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Species of the Month - June 2023

Updated: Jun 13, 2023

What a wonderful time of year to see fledgling birds and the colour from plants and the abundance of insects.


Mammals

Roe Deer - Capreolus capreolus
  • Family: Odocoileinae

  • Scientific name: Capreolus capreolus


This small deer is reddish brown is our most common native deer. They are small with a comparatively short body to legs and neck. They have short antlers and the appearance of being tail-less with white/cream rump patch. Males have short antlers.

Normally only one or two are seen together, these wild deer can be found roaming in London's outer suburbs in mixed, coniferous or purely deciduous woodland, particularly at the edges of woodland and open habitats.


They are predominantly active at dusk and dawn, feeding on buds and leaves of deciduous trees and shrubs, bramble, ivy, conifers, ferns and grasses.


Mating occurs in July and August, however, the fertilisation of the egg is delayed until January ensuring that the young are not born during winter months. The females give birth between mid-May and mid-June to young with a dappled coat for about the first six weeks to aid camouflage.


Birds

Peregrine Falcon - Falco peregrinus
  • Family: Falcon

  • Scientific name: Falco peregrinus

June is a wonderful time to see fledgling birds of all species. Excitingly, in London, we are fortunate to have several pairs of Peregrine falcon.


Traditionally, they can be found above rocky sea cliffs and upland areas throughout the UK in the breeding season. Due to their natural habitat being high above the ground, in cities, they can commonly be found perching or nesting on skyscrapers, hospitals, power pylons, and other tall structures.


These high perches are perfect spots for awaiting prey which consist of medium-sized birds, commonly catch pigeons, ring-necked parakeets as well as water fowl. They are impressive to see, catching prey in the air with impressive dives, called stoops and are able to fly at speeds of 320 km/h, to catch their prey.


They have long, pointed wings and a long tail. Their long primary feathers give the Peregrine a long-winged shape. As with many other raptors, males are smaller than females. Adults are blue-gray above with barred underparts and a dark head with thick sideburns. Juveniles are heavily marked, with vertical streaks instead of horizontal bars on the breast.


You can watch live footage from the Ealing Wildlife Group Peregrine cam.


Unfortunately, peregrine numbers declined during the 19th and 20th centuries because of illegal killing by humans. The use of poisonous agricultural chemicals such as DDT caused the collapse of the peregrine population in the UK in the late 1950s.


These pesticides built up in the food chain and concentrated in peregrines and other birds of prey, causing increased adult mortality, eggshell thinning and reduced breeding performance.


They began moving into our cities during the 1990s after their populations recovered from decades of decline from persecution and the effects of pesticides in the countryside.

- Ed Drewitt, University of Bristol.


After the banning of these pesticides peregrine numbers slowly recovered, and by the late 1990s reached pre-decline levels over much of their former range. However, in southeast and east of England the bird has been slow to recover, and the range is now contracting again in northern Scotland.


Tree

Elder - Sambucus nigra
  • Family: Adoxaceae

  • Scientific name: Sambucus nigra

Feared by the devil and the love of foragers. Elder is the very essence of summer.


It’s widespread across the UK, growing in woodland, scrub, wasteland and along hedgerows, often found near rabbit warrens or badger setts, where the animals distribute the seed via their droppings.

Flowers provide nectar for a variety of insects and the berries are eaten by birds and mammals. Small mammals, such as dormice and bank voles, eat both the berries and the flowers.


Many moth caterpillars feed on elder foliage, including the white-spotted pug, swallowtail, dot moth and buff ermine.

Elder foliage was once used to keep flies away and branches were often hung around dairies.


The flowers are often used to make wine, cordial or tea, or fried to make fritters. The vitamin C-rich berries are often used to make preserves and wine, and can be baked in a pie with blackberries


How to make Elderflower cordial.


Please remember, please considerate when foraging. Only take what you need.


