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Content Updated: 2nd July 2017

SEASONAL UPDATE: July 2017

Summer sunrise

Summer has arrived and late June saw most of England and Wales sweltering in some of the warmest weather we’ve seen for a long time. Indeed, according to provisional statistics released by the Met Office at the end of last month, we had the warmest Summer Solstice on record, with a temperature of 34.5C (94F) recorded at Heathrow in London on 21st June. Furthermore, this June’s solstice was also the hottest June day since the record-breaking summer of 1976, which saw the all-time high June temperature of 35.6C (96F) recorded. We were away during the penultimate weekend last month and found it became oppressively hot by about 9am on some days, which made wildlife-spotting even more challenging. This remarkable heat was the result of warm air coming up from the tropical Atlantic, but not everyone saw it, with parts of northern England and Scotland frequently under cloud and rain associated with a weak weather front. A dramatic change occurred during the last week, with areas of low pressure sweeping the country bringing wet and unseasonably windy weather. Most of us saw June out under cloudy skies with below-average temperatures, with some areas having received a month’s worth of rain in one day. Most models seem to suggest that the south of England will see the most dry and settled weather this month, with more rain in northern England and Scotland. With that in mind, please try to leave fresh water out in your garden during dry weather – it can be a real lifesaver for visiting animals.

If you want to get out and about this month, as usual, the Wildlife Trusts have a series of nature-themed events up and down the country, as do the RSPB. If you feel like being proactive and live near the coast, Surfers Against Sewage are looking for people to organise cleans of their local beaches – details here. The Forestry Commission are also running a series of events this month, details of which can be found here.

Roe deer matingMammals: Last month we discussed deer calves and fawns lying up among long vegetation waiting for their mums to come back and feed them. There will be some late-born deer around this month, and the same rule of do not touch applies, but most will be up and about. Youngsters may follow their mothers, suckling and picking at vegetation intermittently, or they may join crèches while mum is off feeding. In my experience, Fallow fawns are more likely than other species to form crèches and there are few things more enchanting than watching a group of fawns chasing each other and playing ‘king of the castle’ in the early morning sunshine. Towards the end of the month, female Roe deer will temporarily abandon their kids while they look for a mate as the roe rut gets underway (right). Roebucks are territorial at this time of year and can be heard barking [click to listen] and seen fraying trees and chasing away other bucks.

Fox and badger cubs are almost fully grown now and the former will start spending more time away from the earth, preferring to lie up above ground in patches of nettle and bramble. The very dry weather most of England experienced last month can make life tough for cubs, which rely heavily on earthworms and other soil invertebrates to supplement their diet until they’re proficient enough at hunting to catch birds and mammals. Recently mown fields are good places to sit and watch because the small mammals sheltering underneath attract foxes and other predators. Dusk walks with a bat detector should yield a cacophony of clicking. July is also a good month to head to the coast for cetacean (whale and dolphin) and seal spotting. Britain plays host to some 40% of Europe’s common seal population, and many females will have pups at the moment. Finally, the small mammal breeding season is at its peak, making July a good month to see mice, voles and shrews.

Birds: Most of our garden birds have fledged now and have lost their fledgling plumage, although some species (particularly blackbirds) are still scurrying around with beaks full of worms, suggesting they are busy raising a second brood. Here in the New Forest there’s a lot of squeaking [click to listen] from the treetops as tawny owlets, many of which have almost completed their moult, are following their parents through the trees begging for food. The local goshawk chicks have fledged, their seagull-like calling betraying their presence in some of the Forest’s conifer plantations, and it is now increasingly common to hear the ‘ringing whine’ of recently fledged buzzards as they pester their parents for food. July is also a great month to get out on heathlands, moorlands, in woodland clearings and recently felled conifer plantations at dusk to listen for the calling of one of our most endearing migrants: the nightjar. About 4,500 of these birds migrate from west and south-east Africa to breed in the UK, arriving during May and leaving during August or September. Warm, still nights are best to head out and brave the midges to take in the rising and falling bubbling churr [click to listen] of the male of this nocturnal summer migrant. If you’re out on heathland looking for nightjars, keep an eye out for skylarks, stonechats, Dartford warblers, winchats, wheatears and linnets, all of which are around during this month. Now is a good time to find yellowhammers and whitethroats in farmland.

July is a busy time for seabird colonies, and gannets, guillemots, fulmars and the comical puffin can all be found on some of our coastal cliff faces during this month. Closer to home, there are still plenty of swifts, swallows and martins around and the air is alive with the screaming of swifts at the moment. Many of our local gulls also have chicks now and it’s hard to believe these speckled balls of fluff grow into the large, chip-stealing opportunists that are now so familiar in our towns and cities.

