August WILDLIFE


August is an intriguing time for wildlife. Although birds are relatively quiet at this time of year, insects are out in force. This month sees summer and autumn blending together and there is plenty to discover out in the countryside. So, here are some of my favourite British wildlife highlights during August.


This month, yellowhammers are one of the few birds still singing. They can be seen perching high up on gorse bushes as they fill the air with a charismatic phrase that many birders say sounds like “a little bit of bread and no cheese”.

Migratory British birds such as swifts and blackcaps start to make their way back south this month – swifts are particularly noisy flyers and soon the skies will be much quieter in their absence. Other migrants including swallows and house martins will stay around a little longer and usually depart around September.  

Tawny owls may start calling in August, but this usually picks up in autumn and then throughout winter. It is during this time that young birds leave their parents and attempt to establish their own territories, using their calls to announce their presence. The well-known “twit twoo” call of a tawny owl is a combination of voices – the female calls “ke-wick” and the male answers “hoo-hoo-ooo”.

August is a good time to spot hares because farmland is starting to be harvested and crops are cut low to the ground. Keep an eye out for them darting along hedgerows or crouching low to the ground, looking remarkably like rusty stones.

Bats are actively feeding on the explosion of flying insects and badgers are starting to collect their bedding. Dry, warm weather can often mean there are fewer worms available and badgers may be drawn to gardens to drink from ponds.

Unlike red deer which rut in the autumn, roe deer have their breeding season from mid-July to mid-August. During this time a male – which is called a buck, not a stag –  follows a female (doe) around and chases her in tight and continuous circles. This behaviour is known as ring-running, and when a ring is stamped into a permanent trail it may be used for future ruts.

August is also good for spotting insects. Dragonflies such as the common darter can be seen flying around ponds and other still bodies of water. They are also found far away from water as they rest on plants in patches of woodland.

This month, the second generation of many butterfly species are on the wing including comma, red admiral and painted lady. For those interested in butterflies, now is the time to contribute to The Big Butterfly Count. Launched in 2010, this UK-wide citizen science survey is running from the 17th July to the 9th August. It’s easy to take part – just choose a place to sit and record the butterfly species you see for fifteen minutes. As pollinators, butterflies are extremely beneficial for the health of the ecosystem but are currently facing severe declines, so the records collected during the count will provide valuable data for conservation projects and research.   

This article was originally published on Bloom in Doom as part of my role as Nature Editor. It is the first of a monthly column of the best British wildlife highlights throughout the year.

The Red Rut

As the mornings grow gradually colder, signs of autumn such as emerging fungi, clusters of conkers and grass crunchy with frost can now be seen. A seasonal highlight among wildlife during this colourful season is the deer rut, where red stags and roe bucks compete with each other for the right to breed with hinds and does respectively.

The deer rut is regarded as one of British wildlife’s most impressive spectacles, especially that of the red deer – the UK’s largest land mammal, reaching over one metre at the shoulder. From late September to early November, testosterone-charged stags spend many weeks bellowing at dawn and dusk in an attempt to ward off rivals and also to bring hinds into heat (oestrus). They will often thrash in vegetation, gathering foliage into their antlers to increase their size. A slightly less glamorous habit is wallowing in their own urine. This olfactory stimulus also triggers oestrus among the females.

If two stags are equally matched, they will parallel walk alongside each other to assess size and strength. Stags will also clash antlers and shove each other – the victor of these battles will claim his harem of females and win mating rights. Due to its high risk of injury, physical contact is often only a last resort, carried out towards the end of the rut when the dominant male is near exhaustion. The rut is a huge physical drain for stags and they can lose up to 20% of their body weight as a result of being on constant guard of their harem and therefore not eating or resting.

IMG_1827
A red stag grazing in Woburn Abbey Deer Park earlier this month – in a few weeks’ time his strength and endurance will be put to the test to win a harem of females

If watching red deer during the rutting season, it’s important to take care and keep a respectable distance. Stags can be aggressive and unpredictable, so it is essential not to get too close when watching the event. This autumn I would love to witness my first red deer rut. After my incredible encounter with a roe deer at Tring Park recently, I’m keen to continue learning about these often under-appreciated animals and witness more of their natural behaviour out in the field. While many good spots for deer rutting are in the wilds of Scotland, more accessible locations include Richmond Park, where over six hundred deer can be found.

The usual suspect, work, has meant that I’ve only managed to snatch the occasional walk outside in nature over the past few weeks.  It’s been a while since I’ve been up with the dawn for a wildlife watch and it’s high time I got back into it. For the deer rut especially, it’s the early bird that gets the reward. 

Spring Beginnings

For many wildlife enthusiasts, spring is perhaps the most eagerly anticipated season of the year, especially for birdwatchers. Migrants arrive from their wintering areas and settle back into their breeding grounds. After the cold of winter there is suddenly a buzz of activity, especially for males hoping to attract a female.

While some bird displays leave something to be desired, other individuals put in great effort. As we move into March, birdsong is elevated both in volume and intensity. Greenfinches have a particularly impressive display that involves large bursts of activity. The male, dressed in his finest vivid green plumage, circles in wide loops with emphasised slow wing beats, looking more like a butterfly or a bat than a bird. During these theatrical acrobatics, the males constantly call out to the females with twittering phrases that finish with a long, nasal “dzweee”. If the female is won over, the new pair often perch high in the trees, with the male always in the open to ward off any other potential new suitors.

The arrival of March also brings in the sand martins, one of the UK’s earliest arriving migrants. The smallest of the European hirundines (swallows and martins), sand martins have arrived from Africa, crossing the Sahara desert to reach their nesting colonies and excavate tunnels in sandy vertical banks. Over the past fifty years, populations of sand martins have crashed twice because of drought in their African wintering grounds, which makes protecting their breeding sites in Britain even more important.

Elsewhere in the arrivals gate are chiffchaffs, and from late March to April these plain-looking birds can be heard calling their name in woodland copses and shrubby undergrowth. A tiny warbler no larger than a blue tit, chiffchaffs have spent the winter in the Mediterranean and western Africa. Breeding begins in April to May, when the female builds a domed nest that lies very close to the ground. Incubating eggs and rearing the chicks are solely the female’s responsibility. Chiffchaffs usually leave the UK in September, heading south towards France and occasionally on to West Africa.

Despite the recent snowfall that has smothered the emerging snowdrops and crocuses, keep an eye and ear out for the arrival of spring migrants who will hopefully find some warmth as they prepare to settle in for the breeding season.