Once the colourful flourish of spring wildflowers is over, the woodland takes on every hue of green as summer establishes itself. The annual race for the available sunlight has been won by the tall trees of the canopy and the browned stems of the once glorious bluebells stand in the shade cast across the woodland floor. The frenetic activity of the territorial birds has long since receded. Nesting season is largely done and their urgent singing has mellowed to an occasional call to keep in touch. So, to find the highlights of the summer woodland, we need to look in different places. Here are a few ideas to keep an eye out for as you walk through the summer woods.
On the occasional hotter days at Fingle you might feel like slowing down and taking your time, so find a patch of brambles in a sunny spot and take a break. The humble bramble in a sunlit spot can be the centre of attention for many species of pollinating insects at this time of year and well worth a look. Spend a few minutes watching the different woodland butterflies that visit the rapidly fading pale pink flowers. They are in a hurry to feed on the bramble’s nectar before the transformation to glossy blackberries marks the end of summer.
Woodland butterflies feed on the nectar of brambles while the early pollinated flowers are becoming unripe berries
Stand beneath the trees and look up to where signs of the changing seasons are evident throughout the broadleaved canopy. The smaller trees and shrubs are bearing nuts and berries, not yet ripe but well-formed and growing in their fertility. Where fragrant clusters of blossom adorned the rowan trees, bunches of berries hang, deepening their colour to become flame red. On the hazel trees, bundles of nuts are growing. The green shells sit in their leafy bracts but the hazelnut inside won’t be ripe for some weeks yet. Each year the abundance of nuts and berries varies and, this time round, it looks like it will be a bumper year for hazel. While you are in the woods, have a look at the hazel nut clusters and see how many hang together in groups.
After an initial spring growth of the twigs of the oak trees, a second spurt appears in the summer. This set of fleshy new foliage on a tender new twig is known as “Lammas growth”. Lammas is an ancient summer festival that used to mark the first harvest of wheat but, in the woods, this fleshy growth can be seen on many trees; the oak is one of the easiest to spot. Enjoy a walk in the oak woods on Lammas Day, the first day of August, and have a look.
If your adventure brings you into the woods at evening you may find yourself in the company of bats. Recent studies at Fingle Woods have recorded the calls of a number of species; some of them, such as the barbastelle and greater horseshoe bat are rare, but there are some more common ones that you could recognise at dusk. The pipistrelle is a small bat that swirls above you while you walk along the tracks. The Daubenton’s bat forages over the surface of the river with a darting flight and, if you are in Fingle with children, they may even be able to hear the bats’ high-frequency calls.
[Daubenton’s bat sound recording from the Bat Conservation Trust]
Another resident riverside mammal is the otter which, during a darkening evening, if you are really lucky, you may be able to see one …. Just maybe!
by Matt Parkins