Throughout 2010 I am revisiting the little green nature book that accompanied my childhood and seeing if I can still spot the plants and animals featured in its monthly sketchbook pages.
The book is “Wild Life Through the Year” by Richard Morse and it was published in 1942. You can read about earlier months here.
While June was a very dry month, July has seen a great deal of welcome rain here in South Wales. It has been humid even when cool and there have been several days when this has brought out the flying ants.
The sweet perfume on the city streets has been lime and several suburban trees have displayed green fruits – lime and maple keys, elderberries and in just one street I have walked along for years I have suddenly noticed cherry, crab apple and even hazelnuts.
On the bird front there have been more baby blue tits and great tits, robins, blackbirds and magpies but the highlight has been a wrens’ nest under the guttering overhanging our back yard.
The chicks – it sounded like there were three of them – were increasingly noisy as both parents returned to the nest again and again with insects in their beaks. The wrens never visit the bird table, even though they might find they like the bird fat with insects in it or the dried mealworms, if only they would try them.
Then, after three weeks of hectic activity, suddenly all was silent and the whole wren family had up and left.
The other bird highlights of the month were a juvenile blackcap with its mother (although I couldn’t get a decent picture) and the reappearance of a greenfinch. We see it in the garden only at this time of year when the tiny Cotinus seeds are an attraction.
The grey squirrels and the fox are ever present in the garden and I have now seen the fox in several encounters with the many local cats (see picture at top of this post). In all cases they seem to show an interest but when they get to within a few feet of each other they sniff and back off carefully.
On the insect front, there are definitely not as many as there used to be (and I can’t totally blame the wrens!) – but I did see a weedy mayfly on the back door in mid month…
Actually, I take all that back. In the last week of July the hot sun is bringing out plenty of bees and butterflies – most of which I have viewed from a distance, from my study window, although I did go out on purpose to catch pictures of a few…
From a distance I have identified many large and small white butterflies (Pieris brassicae and Pieris rapae), peacock (Inachis io), comma (Polygonia c-album), several small brown woodland butterflies and a small pale blue I believe to be a holly blue (Celastrina argiolus).
Here is what you would expect to see in July in the 1940s…
1. Spray of wild clematis in flower 2. Flowers of lime tree 3. Couchgrass 4. Harebell 5. Turtle dove 6. Magpie moth 7. Blunt-leaved bogmoss in fruit 8. Female glow-worm 9. Young robins 10. Zebra spider 11. Common centipede 12. Wood-witch fungus
1. Spray of wild clematis in flower
Sadly I haven’t been out in the country lanes lately, so I haven’t seen the wild clematis (Clematis vitalba) this year. However, I know it’s there out in the Vale of Glamorgan and I will probably see it later in the year when it earns its nick-name of “old man’s beard” for its wispy seed heads. Its other main nickname is “traveller’s joy”.
In folklore it has associations with the devil because it chokes other plants but also the Virgin Mary because of its pure white flowers.
Read more about its uses here…
2. Flowers of lime tree
The common lime tree is not a native to Britain but is widely planted. I believe I have seen various sorts of lime on my travels. Large-leaved lime (Tilia platyphyllos) and small-leaved lime (Tilia cordata) naturally hybridise together to create common lime (Tilia x europaea). I think I must have seen all three, as the limes on our streets tend to vary.
This lime is not to be confused with the lime (Citrus aurantifolia) which bears the green lemon-shaped fruit. I prefer to call ours the linden tree, as it has something Tolkienesque about it. According to Wikipedia the name linden has been used for the tree since the 16th century. Until then the tree was called lind (from Old English) and linden was the adjective, meaning “made from lime wood”.
Here in South Wales the lime trees were in flower in June and in July they are in fruit. Interestingly, though, this is the time when their perfume is strongest, even though in Wildlife Through the Year it says the flowers smell.
I love it as I walk the streets of Cardiff. It always reminds me of France. I so wish I could get linden soap in the UK and I buy it whenever I am in Provence. In French the lime is called tilleul.
