Nature Diary August

Animal numbers reach their highest point in August, as breeding seasons near their end and insect populations begin to peak. Humid, sultry weather at midday sends larger animals in search of shade and means that the period between sunrise and dew disappearing from the grass is a prime tome for photographing them.

By now most flowers will be past their best but heather is the exception. August is often the month when moorland is at its most colourful, wrapped in a robe of purple heather. The most common type of heather is ling. Towards the end of the month its pinkish flowers begin to give way to the deeper purple of bell heather. Use a wide-angle lens to show an expanse of purple rolling hills; a telephoto to select detail; or a macro to get in really close.

Foxgloves are still flowering well in the cooler upland and northern parts of Britain, but in many places the last few flowers of the season are just opening. Keep a special look out for the uncommon white-flowered foxgloves. They result from a natural mutation in genes controlling the production of purple floral pigment.

Young hedgehogs begin to set off on independent lives. They will be foraging in all manner of places, trying to put on enough weight to ensure they survive the winter. A regular supply of food in a corner of the garden may create photographic opportunities. Look for telltale signs such as dark droppings a few centimetres long. Once a visitor is confirmed a small set can be created.

The mating season for roe deer started towards the end of last month, and should be in full swing by now. To photograph these you will need to be out early in the morning around lowland woods (their favourite habitat). Look out for well-worn trails that circle bushes, this is where they gather and chase each other round and round when courting. By initially watching from a distance and then applying all of your stalking skills (and using a telephoto lens) you may get close enough for some good shots of rutting deer.

Red grouse will now be moving around in family groups, as the chicks are fully-grown. Caught against flowering heather can show them off at their best. They are easily spooked and the best results can usually be obtained by using your car as a hide and waiting patiently until you gain their confidence, a long focal length lens (400mm minimum) will still be required. They will become even more wary once the shooting season starts on the glorious twelfth (and who can blame them?) The most notable spot for photographing these birds is in the vicinity of Grinton Lodge Youth Hostel near Reeth in Swaledale (SE047975, postcode DL11 6HS). But just about any expanse of moorland should provide reasonable opportunities. Get out and about early before traffic forces the birds to seek refuge among the heather.

Various fruit bearing shrubs and trees begin to attract birds as they feast in preparation for their migration. The high-energy diet is essential for warblers and the like, although local birds such as blackbird and thrush will also indulge. By staking out a suitable site you can get photos of birds as they defend their share of nature's bountiful larder.

Most wolf spiders have no web but hunt by sight instead, often ambushing their prey. Walking along hedgerows or through fields will often reveal these insects as they scatter from your path. Many of the egg sacks will have hatched by now and the minuscule baby spiders will cling to their mother's body for a week or so. This is an excellent subject for macro enthusiasts.

Early this month six-spot burnet moths emerge in large numbers from paper like cocoons attached to grass stems. The adult moths are weak flyers and congregate close to the place they emerge to mate on flower heads. This makes them good subjects to photograph with a macro lens. Be prepared to get down low as they seem to prefer short flowers; a beanbag may be a better option than a tripod in this case.

This is an interesting time for exploring bogs and ponds for dragon and damselflies (best photographed when locked together during egg laying). Be prepared for damp conditions.

July  Index  September

The Locations: Where grid references are given they are based on the Ordnance Survey Landranger Grid.
Where possible postcode/map links have been provided to Google Maps showing the exact location.