Common lizardReptiles and amphibians: Observing reptiles is more difficult at this time of year, particularly when nighttime temperatures are high; activity can continue after dark and the snakes and lizards hardly need to bask. When temperatures do drop overnight, however, an early trip out just after sunrise can be rewarding – remember to tread lightly as reptiles respond to vibrations in the ground, rather than in the air (i.e. they don’t much care if you’re chatting, but they will scarper if they hear you stomping around). Despite not being found out basking as often during July, our reptiles are busy breeding, so it is not uncommon to have an adder, grass snake or lizard cross your path hot on the scent of a female, oblivious to your presence.

The amphibian world is also busy at the moment, with many frog and toad tadpoles having metamorphosed and left the pond. In our pond we still have a vast range of sizes of common frog tadpoles. Some are no more than a centimetre long, others are chunky beasts with well developed back legs, and there are a few tiny froglets around too, suggesting some have fully metamorphosed. During a walk on the New Forest around the middle of last month one of the cycle tracks was teaming with froglets, larger than the ones in our garden. If you have a pond in your garden, or even if there’s one in your neighbour’s garden, please take extra care when mowing the lawn as the newly metamorphosed froglets and toadlets will often hang out in long grass during the day. Indeed, if you can leave an area of your lawn with longer grass, this will benefit adult and juvenile amphibians alike. It’s also worth keeping an eye on your pond and removing excessive blanket weed if you can. In the very warm and sunny conditions last month the blanket weed bloomed in our pond and we found ourselves pulling handfuls out each week despite our pond being tiny. I’m told blanket weed can entangle and drown froglets, although I’ve seen no evidence of this, and it can certainly deplete the oxygen levels in the pond water; this is even more of an issue in hot weather when the water is already low in oxygen. If you don’t have a pond in your garden, or if your pond doesn’t have tadpoles, and you want to see some froglets, head out to your local pond after dark with a torch during this month; warm, damp nights offer the greatest prospects of finding these miniature frogs and toads.

Cinnabar moth caterpillarsInvertebrates: Even in our small city garden the air is alive with the buzzing of bees, flies and hoverflies, and many of our solitary bees are very active during this month. Check out firm, dry, exposed sandy areas of your local heathland and you’re likely to find a series of small excavations – watch for a while and you’ll be treated to a brief glimpse into the working endeavours of our mining bees and sand wasps. Sand wasps dig out a burrow in sandy soil in which to entomb caterpillars. The caterpillar is paralysed before being pushed into the burrow along with one of the wasp’s eggs; when the grub hatches, it will consume the caterpillar to fuel its development. There are also still some stag beetles to be found - we found a female beetle wandering down the street just along from our house at the end of last month - and many of the small brown wolf spiders that were carrying around their white or pale blue egg sacs last month are now carrying spiderlings on their abdomens.

There are still glowworms out and about, although some reports suggest it was a slow start to the season this year. It is the females that glow, crawling to the top of tall grass to flash their beacons and attract passing males. Males and females favour the same types of habitat: damp areas with tall grass. Consequently, glowworms tend to be encountered in meadows, on commons, in orchards, roadside verges, railway embankments and even on some garden lawns with low-growing vegetation. Nonetheless, there are records of glowworms on woodland rides, cliffs, heathland and even in the valleys of Wales and Scotland, although these appear to be outliers. The type of habitat glowworms favour means that they are most likely to be found on the chalk grassland/downland in southern England and coastal Wales. Despite a couple of unverified reports, glowworms are believed to be absent from Ireland and the Isle of Man.

July is a good mothing/butterflying month, with plenty of large, showy hawk moths around. If you’re very lucky, you may find a grand purple emperor; these stunning but elusive butterflies are restricted to oak woodland in central and southern England, from about Nottinghamshire in the north to Hampshire in the south. Apparently, various putrid substances (including dog mess, fox scat, decaying rabbits and urine) can be used to tempt them down from the treetops. Other Lepidoptera to watch out for this month are the beautiful day-flying yellow underwing, the pale shiny-scaled silver-studded blue and the ethereal blue-winged chalkhill blue. I have seen quite a few people post on Facebook (particularly to the BBC Springwatch page) asking for identification of red and black moths they’ve found while out walking: black wings and red spots are six-spot burnet moths, while black wings with a red stripe and two red spots at the base of each wing are cinnabar moths. Cinnabars will have laid their eggs now and these hatch out into small black and orange caterpillars (above, right) that can be found smothering their main food plant, hawkweed. (In our garden, when the hawkweed is overcrowded, the caterpillars have also moved onto contiguous stems of lavender and grass.) Many species of grasshopper, cricket, damselfly and dragonfly can also be found during this month, so pretty much wherever you choose to walk you’re likely to find something.