Couchgrass (Elytrigia repens) is still a common weed. It’s a problem because of its long, strong underground stems (actually rhizomes). My father always used to swear at the “cwtch” (Welsh pronunciation)as he tried to pull it out from the garden.
For a moment I thought nature was giving me a helping hand, as I saw a big piece of grass lying on the pavement as I walked to work. I picked it up and took a picture (people must think me mad). Nice try, but I think it is bread wheat (Triticum aestivum)…
The harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) is known in Scotland as the bluebell, but it is no relation of the common UK bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), which I have in the wooded parts of my garden.
Harebells are more common on higher ground, which may explain why I have rarely seen them. However, I do have the harebell’s cultivated relatives in my garden – campanulas or bell-flowers. Probably Campanula persicifolia is the closest garden campanula to the harebell, but I mostly have Campanula poscharskyana.
5. Turtle dove
As has happened several times while I have been tracing the year through that old book from the 1940s, I find something topical. Only this week there have been news articles about attempts to save the turtle dove (Streptopelia turtur) – the RSPB is working with farmers in England to see if they can do anything to halt the decline.
The turtle dove’s name has nothing to do with turtles – it comes from its call, turr-turr.
I have never seen a turtle dove – it is extinct in Wales – but its plumage looks beautiful. In contrast, we have very common collared doves (Streptopelia decaocto) in the garden all the time.
6. Magpie moth
I’m afraid most moths pass me by and the magpie moth (Abraxas grossulariata) is no exception. Looks pretty, though…
7. Blunt-leaved bogmoss in fruit
Sadly I have never noticed this moss, which grows in peat bogs and fens, but it looks lovely.
8. Female glow-worm
I haven’t seen a glow-worm since the 1970s. I remember two occasions when I did see them. Firstly when watching for a meteor shower in a Cambridgeshire village garden. Secondly when walking back from the pub to the campsite along a disused railway line while on an archaeological dig at Pontardulais, near Swansea, one summer. The bright green glow-worms were all over the track, which was quite magical.
There is just too much light in the city at night nowadays to see glow-worms – or the stars.
9. Young robins
We have seen two young robins of different ages this year, one with some red coming through its breast and one with no colour yet.
Says Richard Morse: “The young robin… frequently causes confusion. Although very obviously a robin, it has no red breast and for that reason is often taken to be a hen robin. Everyone who has watched a pair of robins at nesting time, however, will know that both sexes have red breasts when they are mature.”
10. Zebra spider
Throughout July I have been noticing zebra spiders (Salticus scenicus) on my sunny front door, although I haven’t managed to take my own picture yet.
The words of Richard Morse say it all…
“Another lover of the July sunshine is the very distinctive little zebra spider – or jumping spider, as it is sometimes called. Its movements on a sunny wall are well worth watching. It pounces upon its prey with a mighty spring, and cleverly ensures its own safety by means of a drag-rope of fine silk.”
I also mention this little spider in my blog post about the outside toilet I used as a child…
11. Common centipede
Surprisingly, I spotted this one! While I was watching the soccer World Cup final on TV a centipede scuttled across the floor, so I caught it in a glass and took some pictures before throwing it out of the back door. The game wasn’t that interesting anyway!
According to Richard Morse: “The common centipede is a lover of darkness, and scurries into a place of shelter as fast as its many legs will carry it. The mother centipede’s habit of disguising her eggs with earth is explained, perhaps, by the father centipede’s apparently irresistible desire to eat them as soon as they are laid.”
12. Wood-witch fungus
The little green book politely calls this the wood-witch fungus, but I know it better as the stinkhorn. It’s Latin name is more graphic – Phallus impudicus. Cheeky!
I haven’t seen one for years and I think the ones I used to see in the woods were in summer, at an early stage of development, more or less white all over.
The ball-shaped immature fungi are known as witches’ eggs and have a certain alien-ness when cut in half…
You can find more pictures from my July garden here
See other months in the Wildlife Through the Year archive