It’s all crea­tures great and small through­out Au­gust, says James Lowen

Au­gust her­alds many crea­tures great and small, prom­ises James Lowen

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents -


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.


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.


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.

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