Predictions suggest this month could be dry with lots of sunny spells. Oops I hope I have not just jinxed it. This has been a crazy year for wildlife timings, with lots of flowers appearing much later in the year thanks to the extended period of cold winter at the beginning. Hopefully the rest of 2013 will be kinder to nature.
Trees/shrubs… The origin of sweet chestnut is a source of much debate, but it may have been introduced by the Romans. In July its produces long pale-yellow catkins, the seeds from these are edible and make a festive treat when roasted.
Other plants… Wild strawberries are still flowering and producing tiny red fruits. These are very delicious, but not the ancestor of the commercial strawberry varieties. Wood sage puts forth its spiky, aromatic flowers. Wild basil is another scented plant in bloom this month, keep an eye out for its pink flowers in hedgerows. Wild teasel develops its tiny blue-purple flowers in a large prickly flower head. Some open woods contain areas of heather and this can be seen blossoming from July. Tall hemp-agrimony, lipped common hemp-nettle, spiny woolly thistle and pointed giant bellflower are others to watch for.
Fungi… The orange birch bolete begins to appear in July, this orange to red-brown capped mushroom can be found growing beneath birch trees. Also start to look for the charcoal burner in mixed and broadleaved woodland, especially beech. The cap colour can be very variable; grey, purple, olive, brown, or yellow. The attractive orange/salmon pink saffron milk caps can be seen growing under pines, more common in Scotland and north England.
Birds… Migrant cuckoos are the first summer visitors to start leaving our shores back to Africa. Even without the adults, the offspring leave later and make the journey without ever being shown.
Mammals… Red squirrels are still mating and do so all the way through from January to September. In good years they can have two sets of pups or kittens, but this depends on the size and health of the females. Hazel dormice give birth in July to their first litter. The female constructs a network of nests that she can move the young between if they are disturbed. Although they too can give birth to a second brood in September, these are much less likely to survive winter hibernation because they have less time to mature and fatten up.
Reptiles… In the UK the only reptile to lay eggs is the sand lizard. The female digs a burrow in sand and deposits the eggs in it during June and July, these hatch one to two months later. Common lizards produce between three and 11 young this month, they are held in an egg sac that breaks during birth or just after.
Amphibians… Froglets and toadlets leave their ponds to find places to hide while they feed and mature. They are so tiny at the moment that they make a good snack for predators. Great crested newt adults leave their breeding sites to live on land until hibernation that starts in September.
Insects… His majesty the purple emperor should be on the wing in good numbers in July. More prevalent in the south of England, these magnificent butterflies are the second largest in the UK. They spend a lot of their time high up in the canopy of broadleved woodland and their larval foodplant is predominantly pussy willow.
Take part in our VisitWoods photography competition that runs until July 31st, and help us learn more about nature by recording your amazing finds on Nature’s Calendar – be part of a great citizen science movement.
Kay Haw, Assistant Conservation Adviser