DeeWatch July 2020

DeeWatch July 2020

Welcome to the July edition of DeeWatch, a month-by-month guide to nature-spotting across our diverse and beautiful catchment. Brought to you by the rangers and other local wildlife enthusiasts who take care of Deeside’s nature reserves and countryside, our DeeWatch diary includes sightings from the field as well as suggestions on what to look out for at any given time of year.

In July…

The year has turned and (home) schools will soon be out for the summer, leaving plenty of time to get out and about and enjoy Deeside in all its splendour! Please remember to do so responsibly –sadly this month marks the arrival of litterbugs in our shared countryside.  Much worse than midges, they leave large quantities of discarded and dangerous litter, damaging to nature and an eyesore for the rest of us.

The longest day may have come and gone, but the hottest weather is probably still to come.  Many of the trees and plants we’ve mentioned earlier in the year will now have maturing seed ready to produce the next generation of plants, and much of this seed will feed later broods of young birds and our winter visitors.

Here we suggest some of the things you might be lucky enough to see, but you’ll have to do a bit of work too! Keep your eyes and ears open and keep chatter and barking to a minimum if you really want to see the best of our wildlife - we never know what’s going to turn up where nor when.   

You can check out the following websites for more information on what’s going on in nature, and consider helping to make a valuable contribution to our wildlife records with any of your sightings, at this website.

Aberdeenshire Council Ranger Service Facebook page

Aberdeen City Council Ranger Service Facebook page

Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve Facebook page

Mar Lodge Estate Facebook page

North East Scotland Biodiversity Partnership Facebook page

Look out and listen for:


Many birds are keeping their heads down now they’ve bred, so July can be a fairly quiet month for birdsong. At Loch Kinord, ducks like Mallard, Tufted duck, Teal and Goldeneye are moulting into “eclipse plumage” – they shed their flight feathers all at once after mating, so for about a month over the summer they can’t fly, leaving them very vulnerable to predators. The males’ brightly coloured feathers are replaced by dowdy brown ones, making them look more like females.

Some migrant birds are already heading south –you may hear curlew passing high overhead, the failed breeders from the Arctic. Cuckoos stop singing this month and head away on their long journey south to Africa. Lots of young birds are now out of the nest and foraging for food on their own, like this young Great Spotted Woodpecker. The adults won’t be far away and both give a “contact call” as their way of keeping in touch - “Where are you?”  "I’m over here - where are you?”   “I’m still in the same place.”   

Young greater spotted woodpecker – Ewen Cameron

You may spot newly-fledged blackbirds in gardens and parks – they’re trying to stay out of sight in case a sparrowhawk comes zooming in looking for the most vulnerable ones it can pick off to feed its own young.

Fledgling blackbird  - Ewen Cameron

Sparrowhawk with its prey - Ewen Cameron

Butterflies, moths & insects

On sunny days we see more butterflies but they’re tricky to identify as they tend to move on as you creep closer to the flower they’ve stopped to feed on, and refuse to fly in straight lines so binoculars can’t be focused on them!

One easy moth to identify is the chimney sweeper. Although small, with a wingspan of 23-27 mm, many can be seen along the lush, grassy river banks especially where flowering pignut is plentiful on which the larvae feed. Chimney sweeper moths are completely black except for the white fringes at the tips of the forewings and fly in the daytime in bright sunshine.

The chimney sweeper moth is easy to idenitfy - Aileen Meek

Pignut, on which the chimney sweeper's larvae feed - Aileen Meek

Other moths to look out for by day in grassland are the latticed heath near clover, their larval food-plants. 

Female latticed heath moth - Helen Rowe

Nocturnal moths are at their peak in terms of species and numbers - look out for the garden tiger, attracted to lights. It was once common across the UK, but is now severely declining in the south – thankfully it still seems to be thriving in our area. Its bright colours are a warning to predators that they are distasteful! 

Garden tiger moth - Helen Rowe

Common blues can be seen near their usual caterpillar food-plant, bird's-foot trefoil. The bright blue males are unmistakable, though browner females may be mistaken at a glance for the scarcer northern brown argus, only found where its food-plant, rock-rose grows. Not to be confused with the much larger Scotch argus which appears in late July in grassy areas on upper Deeside and can be locally abundant. 

Female common blue - Helen Rowe

Male common blue - Helen Rowe

Scotch Argus - Helen Rowe

Small pearl-bordered fritillaries are still flying, but their similarly orange and black chequered, but larger cousins, the dark-green fritillaries, peak this month - they are olive-green on their hindwing undersides. 

