It’s all creatures great and small throughout August, says James Lowen
August heralds many creatures great and small, promises James Lowen
Rather more of a scarcity than I normally showcase in Beyond Birdwatching, Chiltern Gentian deserves its place because of its bold, autumn-blooming beauty. A vigorous, erect plant, its dense cluster of flowers exhibit bright pinkish-purple petals guarding a fringe of long, white protrusions. Chiltern Gentian grows on sheltered chalk downlands, often near scrub or trees, in north Hampshire, and (as its name suggests) in the Chilterns, east to Hertfordshire. If these areas are not ones that you frequent, look for its widespread and near-identical relative, Autumn Gentian.
The lichen-like pattern of a Marbled Beauty moth makes for highly effective camouflage. It is fairly common across much of Britain, including in suburbia. It is readily attracted to light, but diligent searching of stone walls by day may just reveal one of these cryptic insects.
When we contemplate ‘moorland’, it is usually upland heaths that come to mind – the magenta crust of heather that characterises late summer in Northumberland, for example. Sadly, upland dry heath has suffered more from human action – afforestation, agricultural improvement or overgrazing – than most other higher-altitude habitats. The UK lost three-quarters of this habitat in the 20th Century, and 80% of the remnant is officially in ‘poor’ condition, now more valuable for scenic beauty than wildlife diversity.
BIGGEST FISH IN OUR SEA
August is peak season for spotting Basking Shark off the coasts of western Britain. You can observe them from cliff-tops (look for three fins: first dorsal, second and caudal [tail]), go out in boats to get a closer look or, in the Hebrides for example, even go swimming with the largest fish in British seas.
LESSER BUT STILL GREAT
How a name can mislead! Lesser Stag Beetle may be neither as big nor as rare as its larger and better-known cousin, but it nevertheless has plenty going for it. Stocky and swarthy, it has a heavy head, hefty jaws and oddly knobbed antennae; this is one impressive-looking creature. Being more common and widespread than its (not-so-) close relative, it also offers the advantage of being easier to encounter. Search sunny tree trunks or piles of dead wood in hedgerows across England and Wales, or run a moth-trap overnight, and you stand a fair chance of finding one.
As its name suggests, don’t go looking for Scotch Argus in southern Britain. In another case of somewhat misleading names, this sumptuous dark chocolate of a butterfly is not exclusive to Scotland, as it also occurs in two sites on Cumbrian limestone. Nevertheless, to be confident of seeing it, you should head to damp, acid or neutral grassland in the Scottish Highlands. In sunshine, males fly almost constantly, weaving low over vegetation, searching for a newly emerged female.