A guide to spotting wildlife in Derbyshire during the summer months
PUBLISHED: 00:00 30 July 2018
It’s a great month for observing weird and wonderful insects and enjoying the county’s spectacular heather moorlands
The vibrant greens of early summer are now being replaced by the greyer tones of sun-bleached leaves. Many of our meadow grasses are now setting seed and their long heads, as they sway in the warm August air, can seem like a gentle, undulating sea.
These meadows are possibly the best places to seek out our late summer butterflies. Different species of Derbyshire’s butterflies emerge in different months. Some, like the meadow brown and ringlet, will start emerging during July and will still be on the wing throughout August and even into September. Both are at first glance a little dowdy. However, a more careful inspection will reveal a subtle medley of browns and delightful spots. They are easy to tell apart as the ringlet, which is so aptly named, has a series of spots across its underwing.
Woody areas bordering on grasslands are always an insect hunter’s paradise as there are many species which thrive in these more diverse habitats. Some of the best are found in many of our limestone dales such as Miller’s Dale.
Seeking out flies is probably a difficult task for many casual wildlife watchers but with a little patience it can be done and it is amazing how many beautiful fly species we have in Derbyshire. It would be difficult to select a favourite but for many dipterists (people who study flies) the scorpion fly would surely be in their top ten. This mini stunner of a beastie has a remarkable life story. Scorpion flies feed on dead insects, scavenging them wherever they can find them. Some individuals, however, have discovered that there are a few places where dead insects are often found – namely spiders’ webs – and they have learnt to steal the juicy morsels right from under the spider’s palps (its front legs, it doesn’t have a nose!).
When the male scorpion fly needs to attract a female he has to be careful because she may just add him to her menu. However, he is both cautious and skilful, and will often present her with a tasty cadaver nicely wrapped up in spider’s silk as a nuptial gift.
Whilst you are searching for scorpion flies in woody edges – and you’re especially likely to find them where there are brambles – you will almost certainly come across a number of beetles. August is a good month for beetle hunting and one of the most spectacular groups are the long-horned beetles. These fantastic looking insects have amazing antennae, often so long that they look as if they must be a serious disadvantage to them in getting about. Long-horned beetles spend the majority of their life cycle – up to three years – as grubs in dead or living wood. Some beetles such as the citrus long-horned beetle can become a serious pest to trees but most are important servants of decomposition and play an essential ecosystem service.
Another beetle group composed of many different species are the weevils. These are well known to gardeners as pests but most are like the long-horned beetles – vital cogs in the maintenance of Derbyshire’s habitats. Some weevils can look incredibly bizarre and possibly the most strange is the acorn weevil, a mini beast that looks like a Victorian clerk wearing his pince nez a long way down his huge nose!
August can be a quiet month for many bird species. It is really the first month of transition. Many of our summer migrants, such as the warblers, have left or are just about to go. Swallows and house martins will still be hawking over our fields for another month at least. Oddly the first winter migrants are already on their way back.
Our moorlands are now much quieter as the bubbling curlews have departed for the eastern and western shores of Britain. However, August is the pinnacle of the year for heather, both as a visual and olfactory spectacle. A purple haze replaces dark heather in massive swathes across much of the Dark Peak. Viewing this incredibly beautiful landscape is enhanced by the accompanying smell of heather pollen – so like warm honey spread on toast dripping with butter.
Our resident red grouse will still be here of course, though very nervous on the moors where there is shooting. Red grouse, if the breeding season has been kind, should be plentiful and many will still be exploring their territories as family groups. The young birds closely resemble their mother – lighter brown and more speckled than their darker, redder father.
Most dragonflies are insects of still water but in a few locations on our moorlands during August you may come across Britain’s longest dragonfly, the golden-ringed. Golden-ringed dragons are one of the few British species to lay their eggs in small streams and these gold-and-black-bodied insects will patrol their chosen stretch with regular flights along the banks. With a little patience (and there are few better things than sitting in the warm August sun next to a heather moorland stream), you should see this stunning dragon land and bask. Then you can slowly approach it and drink in the splendour of this gorgeous insect.