Spring at Escot is the time when the hobbies arrive! These beautiful birds of prey are about the size of a kestrel, and there are around 2,800 breeding pairs in the UK over the summer. They area Schedule 1 protected specise, migrating here from Africa to breed. Their favourite prey, which they catch on the wing, are swifts, swallows, martins and, perhaps surprisingly, dragonflies. The first pair seen at the Estate this year were wheeling overhead during the windy opening week of April, with the inevitable corvid (usually a crow) harassing them.
Swallows have since been spotted flying over the River Tale hunting for insects to feast on after their long and, these days, dangerous journey from their winter residence. Swallow numbers have plummeted in recent years due for example to shooters in Mediterranean countries, wind turbines, and last year a devastating sandstorm over north Africa at the exact time of the main migration.
At Escot we try to offer as much variety of habitat as possible – bugs need insecticide free plants and flowers, as well as areas of still and moving water, woodland, marshland, and unmanaged grassland. These vital pollinators are low down in the food chain and sustain many animals and birds. 8 of the 17 species of bats breeding in the UK have been recorded at Escot – and they have been able to feed well after hibernation in the warm April weather. A pipistrelle bat for example can eat up to 500 mosquito-sized insects in an hour!
The recent sunshine has also brought out peacock, large white and orange tip butterflies. When the orange tips appear, the dormice and hedgehogs are also emerging from hibernation, a sure sign that Spring has well and truly sprung and Summer is on its way.