Nature Diary July

Bright splashes of yellow appear across moorland as gorse flowering peaks. Later in the month this will contrast fantastically with purple heather as it begins to bloom.

This is an ideal time to get your boots on and explore the wonderful world of bogs. The succulent greens and glowing oranges of over thirty species of sphagnum moss are currently showing this habitat at its best. Try closely cropped studies of contrasting colours or get in really close with a macro lens. And if you are like me you will also need a decent field guide to identify them all.

Hedgerow flowers will now be in full bloom. Not only are the colourful flowers excellent photographic subjects but so are the multitudes of insects that live among them.

Wild poppies come into flower this around the beginning of the month. Although they are an ever increasingly rare sight in these days of intensive agriculture, hay meadows are well worth searching out. I think that they look best backlit, when their large but delicate petals seem to glow. Long lenses allow you to pick out individual flowers, macro lenses can get you right in close and wide-angle lenses will enable you to capture the wider vista. Look closely at what you see though, there are five red-coloured poppy to identify – common, rough, longheaded, prickly and Babingtons.

Look closely at the bright yellow flowered ragwort and you will see the black-and-yellow stripped caterpillars of cinnibar moths. They feast on the leaves and can be quite mobile as they move up and down the flower stalks. This is the sort of subject that looks terrific against a blue sky. I find a reflector indispensable for this type of photography.

By about the middle of the month roe deer will usually be beginning to rut. Listen out for the piping calls of females and barks of males, and look for bashed and shredded vegetation that males have scraped up with their antlers. You will need to pick your spot carefully, stay down-wind and use a telephoto lens so that you don't need to get too close.

If you haven't yet made it to the Farne Isles (NU218358, harobour postcode NE68 7RN) then you had better be quick. During the first part of the month many birds will still be around nurturing their chicks, (although some will now be almost fully-grown). Later, the only reasonable opportunity remaining to photograph seabirds will be found at a gannetry, such as at Bass Rock (NT602873, sailing departure point postcode EH39 4SS) east of Edinburgh. In order to visit here you will need to sail from North Berwick, a gentleman called Fred Marrs operates such a service (tel: 01620 893863). As the gannet breeding season is longer than most other seabirds the colonies will still be intact, probably into September.

There should be lots of juvenile herons around this month. Watching their fishing antics is great fun, and fun to photograph. As with most juvenile birds you may get closer than normal, until they have wised up a bit and learnt to keep a good distance way from anything with two legs and a camera.

Make the most of any still summer days when flycatchers will be swooping out from a branch, before faithfully returning to the same spot, hopefully with a juicy insect in its beak. Look out for their favourite feeding perches such as hedgerow branches overlooking cattle water troughs, where there will always be an abundance of flies.

Warm, sunny, summer days are perfect for watching dragonflies and damselflies take to the wing. Here are a few prime sites:

  • Glen Affric (NH283283), postcode IV4 7
  • Nethy Bridge (NH978177), postcode PH25 3DP
  • Pocklington Canal (SE800473), postcode YO42 1NW
  • Barton Broad (TG356225), postcode NR12 8XP
  • Kenfig (SS792808), postcode CF33 4PT
  • Cornmill Meadows (TL378011), nearby postcode EN9 1XQ
  • Basingstoke Canal (SU891549), nearby postcode GU16 6BE

There are about 60 species of butterflies in the UK and July is the peak month for finding these beautiful insects. Here are some of the best places to see them:

  • Seaton Cliffs, near Arbroath (NO667416), nearby postcode DD11 5BT, a profusion of flowers on the red sandstone cliffs attract many butterflies
  • Finemere Wood near Aylesbury (SP721215), nearby postcode HP22 4DE, ancient woodland that is exceptional for butterflies with over 20 species having been recorded
  • Ranworth Broad near Norwich (TG357149), postcode NR13 6HY, free from boat traffic with access via a boardwalk
  • Blean Woods in Kent (TR109606), postcode CT2 9JN, ancient woodland famous for a large colony of heath fritillaries
  • Magdalen Hill down in Hampshire (SU505292), postcode SO21 1HD, a large area of old and restored chalk downland home to species such as the marbled white, brown argus and common blue
  • Kingcombe Meadows in Dorset (SY554990), postcode DT2 0EQ, traditional meadow farmland
  • Dunsford near Exeter (SX798875), nearby postcode EX6 7EQ, riverside woodland with six species of fritillaries
  • Monkwood near Worcester (SO804607), nearby postcode WR2 6NX, coppiced woodland which attracts the wood white
  • Marford near Wrexham (SJ357560), nearby postcode LL12 8TQ, disused sand and gravel quarry with cliff faces, scrub and woodland, supporting more than 30 species of butterflies

A warm day with passing clouds and little wind is often a good opportunity to see reptiles. Search in heathland, moorland, scrub covered banks and sand dunes. Make an early start, walk into the wind, tread softly and scan the ground ahead. A disturbed lizard will make rustling sounds as it scurries for cover, but, if you wait around, it will probably return after some minutes to top its energy levels from the sun.

Unlike snakes and lizards that bask in the open, slow-worms (legless lizards) prefer to do their sunbathing under a rock or, better still, under a sheet of corrugated iron on a sunny bank. Lift enough sheets of rusty old iron and sooner or later you will find one. Their diet consists of slugs and so if you have a large garden or allotment, it's worth acquiring a piece of corrugated iron to create suitable slow-worm sunbathing habitat. Prepare your camera so that once a slow-worm is discovered you can quickly get your shot before replacing the sheet back where it came from. Without crushing the slow-worm...

Children find rock pools fascinating and this month is often the best time for checking them out. As we are all children at heart no self-respecting photographer should deprive their family of this pleasure. By taking a camera along and arriving at low tide you can explore exposed rock pools and seaweed beds. Macro lenses or extension tubes, and a tripod that allows a low viewpoint are essential items.

June  Index  August

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.