Stripes on the lawn - When it’s hot and dry, earthworms burrow deeper below the surface to find moist soil. This emboldens some worm-eating animals as their bellies start grumbling. Don’t be surprised to find badgers supplementing their diet with spilled seed underneath your bird feeders – or even sucking worms out of a well-watered lawn.
Unexpected guests - Everywhere seems to be leaping with young squirrels as they steadily disperse away from their place of birth. By late summer you may well find them trying their luck (and undoubted skill) on the birdfeeders in gardens that don’t normally have resident squirrels.
Summer of love - While hedgehogs are fairly secretive for most of their lives, they certainly let their hair (or spines) down on balmy summer nights. Mating hedgehogs aren’t known for holding back with their passion. Human-sounding grunts and breathless wheezing coming from your herbaceous bushes are enough to make anyone blush.
Cricket season - As temperatures rise so do noise levels. Crickets of several species are maturing through the warmer months, and that’s when you’ll hear them starting to sing. The lime-green oak bush-cricket doesn’t rub its legs together to make a noise: instead, it vibrates its feet on the leaves of trees.
Cruel but fair - Sparrowhawks are late breeders. That’s because they’re waiting for a freshly fledged crop of blue tits, great tits, sparrows and blackbirds to feed their own young. While it seems cruel, they’re performing a vital service by weeding out the weak and sick. Healthy sparrowhawk numbers are thus a sure indicator of a healthy population of smaller birds.
Ho hum - If you’ve planted lavender or valerian in the garden, you may find an exotic visitor dropping by. The hummingbird hawkmoth is a summer migrant to our shores from the warmth of Southern Europe. Its long proboscis, hovering flight and audible humming noise give it its name.
Small but brave - Juvenile great spotted woodpeckers haven’t yet found their fear. They may be less nervous around humans: don’t be surprised to see them at closer quarters than their parents. They’re also marked out by a bright scarlet bonnet that’s absent in adult birds.
In flight meals - Bats are the only mammals capable of true flight (sorry flying squirrels and lemurs, gliding doesn’t count). Pipistrelles are the most common bats in Britain: you’ll often see them hawking for insects around the tops of trees and buildings. Capable of eating over 3,000 insects a night, they can live up to eleven years – quite an age for such a small mammal.
High fibre - That repetitive scratching coming from the side of the shed or fence could be a wasp scraping up wood fibres. They’re great recyclers of dead wood, mixing it with their saliva to make a material like papier-maché for their nests. They also add a protein in their spit that helps waterproof the structure.
Feeling the heat - Full of rich organic matter, a nice steaming compost heap is eagerly sought by adult grass snakes. Females seek these self-heating heaps to lay clutches of between 10 and 40 eggs that will have hatched by autumn. Our largest snake is harmless, identified by its yellow/white collar and olive-green body.
Bronze award - The iridescent green-bronze shimmer of the rose chafer beetle is a welcome sight. As unremarkable white grubs they’ve been chomping on dead and decaying vegetation, before they pupate over autumn. Come summer next year they’re feasting on the nectar and pollen of flowers, including the rose its name comes from.
Earning their stripes - Zebra jumping spiders are commonly seen in many gardens, named after their distinctive black and white stripes. They don’t spin a web to catch their prey. Instead, they use their amazing stereoscopic vision and leaping prowess to run down and pounce on their prey. Before jumping they spin a single silken abseiling line in case they miss their target and need another go.
And Y not? - Often encountered sipping on garden nectar during warm summer days, the unusually named silver Y moth sports a silvery-grey mark in the shape of a letter ‘y’ on each of its wings. In Britain this migrant moth is present in large numbers from May onwards, before late autumn frosts cause the population to plummet.
Dead ringers - Also known as the hornet clearwing, the hornet moth is just one of many species to demonstrate the phenomenon of Batesian mimicry. Its appearance is remarkably similar to a wasp’s characteristic black and yellow livery. You’ve probably guessed why. While harmless, it has evolved to imitate the looks, toxicity or behaviour of another harmful species in order to dupe would-be predators.
Don't fancy a bite? - Many a relaxing evening in the garden’s been spoiled by the unwelcome attention of biting midges. But while they might be annoying for you, they’re a vital food source for swifts, swallows, martins and many species of bat that all consume them with relish.
Staring contest - Full-grown caterpillars of the elephant hawk moth are highly visible as they wander away from their food plant - often rosebay willow herb or fuchsia – in search of somewhere to pupate. Its scary look is by design. When disturbed it pulls the trunk-like front part of its body into itself, making the eye spots on its flanks appear to stare down the disconcerted gardener or predator.
Primordial soup - A wet compost heap or bucket of stagnant water might not seem like a nice place to live in. Rich in decomposing organic debris, it’s a welcoming nursery for our commonest hoverfly, the drone fly. Look out for their rat-tailed maggots that feed on the stinky soup, effectively transforming it into nutrition for birds. That rat-tail acts as a telescopic snorkel, allowing the maggot to breathe from beneath the surface.
Stag party - If you live in the South East you might be lucky enough to have a stag beetle coming to an outdoor light. While not Britain’s biggest beetle it’s definitely one of the most spectacular. The long- mandibled, conker-coloured male is an icon of the insect world. Smaller but more common are lesser stag beetles that don’t come with their relatives’ spectacular hardware.
A swift visit - While many summer species are still congregating in your garden, other are off already. Swifts are our fastest bird in level powered flight. Having arrived late to the party back in May, these fleeting visitors are nearly all gone by the end of the July.
Mass movement - Black pavement ants have been waiting for still, warm and muggy weather: perfect conditions for releasing the next generations of winged queens and males to the skies. They do this en masse, with ants seeming to pour out of every lawn and pavement crack. Sheer numbers increase the chances of a royal pairing. It also floods the market, so they’re not wiped out by predators… though swifts, martins and swallows certainly give it a go.
Cool it - You could almost say that honeybees invented air conditioning. In hot weather they’ll often seek water from the edge of a pond or bird bath. Wasps will do the same, flying back to the nest with a crop full of water that they’ll spit out onto their brood cells. This helps to cool down a hot nest by evaporation, much like a damp towel wrapped round a bottle of wine.