The longest day has come and gone and the days will be shortening. July was once a great month for invertebrates, but recent wet, cold summers have caused them serious problems and their numbers have suffered.
Trees/shrubs… Lime trees produce small, sweetly scented white flowers. Their intoxicating perfume is especially enticing for bees, who can apparently fall to the floor stunned by the aroma. Introduced sweet chestnut trees put forth long pale-yellow catkins this month. In autumn their fruit will ripen into delicious chestnuts.
Plants… The spiky flowers of wood sage bloom from now until September, giving off a slightly aromatic scent. In open woods containing heathland, heather can be found putting forth their delicate bell-shaped flowers. Hemp-agrimony, giant bellflower, common hemp-nettle and wild teasel can also be found blossoming in woodland.
Fungi… Chicken of the Woods (aka sulphur polypore) is a large, vibrantly yellow fungus. It is edible and tasty when young, before it hardens and becomes woody with age. It is easily identifiable so makes it safe to forage for. It grows in a semi-circular form around tree trunks and stumps, often on yew, cherry wood, sweet chestnut, and willow.
Birds… The main breeding season is now over, but in good years some birds (such as long-tailed tits, spotted flycatchers and blackbirds) can raise a second brood between July and August. Cuckoos are among the first birds to leave our shores. The adults start to make the long migration back to Africa this month. Their offspring will follow later, even without a guide they amazingly know exactly where to go.
Mammals… Hazel dormice give birth between July and August, usually to three to five young. The race is now on for the offspring to fatten up enough to survive winter hibernation. Hazel dormice can give birth to a second litter in September, but these usually do not survive as they do not have enough time to build up their fat reserves. Red squirrels breed from January to September, larger females can have up to two litters of kittens in a year. When the females come into season, for a day, the males madly chase them through the trees trying to mate with them.
Amphibians… Great crested newt adults finish laying their eggs and start to leave their ponds; living on land until they start their hibernation in September. The last froglets and toadlets will finish metamorphosising this month. Leaving the relative safety of their ponds, they will seek shelter and hide from predators.
Insects… The numbers of moths and butterflies has been particularly low during April, May and June this year. Let us hope July brings more clement weather for them. Butterflies you should be seeing this month include purple hairstreak and black hairstreak, purple emperor, and white admiral.