It's a great time to visit RSPB HQ here at The Lodge in Sandy Bedfordshire.
There's no need to take my word for it though - here, hot off the press are some of the great sightings I had on the reserve yesterday during my lunchbreak. It may be a quiet time for birds in our woods, but there really is a tremendous amount of other species to see in the sunny weather.
It is an excellent summer for purple hairstreaks - a small, summer butterfly that spends much of its life in the canopy of oak trees. This makes it a tricky one to see, despite being common and widespread where oaks grow.
Purple hairstreaks will descend from their oak canopy haunts, allowing you to appreciate their small size and delicate markings (image c Mark Ward)
Five top Hairstreak-hunting tipsHere are my top five tips for seeing this lovely butterfly and a photo I took above on my phone to show that it is possible to get good views, and capture an image!
1) Look up - stand under an oak tree, ideally a few in close proximity, crane your neck and start looking. Find the oak, find the hairstreak.
2) Tune your search engine to a very fast flying, silvery-looking butterfly flitting rapidly around the upper branches before settling suddenly on a leaf.
3) Wait for flies, bees and wasps to disturb the hairstreaks form their perch and into flight.
4) Use binoculars. Once you know where it landed, you can get a good view through your bins
5) If you can, find a lofty position so you are looking down onto the canopy of oaks. Easier said than done, but in hilly districts it can be done and this makes getting good views much easier.
My lunchtime walk provided some purple hairstreak sightings in oaks on the Sandy Ridge trail and my first Essex skippers of the year, seven brown argus and eight small coppers - all lovely little butterflies that love grassland. In the intense heat they were super active and rarely landed.
Lunar lovelyA real treat when I returned to my desk was news of a new species for me that had been found by my friends Steve Blain and Richard Bashford on the edge of the reserve - a lunar hornet moth. This one of the clearwing moths that emerges from the base of willow trunks. It is very difficult to see and they just chanced upon one flying around a sallow-lined ditch on the edge of the reserve. They very kindly shared their find with the rest of us before releasing it and this made my day. This is a species I have been after for many years! You can see what a great mimic it is from my photo below.
The rare and very hard to find lunar hornet moth (image c Mark Ward)
Heathland delightsIf you are visiting The Lodge, do check out our heaths. They are alive with amazing creatures from bee-wolves and pantaloon bees to spider-hunting wasps and all sorts of solitary bees and wasps. here's a rather handsome wasp I found on a fencepost at lunchtime today which I beluieve is Astata boops. if it is, then it preys on shieldbugs.
Check fenceposts for all sorts of great spiders, wasps and flies. I think this is Astata boops. (image c Mark Ward)
Take in the action this JulyWhile the heat lasts, do get out and look for insects. It's actually a little too hot in the middle of the day and some species are definitely taking it easy then, so a morning or afternoon appointment may be best! There are loads of other fantastic RSPB reserves that you can visit free as a member - another great member benefit just like receiving Nature's Home magazine four times a year. Enjoy.