The cynics amongst us often see July in the UK as a bit of a wash out, most years we never quite get the warm summer sun that we expect. However, if we do get some warm and close afternoons there is a good chance you will witness a widespread wildlife spectacle. As flying ants emerge from their underground colonies and take to the air to start new life elsewhere, a range of predators are attracted to this super-abundance of protein rich food. Flocks of black-headed gulls often give this away, circling overhead in graceful but erratic patterns as they chase down the unfortunate ants. Swifts also gather in large numbers swirling round screaming as they go. Flocks of starlings regularly join in with this mobile feast, they are probably not as graceful to watch as the swifts as they tumble and twist but they are effective aerial predators in their own right. This can happen anywhere so on muggy days, look out for flying ants and throw a glance skywards.
There is another aerial hunt that you can take in during July that again involves gulls, but on this hunt their quarry is also pursued by the kestrel, hobby and occasionally the common tern. The creatures on the menu this time are slightly bigger in size and farmland hedgerows are a good place to find them, they are summer chafers. Swarms of these chunky brown chafers can be found buzzing around the tops of trees and hedgerows throughout the summer months, when they shoot past your head their wing beats sound a bit like light sabres! As they are a bit clumsy in the air, they make for a tasty snack for the avian top guns like the hobby, so if you know of some farmland hedges close to water where gulls and terns might be found, you should be able to track down this spectacle on warm evenings. You never know you might get lucky and see the night shift having a go too as little owls will make a meal of them as well.
Back in May I mentioned the swift survey that we are running, well so far this season it looks like there have been some ups and downs for these amazing birds, (check out a recent press release http://www.rspb.org.uk/news/283760-one-in-one-out-for-swifts). Unfortunately, we are still getting reports of people illegally blocking up their nesting holes and destroying their historical nest sites. We’re trying to tackle these issues and thankfully there are many people out there willing to do their bit by providing spaces for swifts and other birds in new developments and adapting restoration work to preserve existing nest sites. If you know of a swift nest site or have seen them making roof level passes whilst screaming, please record it via our survey. http://www.rspb.org.uk/applications/swiftsurvey/
We have had over 6000 records so far this year but there must be many more out there still to be recorded. The young will be approaching fledging now and by the end of August, most of them will have departed our shores, so enjoy watching them whilst you still can!