Bird spotting and butterfly counting were two of the Summer Holiday Challenges from my last post. You can extend the wildlife challenge by looking out for animals and insects that you’ll find in the UK in the summer. Find out more about our fair-weather friends below.
(Information courtesy of Wild Science)
Animals that can be found in the UK in August
While the UK is host to a huge number of animals all year round, it’s also a major migration spot. Many of our native birds spend the warmer months with us before returning to Africa and southern Europe when it gets too cold. Just like humans, animals are also a lot more active outdoors in the summer months and the following list includes some of the great animals that can be found across the UK in the late summer, providing ideal animal spotting opportunities throughout the holidays. A decent starter pair of binoculars or a spotting scope can enhance your child’s view. Even a cheap spotting scope can be a great introduction to outdoor exploration. Binoculars or spotting scopes are perfect for kids because they can be used for a wide assortment of adventures— from watching animals and birds to basic stargazing.
As its name suggests, the British house martin prefers to build its nest from mud on man-made structures like houses. These birds make their homes across the UK and can most typically be found hunting for insects to eat in open countryside before returning to their nests back in civilisation.
A relative of the swallow, house martins have the distinctive forked tail, though theirs is slightly shallower than the deep V of a swallow’s tail. The most noticeable characteristics of the house martin are the white feathers which grow on their legs and toes, giving them fluffy trousers which make them easy to spot when resting on buildings or branches.
Although swifts begin their return migration as early as July, sightings of the bird continue through until September, so there are sure to be a great deal of opportunities to see them during August. The swift is another bird with a deeply pointed tail but it can be differentiated from swallows and martins thanks to its long, curved wings like a boomerang.
Typically a summer visitor, many blackcaps head back to Europe in October, but increasing numbers are spending the winter here, meaning sightings can happen all year round. The males are distinguished by their notable black caps; caps of the females are browner in colour. These birds are quite evenly distributed across the country but are summer residents of inland Wales, the northwest coast of Ireland and the north of England.
This brightly-coloured bird is grey-green in colour with a yellow chest and head. They often migrate back in September and October, so they can be found in August in woodlands throughout the UK. The best place to sight them, though, is in Leicestershire, where they often breed around Rutland Water.
One of the UK’s most endearing bird species, puffins spend their summer months on British coasts in Yorkshire, Pembrokeshire and Scotland. These fantastic beasts have brightly coloured, parrot-like beaks, tuxedo colours and orange feet. Many places where puffins make their homes run boat tours out to see them as they rest on the rocks and raise their young.
Places where puffins can be seen include:
- Hermaness & Sumburgh Head, Shetland
- Farne Islands, Northumberland
- Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire
- Bempton Cliffs, Yorkshire
Painted Lady butterflies make an incredible journey to reach the UK. Starting in northern Africa, these beautiful bugs fly through Spain and France before landing on UK shores during the summer. From here, they spread across most of the UK, favouring gardens with nectar producing plants.
For the best chance of spotting them, plant red valerians in the garden. Painted ladies drink the nectar from these flowers and often like to lay their eggs on the stems of the plant, meaning some lucky gardeners may see more than one generation in a summer.
These fast-flying insects can sometimes be mistaken for hummingbirds in British gardens, although there are no hummingbirds living in the UK. They have reddish-brown wings, white speckled abdomens and their extended tongue gives them the appearance of a hummingbird. These moths love bedstraw and wild madder but will drink from any nectar-rich plant. They also have great memories and regularly return to the same bushes at the same time of day.
While adult dragonflies emerge throughout the summer, and can even develop as early as May, the highest species diversity is usually recorded in July and August, making this part of the summer the best time to see as many beautiful kinds as possible. The best place to spot them is anywhere near water which isn’t too dirty.
Dragonflies are most active on warm, sunny days so choosing the ideal beast-hunting day is essential. Dragonflies and their close relatives, damselflies, are often out at the same time and are sometimes difficult to tell apart. The best way to distinguish them is when they’re resting, as damselflies sit with their wings closed while dragonflies rest with their wings spread out.
Adult newts start their mating season earlier in the year and most females have laid their eggs by the end of July, when the adults will slip back into the grass for the rest of the year. This makes August the best time to spot their spawn and the baby newts that grow from it.
Southern Peterborough has the largest newt population in the UK but there are reserves in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire as well. For those who can’t make it to these places, newts may also breed in well-kept garden ponds, so any garden could be a hotspot for newts for the luckiest animal hunters.
In the summer months, the second largest fish in the world can be found off the coast of the UK. While the thought of a shark the length of a double-decker bus feeding off the coast of Cornwall may sound like a terrible nightmare, these gentle giants actually feed on microscopic fish called zooplankton.
Cornwall’s clear waters make for one of the best places to see them, but they have also been spotted in the west of Scotland and Wales. It’s unlikely that they’ll come in close enough to be seen from the shore, but some boat tours further off the coast might be the best way to spot this impressive fish as it spends its summer in our waters.
Britain is home to some of the most amazing and diverse animals from coast to coast. For the most adventurous among us, summer is the best time to see some of these beautiful animals as they pass through.
This article was written by Damon Culbert from Wild Science, providers of animal workshops and classes in schools across the UK.