Wildlife To Look Out For This Month: August

Handful of blackberries

High summer, and the days are long. Plenty of time for getting out into the wild with the family. But there's no need to hike out to the remote countryside or an isolated beach to find interesting wildlife.

This guide picks out the natural wonders that would particularly appeal to kids, and which you might find in any park or garden.

Blackberries (and their picking!)

Fruit purists might contend that early September is the best time for blackberry picking. That may be true in the countryside, but if you're planning to forage in an urban area, you'd better act fast before someone beats you to it. Besides, berries ripen at different times depending on their local environment. It's perfectly possible to find some juicy pickings towards the end of August.

Blackberry picking is an age-old family activity that everyone enjoys (unless they fall into the bush, in which case "ouch"). Go prepared with a bucket or bag to collect the fruit, and be sure to take some antiseptic spray in case anyone does get spiked.

If you're baking with the blackberries afterwards, be prepared for a grittier, seedier fruit than you might have sampled from the supermarket. The seeds are harmless, but the texture isn't to everybody's liking.


A boy holding an emperor dragonfly. Image: iStock

Maybe it's their name, or maybe it's their nature, but there's something rather exotic about dragonflies. Like dragons, they are chunky flying creatures with long tails. They do not breathe fire, or guard heaps of gold though (so far as anyone has observed).

Water is their natural element. Dragonflies spend most of their two-year lifespan in fresh water, as larvae. Once the adult emerges, it is likely to stay close to the pond or lake from which it came. Walk beside a river or lake on a warm August day and it's almost guaranteed that you'll spot a dragonfly or three.

The UK is home to some 30 species of dragonfly, with another 20 species of damselfly (typically smaller and more slender than their cousins, with wings that come together when at rest). Their bright colours and beefy body plans make them relatively easy to identify. Two of the most widespread and impressive to see in August are the common darter (orange/red) and the emperor (blue).

Red kites

Yes, these really do fly over London. Image: Magnus Manske, creative commons licence.

Once extinct in England, the majestic red kite has now returned to our skies in force. Populations are particularly large in the Chiltern Hills, but they've now spread throughout much of the country. If you live north or west of London, you should have no trouble finding one.

This is a brilliant bird to spot with the kids as it's (a) very distinctive, (b) not afraid to fly over urban areas, and (c) probably the biggest bird you'll see from your back garden.

Look for something about twice the size of a crow, gliding around in broad circles. They're easy to identify thanks to their unique plumage and the forked tail. If you're lucky, you'll catch one making its steep dive to catch prey below.

Once you've bagged your first red kite, you'll see them all the time -- so long as you live in a part of the UK with a thriving population.


Image: D Gordon E Robertson, creative commons licence

Teasel. It sounds like one of those random words your kids make up, doesn't it? And once you introduce them to the teasel, they'll be saying it over and over again... probably in a silly high-pitched voice.

Teasels are easy to identify, especially in August. The bulbous, spiky seed heads, bobbing around on stems of up to 2 metres, look like nothing else in the hedgerow. At this time of year, the seed head is ringed with pinky-purple inflorescence that is attractive to bees. These conical structures turn brown in the autumn, when you may see a goldfinch pulling out the seeds. Find them in hedgerows or waste land, particularly where the ground is damp.

The unusual name, by the way, is from the same Old English root as the verb 'to tease'. The teasel head was once used as a kind of brush to remove knots and tangles in woollen clothing.



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