July in the Valley
July is the month when most species of dragonflies and damselflies are active. The two types are easily distinguished from each other. Dragonflies are bigger insects, stronger fliers and rest with their wings spread open, like the Black-tailed Skimmer (pictured). In contrast Damselflies are smaller, more delicate insects that tend to flutter around waterside vegetation and rest with their wings folded together over their backs. On a sunny day in July any area of water in the Valley is worth visiting to watch them.
Also look for emerging dragonfly larvae, coming out of their watery homes and climbing up rushes and other tall water edge plants to make the transformation into adults. This takes place around the water margins and if you’re really fortunate you may spot one as it emerges, but you’ll need to be patient as the whole process takes many hours. In reality you’re more likely to see the empty outer skins of the dragonfly larvae, known as exuviae, fixed to the vegetation.
Summer is high season for butterflies including the Small Tortoiseshell. An ancient meadow, which can have upwards of 80 plant species, can support vast numbers of butterflies. As many butterflies specialise on feeding on grasses, any field left to grow in summer rather than being mown short ‘for neatness’ will be worth visiting. Obviously the larger the field the better it will be for butterflies and the more plant species the greater the variety of butterflies it can support. Shepherd Meadows, Hawley Meadows and Hollybush Hill are all worth a visit.
The Valley’s flower-rich meadows support
a wide variety of insect life, which in turn provides food for the Valley’s bat population. The long, warm July evenings are a good time to go bat watching a
nd the best spots to go to are usually found around woodland edges, waterside vegetation and up above hedgerows. Although the bat species are difficult to tell apart the Noctule is
one of the largest British bats and is usually the first to appear in the evening, sometimes even before sunset. It flies high with sudden downward swoops as it hunts moths that will try to escape the bat as it approaches by plummeting earthwards. You could also see the Pipistrelle, Britain’s smallest bat which appears to have a fast and jerky flight pattern. They fly at or slightly above head height with irregular twists and dives as they dodge about pursuing small insects.
This is a good month to try and spot the Valley’s many young birds as they discover the world. In particular watch out for waterfowl young on the many lakes and ponds as well as along the River itself. In addition to Mallards, Coots and Moorhens look out for the Tufted Duck. Worth mentioning is the fact that waterfowl will be moulting. Keep an eye out for Mallards this month and you notice that they ‘disappear’ as they gradually lose their distincitve plummage.
This is the time of year when Grass Snakes will
be looking for suitable egg-laying sites, such as damp rotting vegetation. Check the edges of your garden pond as well as your compost heap as warm weather combined with the heat from decomposing vegetation provides the perfect incubation conditions. Piles of grass cuttings are also favoured sites.If you want to help the Grass Snakes you could even make a tidy stack of grass clippings enclosed in a frame or wooden box for the snakes to discover.
The leather-shelled eggs are laid in tight bundles in the heart of the vegetation and will hatch towards the end of next month. If you think you may have some eggs in your garden, please tdo not them - instead just add some more grass mowings to improve incubation. In late August/early September watch out for the young snakes when they hatch. They are totally harmless but if you are not careful they are easily trodden on.