By Jono Forgham, Trustee of Birchanger Wood
July is a time for the insects of Birchanger Wood to come to the fore. Butterflies, moths and hoverflies should be easy to find. Many moth species can be disturbed from low growing vegetation and then seen in flight. They will invariably fly a short distance before landing and moving to the underside of a leaf to hide from predators. After dusk, an evening walk with a torch will reveal large numbers of these fascinating and rarely seen insects in flight.
Butterfly species will be seen on warm, sunny days, particularly in the early afternoon. Speckled Wood will be common, a brown butterfly showing yellow/cream dots on the upper wings. Meadow browns will be found on the periphery of the wood, adjacent to the agricultural land whilst the smaller skipper species will be noted resting on leaves, looking like orange moths.
The bramble will be in flower so always worth checking the white or pink flowers of this common plant within the woods. Gatekeeper butterflies will nectar on these and will be joined by a host of hoverfly species. These are the yellow and black insects that are similar to bees and wasps but a quick check on the facial features will show them to be a fly species. Very short antennae and large eyes will give the observer an indication they are flies.
Other butterflies worth looking for will be Red admiral, Small tortoiseshell and the Small and Large whites. The latter two will most likely be found where houses with gardens back on to the wood.
Also on nettles and bramble leaves will be the webs of the Nursery web spider, Pisaura mirabilis. These webs will be crawling with plenty of recently hatched spiderlings and invariably, the female will not be far away. Look on large flat leaves for her where she will be stationary, waiting for an insect to land. She will always have her first two sets of legs together, giving the impression she is a 6 legged insect and not an 8 legged spider.
If you come across any insect and manage a photo, (phone or camera) I would be happy to see it and help identify it for you. Always a chance of a rarity being found, so do send in your photos. firstname.lastname@example.org.
More unusual, but not unexpected butterflies will be Purple Hairstreak and Silver Washed fritillary. Both require oak for their caterpillars to feed upon. The purple hairstreak likes to spend most of its time high in the oak canopies, so is rarely seen. After 2pm, especially after some morning July rain is the best time to observe them, when they come down lower to nectar and drink. The Silver washed fritillary is a large orange and black butterfly, fast flying that will land upon vegetation to both nectar and rest.
During July, many birds go into post breeding moult. The new feathers grow through, pushing the old ones out. These older feathers will now be very worn from constant hunting for food. Consequently, they will remain quiet, hiding away as the new feathers grow. They are still present in the wood, just not easy to see. However, larger birds like the magpies and Jays will still be seen, albeit in a rather tatty state.