What wildlife to watch this spring and summer

(c) Andy Morffew

Spring and summer are full of sight and sounds from the wild. Stop for a moment - what can you see and hear? As days get lighter and warmer for longer, here are a few wildlife highlights to watch-out for.

The cuckoo in May

Listen out for the cuckoo’s two-syllable call. It is the male common cuckoo which makes the familiar uh-coo sound. The female makes a bubbling call, like water running out of a bath plughole. The size of doves and the colour of wood pigeons, cuckoos can also be identified by their long tails and pointed wings. Having wintered in Africa, they fly to Europe for spring and summer. The majority of cuckoos raise their own young; however, the common cuckoo lays her eggs in another bird’s nest. She stakes it out, working out the exact time to dart in without being noticed by the host bird. Then she ejects one of the bird’s eggs, lays her own and flies off - in about ten seconds flat. This sounds opportunistic but research shows the cuckoo chick releases a noxious substance to scare off predators from the nest - so it may be a two-way relationship. Listen for the cuckoo in Eastville Park in Bristol, or visit Avon Wildlife Trust’s Dolebury Warren nature reserve near Churchill village.

Herb paris in June

Ecologists use this unassuming plant to identify ancient woodlands. Its name is not to do with France’s capital city, but comes from the Latin par for pair. This refers to the plant’s two pairs of oval leaves facing each other. A wispy yellow-green flower emerges from the four leaves on an upright stem. Each plant produces one poisonous blueberry-like berry.  However, poisoning is rare because the berry tastes so repulsive. Nevertheless, herb paris has been used in traditional medicine. Growing mainly on chalky soils - plentiful in Avon – herb paris can be seen in at least two Avon Wildlife Trust’s nature reserves where woodlands have been protected by trees for centuries: Prior's Wood nature reserve near Tyntesfield estate and Weston Big Wood near Weston in Gordano.

Dragonflies in July

Flying insects can be annoying but a dragonfly is magical - “a living flash of light” as poet Alfred Tennyson described it. Dragonflies were some of the first winged insects to evolve some 300 million years ago, and play a vital role in the web of life. Dragonfly nymphs (larva) live for about four years under water and are food for fish and frogs, while adult dragonflies are eaten by spiders, lizards, bats and birds. Scientists study dragonflies to assess the health of waterways and the effects of climate change, as well as to detect heavy metals such as mercury. In turn dragonflies are predators, both as nymphs in the water and adults on the wing. They prey on all kinds including tiny fish, biting flies and mosquitoes. When a dragonfly rests, its wings are outstretched like an aeroplane (that’s how you tell it apart from a damselfly which closes its wings). Look for dragonflies in rivers, ponds and ditches up until October, and visit Avon Wildlife Trust’s Puxton Moor nature reserve, which is criss-crossed with rhynes, or watery ditches.

Plan a visit to a nature reserve to enjoy your own wildlife sights and sounds.