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JULY IN CUMBRIA

July is the bird watchers "quiet month" as many species begin their summer moult afterLittle Egrtet breeding. It is, however, a good month to spot those elusive Hawfinches, particularly around Levens and Rusland, as their desire to find ripening fruits overcomes their shyness. This is the time of year when Little Egret and even Spoonbill can turn up around the Morecambe and Solway Bays, although the former is now present in number for much of the year. On the moors (of the Pennines and to a much lesser degree of the rest of the county) where there is good heather that is well managed, the late nesting Merlin will have chicks to feed, taking advantage of a ready supply of young Meadow Pipits as well as insects and small rodents.

With butterflies, it is the month for the larger fritillaries. Dark-green and then High Brown Fritillary numbers should build up quickly from the beginning of the month, with Silver-washed Fritillary a week or two later. Cumbria is a vital hot-spot for the High Brown Fritillary - a speciies that has declined hugely - as 22 of the 35 known colonies in the UK occur here. Northern Brown Argus, another local speciality, should be around throughout the next two months on limestone grassland at the head of Morecambe Bay. The end of the month should see the welcome appearance in our gardens of the first of this year's broods of butterflies from species that overwintered as adults - Comma, Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock. Also at the month end Grayling start to appear around the coast (see August).

Day-flying moths this month are the two Burnet moths, the Cinnabar (on Ragwort) and, on the mosses fringing Morecambe Bay the scarce Manchester Treble-bar may be seen. Evenings in the garden may well be graced by the appearance of one of the Hawkmoths, especially if you have scented flowers like Honeysuckle.

July is the month when dragonflies come into their own. On the River Crake and its feeder streams look out for the brilliant turquoise males of the Beautiful Demoiselle, while in the north of the county the similar Banded Demoiselle is the scarce species on the Rivers Waver and Eden. In boggy runnels the powder-blue bodied Keeled Skimmer is now establishing itself in suitable habitat throughout the county, having been a comparative rarity until recently. The region offers a good selection of Hawker dragonflies and Emperor Dragonfly would be an excellent find.

A warm day this month will see Wood and Black Ants take to the wing in their nuptial flight. The larger queens, once fertilised by the smaller males, return to lay eggs, while the males die having fulfilled their purpose. Amazingly separate colonies synchronise their flights.

Middle to late July is rutting and mating time for Roe Deer, now that the spring born fawns are becoming independent.

Orchids to be seen this month include the Marsh Helleborine, of which there are several good populations around the Duddon Estuary and to the east of the county, for example at Waitby Greenriggs. Dark-red Helleborine may be found on the limestone at the head of Morecambe Bay and the paler and much more widespread Broad-leaved Helleborine elsewhere in the county. Other flowers to look out for this month are the beautiful nodding heads of Dropwort (see photo) on limestone, and on the salt marshes of the Kent, Duddon and Ravenglass estuaries there can be spectacular displays of Sea Lavender. On the Pennine hills to the north east of the county summer arrives a little later and July is the peak time for seeing the specialities of the exposed limestone pockets. By the end of the month, Grass of Parnassus should be in flower at Sandscale Haws, usually producing a magnificent display in the dune slacks. Elsewhere in the county it is widespread in its more normal habitat of wet flushes on moorland edges, but here it may not flower until August. An opened flower has beautiful green-veined petals, at the base of which are glistening greenish-yellow blobs that appear to be oozing nectar. There isn't any, but it does fool insects into pollinating the flower!

The yellow St. John's Wort is in full bloom this month on any lowland patch of scrub in the county. It comes in Common, Hairy, Slender, Square-stemmed, Trailing and Imperforate forms, to challenge the budding botanist. Famed for its healing powers, this classic herb exudes a red oil from buds and stems (in folklore supposedly from the blood of John the Baptist) and has leaves with glands that make them look perforated when held up to the light (caused by the devil's attempts to kill the plant). White and Yellow Water-lilies have similar distributions in the county and should start to flower this month. Tarns and sheltered bays of the Lake District and south of the county are the places to look, although Yellow Water-lily has a preference for more nutrient rich water. Flowers open only in full sun; the white's flowers lie on the surface, while the yellow's flowers are held above it. The yellow Fringed Water-Lily (but not a true lily), a species of the South East and Thames Valley, is now turning up in many tarns (Urswick Tarn has a splendid display at its south end). The Common Poppy, that brilliant red arable weed, is becoming a slightly more common sight along roadsides away from its traditional strongholds of the Eden and Kent valleys but should be distinguished from the similar, but paler, Long-headed Poppy (whose seed capsules are more than twice as long as wide).

An interesting and unusual plant is Pellitory-of-the-Wall, a benign member of the nettle family as its hairs do not sting. It is usually found on old stonework, often associated with castles, priories and corn mills as it was cultivated in former times for its beneficial effects with many urinary ailments. It is not very common in Cumbria but fine displays can be seen at places like Gleaston Mill.

 

J