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Coming home for summer

Red admiral. Photo Amy LewisRed admiral. Photo Amy Lewis

By Dyane Silvester

Back in January I saw my first skein of geese heading North and thought they were a bit optimistic returning so soon.

Now though, there are large flocks of Canada geese feeding in our coastal fields and saltmarshes; some will stay, but others are on their way even further North. Migratory ducks such as Gargany are also returning to our shores. Although it will be another month or two before swifts, swallows and the infamous cuckoo return, many of our summer visitors have started to arrive. The arrival of each species needs to occur when their food source is available; and there is evidence that some are coming back up to three weeks earlier than they used to; this might be linked to a warmer climate, or simply occur in years when the winters are less harsh and food supplies more plentiful.

It is an inevitable part of being an island that our migratory species must fly – but that is not limited to birds. Yes, insects migrate too – think about the well-known monarch butterfly. Although we don't see monarchs in the UK, did you know that the painted lady is a summer visitor? It only arrives in the UK to breed, and the ones you see on thistles around the county could have travelled from as far as North Africa; the same distances that birds fly. Red admirals and large white butterflies also migrate from Europe, beginning to arrive in late spring and early summer. That's quite a feat for something so tiny – consider how lucky we are that locusts haven't yet taken a liking to our climate!

Interestingly, in this age where there seems to be research into almost everything, our knowledge of the migratory habits of our bats is limited. It is known that several species of bats on mainland Europe migrate south for the winter. Pipistrelles have been found on oil rigs in the North Sea and a study at Exeter University attached a tracking tag to a pipistrelle bat which was later located in the Netherlands; all of this suggests that they do migrate across the sea. There is certainly evidence that the bat numbers in known hibernating spots in the UK are lower than those known to breed here.

So when you look up into the sky and see a long straggling “V” of geese or ducks nearing the end of their long flight, have a think about the hardy little insects which, almost miraculously in the face of this year's high winds, also manage to make the journey. 

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