species in the
UK it is not surprising that many of them are equally, if not more
striking to the eye than our butterflies.
Arches (Nick Greatorex-Davies)
too were slow getting going this year following many larva and eggs
getting washed away in last years floods and swollen rivers. Nature has
a way of balancing herself. With all other insects in low numbers, a
normal population of Dragonflies would decimate the insect population
for years to come, so perhaps we will just have to tolerate seeing fewer
of these dramatic aerial predators in the interests of the greater good.
new find nearby this summer has been a few members of the Caddis Fly
‘hit squad’. Those familiar with this water-side nymph of the reeds
and garden ponds will know its benign appearance and gentle behaviour.
Then you see one of the Mystacides
members of the family, as I did this week, and one has a completely new
appreciation of what life on the wild-side is all about. As can be seen
from the image, this black assassin is well equipped to poke a few eyes
With long antennae to detect prey
long before it gets in pincer range, this caped killer will make short
work of any passing small items of prey.
bigger birds of prey have also been busy this summer. At least one pair
of Buzzards seem to have bred in the middle of the village and will have
been creating mayhem amongst the small mammals and birds of our farmland
to keep the fridge full in the nest. ‘Our’ Red Kites may also have
bred here, but the most prominent feature of their on-going presence in
the three villages has been the large group of non-breeding youngsters
that have taken to one or two feeding stations established around. The
highest count I have had recently at one of these ‘take-away fests’
has been 33!
the rarest bird for our area this year has been a Quail which sang many
an evening in fields to the south of Long Lane, with it’s well-known
‘wet-my-lips’ call going on well after dusk. (not too far away, in
Hurst, there was even a singing Corn Crake for a few weeks!). Another
really exciting find this month has been Firecrests breeding just across
the river in the Cliveden Estate. This is the rarer, and even more
striking relative of our smallest UK bird, the Goldcrest. When the last
national Bird Breeding Atlas was done a decade ago, there were only 8
ten-kilometre squares in the whole UK with records of breeding Firecrests. It’s 9 now! And who knows, it is a short flop across
Grandfather Thames for this year’s offspring to find their own
breeding site here next year?
you to all who sent in e-mails from our wildlife page on Cookham.com,
from which we have had a healthy list of breeding garden birds,
including Wren, Robin, Blackbird, House Sparrows, Starlings, Collared
Doves, Greenfinches and even Goldfinches (which normally breed on
farmland). There have also been visits to gardens from family groups of
both Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, and one in Cookham Dean also
had a Swift nest and another a pair of scarce Marsh Tits.
is still time to register your garden successes, and also to let us know
of any other House Martin nests, to help us with a national survey of
final tip for this update; many folk I see out and about in our
beautiful surrounding countryside do not have any binoculars with them.
A simple pocket-sized pair with 8 to 10 times magnification can make all
the difference to an outing, with far more to be seen than would have
been possible with the naked eye. And if you would like to appreciate
your garden insects at closer quarters, a new model recently put on the
market by Pentax of Slough (and marketed in Maidenhead) is the Papilio
8.5 x 21 ‘close focus’ binocular, which gets you down to 18 inches.
It can transform one’s appreciation of our bugs and beasties and
enables kiddies too to see far more of these fascinating creatures.
the time these very kiddies are back at school, many of our summer
migrants will be winging their way south, whilst passage waders will
have been streaming through the country to their wintering grounds. But
that’s another story for next time.