July in the Forest

By July the summer is really with us. So too are the migrant birds that spend the warm months feeding and breeding here. Last month we noticed that the Spotted Flycatchers were back. I’m not very good at identifying birds so it’s very helpful when they give extra clues in the form of movement and behaviour: the flycatchers perch on fence posts around the farm and dart off to chase insects, returning to the same post. We need to give these birds some help, as their numbers have been declining since the 1960s. Open grassy areas within and beside native broadleaved woodland are the habitat they need, and it seems that the farm should be ideal because our grazing animals bring dung flies and other insects which provide food. In bad weather the birds can forage for insects among the trees. They leave it very late to breed, but I hope that by now there will be nests, complete with nestlings, in ivy-clad oak trees, in outbuildings or in open-fronted nest boxes. Some pairs may be able to rear second broods before setting off back to southern Africa in the autumn.

We recently came across a very hairy caterpillar (possibly very hungry too) advancing across the doormat. It turned out to be a Drinker moth, the name being earned by the larva’s knack of drinking dew from the rough grasses on which it feeds. You may have seen the long, papery cocoons of the pupae attached to grass stems too. I was interested to read the next day that the Cuckoo is one of the few bird predators that isn’t put off by such hairiness, nor the distastefulness of some caterpillars such as Cinnabar moth and Large White butterfly. The Cuckoo, having largely done its dirty work in the nests of the host birds by now, is more or less silent but will stay around for a month or two longer.

On 3rd July Forest Friends will be having a Teddy Bear’s Picnic for under 5s and their carers. They will meet at 10am outside the Forest Café at Callow Hill. The cost is £3 per child, and £1 for participating siblings. Bring your teddy and picnic!

If you’re a regular user of the Forestry Commission’s car park you would do well to get a Discovery Pass which will cost £40 for a year’s parking. Visit www.forestry.gov.uk/pass for more info and to buy.

Linda Iles

Photos: Spotted Flycatcher, Drinker moth caterpillar