Plants and fungi: July is a month of orchids and sundews. Recent trips out onto the New Forest have turned up lesser butterfly, early purple, bog, heath spotted and pyramidal orchids. Carefully check boggy areas for the red stems and glistening glands of the carnivorous sundew. July is also the last month for many to savour the bright yellow of gorse, the peak flowering season for which is coming to an end, but heather is now in its peak flowering season, adding a haze of soft pinks and purples to the heathland. Fungi-wise, the large white caps of Agaricus macrospores start appearing on lawns and in pasture during this month, while the bright yellow and slightly apricot-scented chanterelle can be found in most types of woodland in July. This month is also a good time to check lawns, pastures and commons for the large white fruiting bodies of puffballs.

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Discovery of the Month – Vaccinating badgers doesn’t change their behaviour

European badgerBovine TB, a serious respiratory disease of cattle, has been a hot topic in Britain, with almost a quarter of a million infected cattle destroyed in England in the last decade. Many avenues have been investigated to try and get a handle on the disease, including either shooting or vaccinating the main wildlife reservoir for the bacteria in the UK: the European badger. Culling is a method of disease control that is widely unpopular with the general public, not least because badgers are shot without knowing whether they are infected with the disease or not. Vaccination trials are significantly more palatable, but they’re not without their problems. Vaccination does not, for example, do anything to remove the infection from the populations. Furthermore, a recent article in The Daily Mail claimed that vaccination may even exacerbate the spread of the disease in the wild, disrupting the badger social group and causing them to move away, taking the infection with them. Interestingly, this is exactly the same logic used to argue against a cull of badgers in response to TB. It is the widely-cited, but unlikely, “Perturbation Effect”. The idea that tackling a disease in a particular way may actually make the situation worse is not unfounded. A culling plan to reduce rabies among the fox population in Europe during the 1980s actually spread the disease, while attempts to control classical swine fever in Europe by hunting wild boar also increased the disease risk. New research from the UK suggests, however, that this is not the case for badger vaccination.

A recent study by a team led by Zoological Society of London biologist Rosie Woodroffe found that vaccinating badgers, which doesn’t remove them from the group as culling does but instead confines them to a cage trap for a night, doesn’t disturb the social structure of the clan. The team analysed movement data from 54 GPS-collared badgers, 39 vaccinated and 15 un-vaccinated, at four sites in Cornwall to see what effect restraining them in a trap overnight and/or vaccinating them had on their ranging behaviour. The data show that BCG vaccination had no significant effect on the badgers’ monthly home range size. Vaccination didn’t impact the distance moved per night, or the likelihood that the badger would trespass into a neighbouring territory. Furthermore, the trapping itself, whether it involved vaccination or not, didn’t affect ranging behaviour either. Writing in the Journal of Applied Ecology last month, Woodroffe and her colleagues concluded:

In contrast with culling, live trapping and vaccinating badgers did not measurably alter their movement behaviour, fuelling optimism that vaccination might contribute positively to cattle tuberculosis control.”

In a complementary blog about her new study on the journal’s website, Woodroffe called for more research into the how vaccines influence bovine tuberculosis spread:

Controlling TB is a huge and exhausting challenge, and it is perhaps unsurprising that farmers would be wary of new approaches. Hopefully our findings should help to allay some of their fears. What is now needed is a proper trial to establish whether badger vaccination can reduce TB prevalence in both badgers and cattle.”

Reference: Woodroffe, R. et al. (2017). Ranging behaviour of badgers Meles meles vaccinated with Bacillus Calmette Guerin. J. Appl. Ecol. 54(3): 718-725.

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Profile of the Month – Amateur Wildlife Photographer Sue Marshall

Sue Marshall Nature Seeker - TruffsTell us a little about yourself
I was born in Hampshire and, apart from a few years spent in the West Country, have lived in the New Forest since I was 15.

I love being out in the fresh air and am a great animal lover. Nature and our ever-changing seasons has always fascinated me. However, it took me until I got my little dog, Truffs (right), to realise how much influence nature had on me. We love exploring our New Forest and observing the wildlife around us.

I have always enjoyed taking photos of my family, friends and areas I have visited, but the purchase of my first DSLR camera enabled me to get even closer to nature.

