July brings high summer, when the UK is in full bloom. It's a great time to take the kids out on a nature hunt.
While you could go to a local nature reserve, the coast or somewhere more adventurous, this column is all about finding wildlife on your doorstep... sometimes literally.
Kids need results, so we've avoided the plants and animals that are difficult to spot in favour of more abundant species that often get overlooked.
Three Butterflies To Look Out For
We're in peak butterfly month, when a walk through a meadow or past a decent hedgerow will throw up a half-dozen species. Butterfly spotting can be exciting for kids. The bright colours and remarkable lifecycle of the butterfly both help, but it's also their number. Britain is home to some 59 species of butterfly. Trying to spot or learn them all feels like it might be achievable, whereas a diligent bird spotter would have to track down more than 400 species.
This is the best month to find the common blue, which lives up to both parts of its name (especially makes, which are vibrant blue), making for an easy but rewarding spot. The meadow brown is also in great abundance. It may, at first glance, seem almost moth-like, relatively small with its murky brown wings. But if you take the trouble to look closely, then the orange-painted cat's eyes on its wings are a treat.
Best of all is the peacock butterfly, which tends to emerge this month. It's one of the commonest garden butterflies, and certainly among the most striking with its bold red wings and peacock-eye patterns, used to scare off predators. All three insects are readily found in areas of grassland, hedgerow or parks.
Common Flowers You May Have Missed
You can find surprising diversity even on the lawn of a community park. Most people could identify daisies, buttercups, clovers and dandelions that dominate such spaces. But the summer months bring a few exotic additions. Look out for bird's-foot trefoil, whose flowers are easily mistaken for buttercups from a distance. Up close, the delicate yellow blooms resemble slippers with red highlights -- hence their nickname of 'eggs and bacon'. The intriguingly named self-heal, meanwhile, adds a splash of purple to our lawns. Its small but distinctive flowers are best described as purple petals growing from a maroon club.
Last Chance To See...
Swifts are famous for heralding the British summer. They've been darting through our skies for a month or two now, having made their migration from Africa. By August, they'll be heading the other way, so now is a good time to watch the skies. They're most easily spotted in the evening, as more insects take to the air. Living up to their name, they dance swiftly through the sky, changing direction frequently. Swifts are easily distinguished from swifts -- fellow migrants from Africa -which have longer tail streamers and red colouration around the throat.