Photo montage of some of the species observed contributed by Martine Harvey
This Saturday visit was the Society’s first to Summer Leys Nature Reserve since June 2011. The reserve was planned and developed in the latter 1980s and early 1990s and is managed by BCN Wildlife Trust. It covers 47 hectares of former gravel workings in the Nene Valley and is designated a SSSI and SPA. The site consists of several habitats: a large reed-, tree- and grass-edged lake with a scrape inlet and several islands the water level of which is managed; rough grazing adjacent to the lake; a small area of preserved meadow; two other managed meadow areas; two ponds; hedges; and strips of woodland. A Society Walk Description of the reserve undertaken in 2020 can be found at https://mknhs.org.uk/mknhs-summer-leys/). There is also a BCN leaflet ( www.wildlifebcn.org/summer-leys).
Twelve members and one visitor participated in this mid-morning walk on what proved to be an overcast but thankfully dry day. We followed the perimeter footpath anti-clockwise from the car park to take in the four bird hides, the managed and preserved meadows, and one of the ponds (the second was visited after our return to the car park). This report consists of a brief description of the habitats and wildlife observed. An annex provides a checklist of species recorded during our visit (go to: Summer Leys Species Checklists).
We were off to an excellent start with the discovery of a Red Underwing at rest on one of the wooden posts at the edge of the car park. The small area between this and the lake is a flower rich scrubby meadow. Common Fleabane, Teasel, Great Burnett, Meadow Sweet, Water Figwort, Angelica and Common Centaury were amongst the flowering plants. Insects included Ruddy Darter, Small Copper, Essex Skipper, Gatekeeper, Tiger Hoverfly, and many not identified. Linnet was heard and Reed Bunting seen.
The two bird hides close to the car park offer views over the lake and one of them also the scrape. The first sighting was a Sparrowhawk flying past. Black Headed Gulls breed here and were much in evidence but Common Terns another important breeding species were absent perhaps already on their way south. The scrape had Great and Little Egret close enough together for easy size comparison. The only waders seen during the walk were Lapwing (another breeding species) and Common Sandpiper.
The perimeter path then took us through a covered area of semi-mature deciduous trees of which alder, ash and willow predominated, hedges and occasional clearings. We heard Song Thrush in full voice; had brief glimpses of Blue Tits, Tree Creeper, Goldcrest; and heard the calls of Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Wren and Dunnock; and saw Red Admiral and Peacock in the clearings, and Speckled Wood in the overhung areas.
We stopped briefly at the third hide which provides another view of the scrape with semi-aquatic plants in the foreground including Flowering Rush. The route then offered good distant views of the lake with Canada and Greylag Geese, Cormorant, and Lapwing on the islands. The fourth hide is the feeding station where birds are fed throughout the year: Bullfinch, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Great Tit, and Collared Dove were taking advantage of this service during our visit.
The final stop was the preserved meadow and pond in the north-west corner of the reserve. This proved to be very rewarding. The meadow is flower-rich with Great Burnet, Lady’s Bedstraw, Yarrow, and Bird’s-foot Trefoil amongst the species. Common Blue, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper and Brown Argus were active. The pond was also our best stop for dragonflies with the day having warmed up a little. Banded Demoiselle, Common Blue Damselfly, and Azure Blue Damselfly were on the wing. More excitingly, Harry Appleyard spotted egg galls of the Willow Emerald Damselfly, a species he first identified in Milton Keynes in 2016. He is currently consulting on the status of this find.
We turned round at this point and the walk back offered further opportunities for wildlife exploration. The short extension to the other pond when we got back to the car park was disappointing for dragonflies but gave us a close-up view of young Reed Warblers.
The focus of the walk was to experience the richness of the biodiversity of this important SSSI and to keep a record of what we had identified. We were a typical Society group: some expert in their field and some generalists, and all there ready to share their knowledge. The species checklists are a product of this approach and I would like to thank Harry Appleyard, Peter Barnes, and Linda Murphy for compiling them; Harry, Peter, Martine Harvey, Julian Lambley and Jenny Mercer for their excellent photographs especially Martine’s montage; and visitor Ann Plackett for further information about the planning and early development of the reserve with which she had been involved.
Joe Clinch, Walk Leader