When did you first realise that you had a talent for photography?
I only realised last year that I had a talent for photography… at the age of 57!

I guess that is the power of social media as normally I would just keep my images for myself. Friends have encouraged me since I started posting images on Facebook.

What drives and/or inspires you to photograph?
I love seeking out wildlife and looking for new and different images. I particularly like amusing images of our wildlife. They have such great expressions. My main aim is to get natural images of wildlife going about their normal daily activities, and to get some of their natural habitat in my images as well.

There is so much to learn and I am enjoying the journey. I have met some wonderful fellow photographers and looking forward to meeting more. Everyone I meet is so helpful!

In terms of drive, I post in a few groups on Facebook and my personal favourite groups are the ones in which so many get so much joy from seeing images taken on the New Forest. Many on the groups are ladies and gents who used to walk the New Forest but now no longer can due to health/age etc.

Sue Marshall Nature Seeker - Fallow deerWhat subjects do you enjoy working with most and why?
My favourite subject is wildlife and the natural environment. I like to take images showing the habitat they live in and capture the changes in the seasons as well.

Deer, red squirrels and kingfishers are always very special to me, because they are not seen that often – the lens enables us to have a far closer look.

I enjoy the challenge of taking action shots as they depict exactly what is happening, and my little dog is a very good subject for this. I am keen to advance more into natural action pet photography as well.

Since becoming a grandparent to three gorgeous grandsons I am also now enjoying capturing their antics through the lens – I love the natural images of them.

They say a picture paints a thousand words and that is very true, children’s expressions are very interesting…

If you had to pick one of your pictures that was your favourite, which one would it be and why?
I have so many favourite images, but my most special one is the white Fallow buck and his herd on the move that I took on the New Forest last summer (above, left). It was seeing the spectacle of the deer all running and capturing it on lens so that I can see it all the time that inspired me to take more images. I had such lovely comments on social media as well that it made me realise that I did have a talent for photography and others liked to see the images.

If you could photograph anything in the world, what would it be and why?
Dolphins! There is something magical about dolphins that I love. Maybe it’s the sea as I love walking the coastal paths with my little dog, but for some reason they fascinate me. I have still not attained my own images of dolphins but I know one day I will.

If you had one piece of advice for budding photographers, what would it be?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. My one piece of advice would be to develop your own style and, most of all, enjoy what you do – there is no right or wrong in an image. People have different tastes on images, which is why I like social media; it is a great way to find out what others like. Talk to as many people as you can and learn as much as you can. It is never too late to start a new passion, even in one year I have seen and photographed so much.

You can see more of Sue's work on her website, NatureSeeker, or by following Sue Marshall Nature Seeker on Facebook.

Sue Marshall Nature Seeker - Puffin

If you're interested in getting involved and being featured on here later this year, please get in touch via the normal route.

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As always, I love hearing from readers; any queries or comments regarding the information on the site can be sent in using the addresses on the Contact page. (Note: So: Some website questions are answered on the FAQ, while many animal-related questions are covered in the Q/A). Photos can be e-mailed to a dedicated e-mail address - please keep them coming and don't forget to check out my Photos Needed page. I'm also interested in hearing any reports of unusual behaviour in any of the animals featured on this site, or interactions between humans and wildlife. Thanks as always for your continued patience and support and thanks to Keith Talbot and Jeff Harrison for letting me use their photos.

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WildlifeonlineOkay, for those of you that are new to the site, let's take it from the top!

What is Wildlife Online?
Essentially, WLOL is an educational website about British wildlife. The site contains profiles of various British animal species, with new articles in preparation all the time. The site also has articles looking at wildlife-related subjects, including hunting and animal emotions. This site is purely a hobby of mine; it does not generate any money or contain any advertising and, for the time being at least, I am happy for it to stay that way.

What does Wildlife Online aim to achieve?
The ultimate goal of the website is to be useful. My intention has always been to provide un-biased, accurate information that’s accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. Increasingly people are coming into contact with their local wildlife and whether such interactions are positive or negative, they generally inspire a desire to learn more about the species. Moreover, there are still a great many misconceptions surrounding our wildlife (fox behaviour springs immediately to mind) and these are brought up time and time again during discussions in the media. Each article aims to provide a reasonably comprehensive overview of the species in question by drawing on information from the media, books, TV programmes and the scientific literature. I feel that this combination of sources, along with my own observations and those of my friends/colleagues/readers provides a unique online resource of British wildlife information. My hope is that the information provided here will go some way to changing people's perceptions of the creatures with which they share their parks and gardens.

