The longest day is now behind us and summer is in full swing ! On the heath the heather will soon start to flower along with heath speedwell and eyebright. A characteristic sound of the heath in mid-summer is the crackle of the seed pods of common gorse as they split open to disperse their seeds. Figwort, woodsage, broad-leaved helleborine and foxgloves can be found flowering in the woods. Honeysuckle is at its most fragrant during the evenings to attract the night-flying moths which pollinate it. The grassland verges contain hedge woundwort, meadowsweet, rosebay willowherb, birds-foot trefoil, common-spotted orchid and St. John’s wort. Lesser spearwort, water forget-me-not, brooklime, water mint, valerian, hemlock-water-dropwort and purple loosestrife can be found in the marsh and wetter areas of the Park. Parasitic plants such as dodder and common broomrape flower on their hosts such as gorse and clover respectively. July is the month when thistles bloom and wild cherries ripen. Bladderwort flowers this month in the lake and ponds – they attract insects to pollinate their flowers above the water but feast on small aquatic water fleas and midge larvae beneath the surface; catching them in small underwater bladders. The air will have the sickly scent of sweet chestnut blooms later this month. Look out for the bees, wasps and hoverflies which will pollinate the catkins.
The bird nesting season is now almost over and the young migrants are starting to wander. Many birds have now fallen quiet, their courtship and territorial songs replaced by subdued contact calls. However, spotted flycatchers are relatively late nesters and will be feeding young at the
moment. Keep an eye out for male goldcrests in the top branches of the conifers. They are busy feeding their second brood having raised their first almost single handed. The females may build a new nest and lay a clutch and even incubate before the young of the first clutch have ledged. This makes the best use of the most productive part of the summer. Two nightjar nests have been located on the heath and the nightjars are now sitting on eggs. The great-spotted woodpecker and tawny owl young all fledged at the beginning of June.
Most of the birds at Stover are already in full moult as they change into plumage which will see them through the autumn and winter. The smaller birds such as nuthatches, tits and robins are all quite scruffy and drab at the moment. Hobbies are usually recorded over the lake during June and at a distance resembles a giant swift. Hobbies spend the winter in Africa, south of the Sahara, and come to Britain in the summer to breed. Dragonflies and swallows form part of their prey which they catch on the wing making Stover Lake a good place to spot them. However, unusually none were seen last month. A peregrine falcon was recorded on 7th June over the lake.
Mallard young are still hatching with the first early broods now fully grown and only distinguishable from the adult birds by their brighter plumage. The pair of great-crested grebe can be seen sitting on their third nest; the eggs from the second nest failed. One brood of 3 moorhen chicks hatched in June; two of which have survived and are now of a size where they should make it to adulthood. A brood of 4 coot chicks and another of three also hatched out in June. Unfortunately one of the two remaining swan cygnets disappeared on 20th June and was probably predated. The one remaining is growing fast. A single cormorant was present on the lake throughout June; it has been seen catching eels, and on one occasion a grass snake ! Two tufted ducks arrived on the lake on 3rd June. This is an early return as they usually wait until the autumn before flying south from Russia to spend the winter in Stover’s relative warmth. A common sandpiper was seen on 28th June.
Swallows were seen throughout June catching insects over the lake. Black-headed gulls usually start to arrive after the longest day has been and gone, increasing in numbers as winter approaches. The first black-headed gull was recorded on 30th June. A single herring gull was present on the lake throughout last month. The mandarin ducks haven’t managed to raise any ducklings this year.
The smallest of Britain’s two species of native deer, the roe deer, rut towards the end of this month. The females make piping noises with the males barking and bashing the vegetation, leaving a visual sign for others as well as their scent. Young moles, mice, voles and shrews will start to leave home and disperse. For about the only time in their lives, young moles come above ground in search of new territories. Pipistrelle, lesser horseshoe, noctule, whiskered, long-eared, natterer’s and daubenton’s bats have been out in force feeding over the lake on most evenings. July is a good time to see reptiles basking in the sun. Adders and grass-snakes have been spotted on the heath. Grass snake young hatch out this month which is also the peak time for common lizard births. Newly hatched lizards are only 4cm long and are even more difficult to spot than the adults. Keep an eye out for the tiny frogs which are now leaving the lake and ponds and travelling to the surrounding woods. Be careful where you tread as they are on route to damp shady areas where they prey on small insects such as aphids, before they are large enough to eat slugs and snails.
July is the best time of the year to look for butterflies and dragonflies. There are probably more species of butterfly on the wing this month than at any time of year. June ‘first’ sightings for this year included meadow brown and wall brown on the 18th, white admiral on the 19th and purple hairstreak on the 30th. There have been no sightings so far of marbled white or gatekeeper. Silver-washed fritillaries should now be on the look-out for mates. Keep an eye out for them, along with white admirals, in sunny woodland clearings often near bramble. Any warm southerly winds in July bring the migrant painted lady butterflies from southern Europe and North Africa – they lay their eggs on nettles and thistles. Hawkmoths and the brightly coloured day-flying moths, especially the tiger moths, are on the wing at the moment. Keep an eye out for hornets which are usually active at this time of the year. There are huge numbers of dragonflies and damselflies out at the moment at Stover. Broad-bodied chaser and black-tailed skimmer were recorded for the first time this summer on 3rd June, with golden-ringed on the 18th. Grasshoppers and crickets, nearly all of which reach their adult moults by the months end, are in full song.
BBQ charcoal is available for sale in the visitor centre. We produce the charcoal on site from wood felled as part of the lowland heathland regeneration programme – it’s locally produced, not transported across the world, is sourced from sustainable timber and not from tropical hardwoods, and the money received supports more conservation projects….perfect for a summers evening BBQ !