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In our monthly guide to what to look out for in the natural world locally, Stephen Dunstan hunts out rare birds to the Fylde Coast and says if we’re patient enough we might just spot some otter pups. Main image: curlew by Elizabeth Gomm
Turnstone by Elizabeth Gomm

July sees the first signs of the nature autumn in Blackpool and the Fylde as wading birds begin to head south. Common sandpipers appear on the estuaries, Shard Bridge can be a particularly favoured spot, but they will also turn up on Stanley Park and Blackpool Beach. When you are accustomed to their several note squeaky call and jerky flight on stiff wings they become much easier to pick out.

The common sandpipers generally leave our shores in the winter, but other shorebirds which winter here begin to swell in number as they return from breeding. Curlew, lapwing and redshank all start to form flocks, though in the case of the curlew lack of breeding success is beginning to threaten their long-term prospects. On rockier coasts the confiding turnstones, named for their habit of turning rocks over searching for insects, begin to gather. In Blackpool itself the best place to look for them is the go kart track at the cabin – over high tide they will roost on the external concrete wall.

In the same neck of the woods, north of Gynn Square, this summer has seen the first known nesting attempt on the Fylde of the unobtrusive rock pipit. They are regular winter visitors to local salt marshes, but until this unexpected turn of events have been very difficult to catch up with in Blackpool itself. Now they’ve nested they may remain all year round, but there’s no guarantee, so a visit in the next few weeks might be your best chance. They are classic ‘little brown jobs’ and a similar species the meadow pipit can also occur as a migrant, so some care is required and binoculars would be useful to get a good view.

Manx shearwater (Creative Commons)

At sea Manx shearwater numbers build during July. These birds nest on island off Wales but several hundred can pass close off Blackpool as they go on feeding sorties. Days with onshore winds are best, but some can turn up in just about any weather. They can almost seem to disappear as they shear over the waves and flip from white underparts being on view to black upper parts that can blend into dark seas.

Otter (Creative Commons)

A number of butterflies of open spaces have emerged and are conspicuous on hot days. The orangey-brown meadow brown and gatekeeper can both be seen in a variety of grassland habitats. The ringlet, which used to be very rare in the Fylde, has become more frequent. Two species of hairstreak, purple and white-letter, also occur but they both live in the tops of trees and can be difficult to see well.

July is a peak month for dragonflies and damselflies. With increasingly warm summers a number of species that didn’t occur this far north are now established here, and others are beginning to get a foothold locally. Among the more easily seen species are the large emperor and the descriptively named black-tailed skimmer. Particularly striking and often abundant on local rivers and streams is the banded demoiselle, a dragonfly in which the males have distinctive black bands on their wings.

The National Whale and Dolphin week begins towards the end of the month, which highlights that cetaceans can be seen offshore. Although the peak of bottlenose dolphin occurrences is perhaps beginning to ebb they are still very much possible, and on calm days porpoises and seals cane be picked out from land.

If the local otter population has managed to produce pups then late summer is a good time for sightings. The easiest site to see them is probably Marton Mere, opposite Stanley Park, but even at this location there are no guarantees. It can help to take note of any disturbance to the birds here, as this can often be due to an otter getting too close to them.

Barn owl (Creative Commons)

If you do go to Marton Mere another highlight at this time of year is the Starling murmurations. Although not on the scale of the ones at North Pier in the winter, they can be entertaining in their own right and at this time of year they include a high proportion of this year’s youngsters – their relative inexperience can attract birds of prey including sparrowhawks and peregrines to take their chances. A visit towards dusk to watch the roost may also be rewarded with sightings of barn owls and bats.

Hummingbird hawk moth (Creative Commons)

Less showy in general than butterflies migrant moths can be on the move at this time of year. There are many species which reach Lancashire, but only a couple that fly during the day. Perhaps the best known and misunderstood is the hummingbird hawkmoth. This is so similar to its avian namesake that it often gets reported as such. You can increase your chances of a sighting of one in your garden by having red valerian or honeysuckle planted.

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