Folk law states that an elder, planted by your house would keep the devil away.


Plant

Yellow Flag Iris - Iris pseudacorus
  • Family: Iris

  • Scientific name: Iris pseudacorus

This iris has a stunning yellow flower and tall reed stems, sometimes branched. Their narrow leaves sword-like. The flower petals fold back on themselves, hanging down around the outer edges of the flower. They tend to form in large clumps.


Due to it's structure, flowers are pollinated by long-tongued insects such as bumble bees. The outer parts of a flower, the tepal provides a platform for insects to land on and the dark yellow patch in the centre, guides the insect towards nectar. Any pollen already on the insect is brushed off onto the flower's stigma and new pollen may be deposited on the insect as it searches for the nectar.

They are water-loving, finding them along margins of waterways and ponds, in damp areas of woodlands and salt marshes. The bright yellow flower can be seen between May and August. They produce large numbers of seeds inside triangular pods which float aiding dispersal by water.


It takes its name from the fact that it grows at shallow points in water, thus flagging the safe places to cross. It has been used to treat water due to its ability to take up heavy metals via their roots. It can grow in low pH levels.


Reptile

Slow worm - Anguis fragilis
  • Family: Anguidae

  • Scientific name: Anguis fragilis

This legless lizard, can be found basking in the sun on heathlands and grasslands, or the heat of a garden compost heap. They are most common in Wales and south-west England and absent from Ireland.


The slow worm is much smaller than a snake and has smooth, golden-grey skin. Males are paler in colour and sometimes sport blue spots, while females are larger, with dark sides and a dark stripe down the back.


Its breeding season begins in late-April/early-May. Males chase each other and these fights can often be seen during breeding season as they fight over females. Courtship can be a long process with the pair remaining intertwined for up to 10 hours before they mate.

They eat slugs, snails, spiders, insects and earthworms. In the summer months, they can be found in meadows, woodland areas, or hiding under rocks or logs.


Insect

Stag Beetles - Lucanus cervus
  • Family: Lucanidae

  • Scientific name: Lucanus cervus

These glorious creatures don't feel as though they would inhabit London, but are found in woodlands, particularly Oak, but can be found in gardens, hedgerows and parks.


Old and decaying trees are vital for them to live and feed on where their pupae overwinter. They are nearly always found below ground and can be as deep as half a metre down.It can take up to six years to develop before they pupate and turn into adults.


They emerge in May and can be seen until August, when they die, once they have mated and laid eggs.


Whilst the larvae feed on decaying wood, adults cannot eat solid food but rather rely on the fat reserves built up whilst developing as a larva.


Their predators include cats, foxes, crows, kestrels which attack during the larval stage. The rise in magpies and carrion crows in the last decade may be having an impact on stag beetle populations.


The male's 'antlers' are in fact massive jaws to attract females and duel with their rivals. Females look similar to Lesser stag beetles, but are larger, with smaller heads and brown wing cases instead of black ones.


Male stag beetles measure between 35-37mm in body length, whilst the females' body length measures between 24-48mm. Larvae measure up to 80mm long.

Male and female stag beetle
Stag Beetles, photo credit Michelle Rickards

Unfortunately, they are nationally scare and protected. They are relatively widespread in southern England and live in the Severn valley and coastal areas of the southwest. Elsewhere in Britain they are extremely rare or even extinct.


The most obvious problem for stag beetles is a significant loss of habitat. In addition the tidying of woodlands, parks and gardens has led to the removal of dead or decaying wood habitats which is the stag beetle larvae’s food source.

 

This monthly series aims to highlight several species you can look out for. The aims will be to focus on teaching a little about them as well as showing the interconnections: the importance of habitat and how interactions with other plants and animals can be vital for survival - demonstrating that nothing can exist in isolation.


Sources below (some sources can be found in links to photos).

Roe Deer


Perigrine


Elder


Yellow Iris


Stag Beetles


Slowworm


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