DeeWatch June 2020
Welcome to the June edition of DeeWatch, a month-by-month guide to nature-spotting across our diverse and beautiful catchment. Brought to you by the rangers and other local wildlife enthusiasts who take care of Deeside’s nature reserves and countryside, our DeeWatch diary includes sightings from the field as well as suggestions on what to look out for at any given time of year.
Our wildlife is at its busiest this month! On Saturday the 20th, we reach mid-summer and the longest day of the year. We’ve heard summer sounds, like the cuckoo’s call, since mid May and there seems to be something new to see every day. The long days give birds more time to forage to feed their chicks, who are beginning to learn to find food for themselves after fledging. Happily for them, and thanks to the recent warm weather, there are lots of insects around just now, so food is plentiful - this is why many migrant birds come here every summer from places like sub-Saharan Africa.
You can check out the following websites for more information on what’s going on in nature, and consider helping to make a valuable contribution to our wildlife records with any of your sightings, at this website.
Look out and listen for:
Many birdsongs, like the skylark, bring thoughts of Summer. This year especially, as lockdown continues to restrict our activities, the sound of birdsong reminds us how important nature and the outdoors are for our wellbeing. It might also remind us how much we take the outdoors for granted - how easy it was until recently to visit a green space, even in the heart of a city, whenever we wanted. If you’re missing it – you can hear the skylark song here.
The sound of a skylark brings thoughts of Summer (Helen Rowe)
Some birdsongs are tricky though - if you hear what sounds like a buzzard calling from a bush in your garden, it’s more likely to be a starling - an excellent mimic!
Starlings are excellent mimics of other birdsongs (Ewen Cameron)
The birdNET app is a fun and easy way to help identify birdsong.
The chicks of our many resident birds are already fledged or fledging, and some birds will have a second brood. Many migrants such as house martins, sand martins and some warbler species, are still busy at nests – you may see them sculpting mud nests onto the sides of buildings.
There’s still plenty of birdsong around as males maintain territories. You’ll hear male cuckoos in upper Deeside – they’re known to change their tune in June, having already attracted females and mated. Once the females have laid their eggs in various host birds' nests (often meadow pipits or dunnocks), the adults of both sexes leave for Africa from late June onwards.
At Muir of Dinnet, look out for the stunning redstart, tree pipits (close relatives of the meadow pipits, but much better singers), and swifts - the most aerial of all birds, screaming over the reserve as they hunt for insects.
Redstarts have been spotted at Muir of Dinnet (Helen Rowe)
On the coast, the passage of migrant birds is even clearer. Many of them aren’t stopping to breed, they’re just dropping in for a rest and refuel on their way somewhere else. Here in the north east of Scotland, we’re a useful staging post to Scandinavia and a steady trickle of wading birds are making their way north just now.
On the coast: ringed plovers passing through on migration (Catriona Reid)
Butterflies, moths & insects
Many Spring species like the pearl-bordered fritillary are still on the wing, but their close cousins, the small pearl-bordered fritillaries, are emerging now – they’re not always smaller, but have different markings, especially on their underside, like 'pearls' edged in black. They’re more widespread, often seen in damp grassland with violets that their caterpillars eat. Small heath butterflies and ringlets are appearing in grassy places (their caterpillars eat grasses) - ringlets can be very common and fly even in dull weather.
Mating ringlet butterflies (Helen Rowe)
Migrants such as red admirals have arrived with southerly winds. They may find a mate by 'hill-topping' - individual butterflies head to high ground before females seek nettles to lay eggs on.
Red admirals have arrived on southerly winds (Helen Rowe)
Lots of moths emerge as adults now. Day-flyers to look out for include the clouded border nearwillow, aspen or poplar, with its bird poo pattern that may appear distasteful to predators!
Another diurnal species to keep an eye out for is the red-necked footman, a recent arrival to north eastScotland, and usually found in damp areas where the caterpillar eats lichens. At dusk, you might spot swift moths such as the ghost moth gathering to 'lek' – they fly low over vegetation, where males attract females by a combination of display and scent. Late at night, spectacular and streamlined poplar and elephant hawk-moths may come to lights and the latter also hover to feed at night-scented flowers such as honeysuckle (the brown form of the caterpillar looks likean elephant's trunk). Poplar hawk-moths do not feed as adults, relying entirely on stored energy.
Look out for the elephant hawk-moth near lights at dusk (Ewen Cameron)
Poplar hawk-moth (Helen Rowe)
Many damselflies and dragonflies are reaching maturity now, emerging from their long aquatic nymph stages (up to a few years) in ponds, to live for a few weeks as adults, hunting other insects on the wing. Large red and common blue damselflies are two of the most widespread species, but the much rarer northern damselfly occurs at some sites in Deeside.
Dragonflies to spot include four-spotted chasers, black darters (especially around bog pools) and golden-ringed dragonfly (along upland burns).
Tadpoles of frogs, toads and newts are growing and some may lose their gills and leave ponds this month to live on land.
If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, June is a great time of year to “look under things” – beneath flowerpots, logs, stones, bins, you’re sure to find lots of mini beasts. Aberdeen City Council Ranger Service has produced some great videos - including this one on the mini beasts you might find in your garden. These mini-beasts support much of the other wildlife in your garden - they help break down dead plants and provide food for everything from birds to hedgehogs. And of course the very same mini-beasts will be doing the same thing out in the countryside. It’s a great time to head out into your garden at night with a torch and see what’s about - hedgehogs if you’re lucky, wood mice and even leopard slugs - the gardener’s friend as they eat other slugs!
Leopard slugs eat other slugs! (Ewen Cameron)
Roe deer bucks have lost their velvet by now, while red deer stags are still in velvet with antlers nearly fully grown.
Roe deer buck (Helen Rowe)
Bats give birth this month - females have already congregated in maternity roosts, where each suckles her single pup. Adult bats need to feed on a few thousand insects each night!
Trees, flowers, fruits & fungi
Most trees and other plants are in full leaf by now, using the sun's energy to make food from carbon dioxide in the air and water by photosynthesis. Some plants adapted to nutrient-poor conditions such as bogs and rocky ground (such as can be found in the upper Dee catchment), supplement their diet by trapping and digesting insects. Butterwort has sticky leaves to trap tiny flies and shows off its purple flowers now. Red campion, bogbean and cow parsley are in fullflower lower down the valley, and wild garlic with its white flowers and edible leaves can be spotted in a few lowland areas.
Red campion are in full flower this month (Helen Rowe)
Cow parsley (Helen Rowe)
Rowan and hawthorn are flowering now and successful insect pollination will help towards a good crop of berries in autumn. The first flush of dandelion flowers have become dandelion clocks - the seeds provide food for birds such as goldfinches before they disperse in the wind.
Seeds of dandelion clocks provide food for birds such as goldfinches (Sally Wallis)
Dandelion seed coating nettles (Ewen Cameron)
On the River
Look out for the cuckooflower on the Dee's banks, and in damp meadows and ditches - so called because it blooms at around the same time as the first cuckoos arrive. It's easily identified by its delicate, pale pink flowers.
The cuckooflower grows on the Dee's banks (Ewen Cameron)
Riverflies like the mayfly, stonefly and caddisfly, are emerging from their aquatic larval stages this month, providing a feast for birds such as swallows, swifts and grey wagtails (which also feed on invertebrates in the water). Listen out for the piping of common sandpipers that nest on the ground near the water andlook out for ospreys hunting for fish, though they also visit lochs andfishing ponds for an easy meal.