Why create a website when there are books and TV programmes about your subjects?
Books can be a fantastic resource and I can't imagine being without my library. Not all libraries are, however, equally well stocked, and not everyone has the funds to splash out on what are often very expensive wildlife books (especially those written by scientists). More importantly, much of the scientific research never makes it out of the journals into books and TV shows. Similarly, many of the early books -- which contain some of the pioneering work on the species -- are now long out of print and can be difficult or expensive to track down. Books have the 'luxury' of being able to devote their entire contents to a particular species, covering all aspects of its life history. Television, by contrast, is a much more limited and variable medium: the programme editor(s) has to create a show that is likely to hold the viewers' attention and appeal to a very wide audience. The result is that, although some reach this compromise very well, many documentaries focus heavily on the 'wow factor' (multitudinous slow motion shots of Great whites leaping out of the water in pursuit of seals, for example) and this often comes at the inevitable expense of the information about the animal. Finally, both books and TV programmes go out of date quite quickly; new research is being conducted all the time. Consequently, a website is an ideal and dynamic intermediate - it offers the opportunity to provide a decent amount of information about the subject that can be updated at the metaphorical drop-of-a-hat as any new research is published.

Why include so much information?
I honestly believe that if a job is worth doing, it's worth doing well. There are hundreds of websites with brief species profiles and if that's all WLOL offered there would be little point to it. I understand and appreciate that some people find being confronted with large volumes of text very daunting while others are of the 'too long; didn't read' mind-set and will thus be turned off by the amount of text facing them. I have tried to remedy this as far as possible via two avenues: there is a Speed Read section with a brief profile of each species featured in a main article; and each article has been 'virtually split', with the aid of hyperlinks, into sections that allow people to easily jump to the information they're looking for. Ultimately, I want to provide as much information as is feasible in order to provide the reader with the clearest appraisal of each species or topic; I hope that most readers approve of this approach.

Why haven't you included a complete bibliography?
My intention with WLOL is to provide the information in an accessible format, which means that anyone should be able to read an article and understand the information in it. Consequently, I didn't want to format it as a scientific paper because the current format allows for a much more informal approach and writing style which, I hope, will appeal to a wider audience. Most people should find enough information in the article (I typically provide the name or one or more of the authors and the journal and year) to track down the original scientific paper. When I take information from books, I always give the name of the author(s) and the full title of the book for easy reference. I am also happy to provide full details of any of the references upon request.

Are you really qualified to do this?
I'm certainly not an expert on any of the subjects presented on this site. The articles stem from my varied interests in natural history and biological sciences. In terms of qualifications, I trained as a scientist (studying natural sciences at degree and postgraduate level) and all I really do is interpret information, blend it with associated research and personal observation, and present it in what I hope is an accessible format. Unless specifically stated, I do not claim any of the information on this site to be my own research. I have built relationships with some of the many diligent researchers who have produced the data that I use, and I am happy either to recommend an expert or provide my own opinions on a subject.

As a final note, I want to make a quick reference to the quality of the material on the site. The great French philosopher and mathematician, Rene Descartes, once said: "If you would be a real seeker of truth, you first must be willing to doubt as far as possible all things." This is very sage advice, especially when it comes to believing what you read on the Internet. Most Internet sites (indeed, some books and TV shows too), including this one, have no form of peer-review (i.e. nobody with experience of the topic checks the site for accuracy); consequently pretty much anyone can have their own little corner of cyberspace and information can make it onto websites that is either misguided, or downright false! When creating material for this site I take every care to ensure that the information I present is accurate. Invariably errors will creep in; typos are almost inevitable (although each article goes through several levels of proof reading before it appears online) and research is always underway on the species featured here, so the data can go out of date almost overnight. Each page has regular (ish!) reviews, however, during which I update the information, adding details of new findings and taking out that which is now thought highly unlikely. You can see most of the books I have used in the preparation of this site on the Recommended Reading page and I have provided links to some of the most interesting sites I came across during my research – these can be found under the appropriate sub-heading on the Links page.

Anyway, I digress.... I hope you enjoy looking around the site and I hope equally that you get something worthwhile out of it. Any comments, suggestions or (constructive) criticisms are welcome via e-mail - appropriate addresses can be found on the Contact page.

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DISCLAIMER: All the photographs and artwork on this site are either my own work or have been donated by readers. All images remain property of their authors and, if you wish to reproduce any of the pictures, consent must be granted by the appropriate person - requests can be directed via myself or see FAQ. For more details on the content of this site, please see the full WLOL Disclaimer.

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