Dark green fritillary  - Helen Rowe

Fresh small tortoiseshells and peacocks will be emerging from the chrysalis stage and depending on weather, more migrants such as red admirals and painted ladies may arrive from the south, along with moths such as silver Y and hummingbird hawk-moth - you can report sightings here

Silver Y moth - Helen Rowe

Look out for damselflies near water, in grassland or open areas between woodlands. This mating pair was recently spotted at Muir of Dinnet. The male is bright blue in colour, while the female has a more peppermint tone, with distinctive torpedo shapes on her abdomen.

Mating common blue damselfies - Catriona Reid

Bumblebee nests are now producing new queens and males as well as workers - look out for the larger queens and you may also find bees not being busy collecting pollen, but sitting around flowers just refuelling on nectar – these are males waiting for a chance to mate with a new queen - they don’t usually return to the nest as they do no useful foraging work!

Bee feeding on thistle 

Larger animals

Roe deer are in rut, and looking very red this month. They’ve been spotted recently with their young in Craigmore wood to the south west of Potarch. 

Roe deer are in rut - Ewen Cameron

Nocturnal animals such as badgers can be harder to see in summer because of the lack of ‘night time’. Adult pine martens tend to mate this month and make shrill cat-like calls. They will give birth next spring - the young kits are only emerging now for the first time from their dens.  Pine marten kits were recently spotted near Stonehaven’s town centre!

Bats are on ‘maternity leave’ with mothers continuing to suckle their young. Bat pups will be learning to fly and sometimes get grounded – if you find a bat, follow this advice.

Trees, flowers, fruits & fungi

‘Tis the season for grass – and sympathy to all hay fever sufferers! Grass is ‘flowering’ and setting seed, and it’s almost impossible to keep track of all the flower species coming into flower in July, from big showy Foxgloves to the easily missed Chickweed Wintergreen. 

Foxglove - Ewen Cameron 

Fruits on gean (or wild cherry) are showing the first tinges of the deep red could that will attract birds and people alike, and you can hardly miss all the dog roses out at the sides of the road just now. Fun fact: more than just a roadside shrub, the dog rose boasts a proud history – the white ‘throw’ of the dog rose was the white cockade of the Jacobites, and there is one growing up a cathedral in Germany that is over 1000 years old!

Dog rose is floweing on roadsides - Catriona Reid

The other shrub you can’t help noticing is the broom. Its yellow flowers are a brighter, more lemony yellow than gorse, which is a deeper gold colour. The other bonus of broom is that, unlike gorse, it isn’t covered in vicious spikes! It’s a member of the pea family and you can actually eat the flowers when they’re in bud – but not too many, as they’re a diuretic.

Broom is in flower - Catriona Reid

Look out for beautiful star-shaped, white water-lillies looking their best this month. They fill every small bay on Loch Kinord and provide great habitat for invertebrates, which, in turn, feed birds like goldeneye. Another flower currently in bloom is the thistle. There are actually several species of thistle, from the prolific creeping thistle to the emblematic spear thistle. Also loved by insects, you soon know if you brush past these…they are one flower that demands attention! This melancholy thistle was spotted on the Dee’s banks near Potarch.

Melancholy thistle at Potarch - Aileen Meek

Other flowers to look out for along the Dee’s banks include lady’s bedstraw, hogweed and umbellifers.

Wood anemone  - Aileen Meek

Lady’s bedstraw - Aileen Meek

Solder beetle on hogweed - Aileen Meek

The small yellow flowers of common tormentil are often seen in grassy and moorland areas at this time of year.  Although they look like small buttercups, they only have four petals while the buttercups have five.

Common Tormentil - Ewen Cameron

July is also a time of year to see some of our native orchids at their best - like the intensely purple northern marsh orchid. Although often found on the coast near the mouth of the Dee in the rough grassland around the margins of Balngask Golf Course, it is also found in wet grassy areas further upstream.  

Northern marsh orchid - Ewen Cameron

The hot wet weather has given a great boost to fungi with many species now appearing.  Apart from the more familiar fungi shapes, this group includes slime moulds and species like the unattractively named 'dog sick' fungus:

Dog sick fungus - Ewen Cameron

On the River:

If you’re still up at dusk, look out for Daubenton’s bats hunting low over calm stretches of water, where there are lots of flies to catch.

What’s on:

  • Keep an eye on the above Facebook pages for event updates – and remember there may be virtual events if face-to-face events aren’t going ahead.
  • Aberdeenshire Ranger Service recently began a campaign to encourage people to record the “Plant of the Week” 
  • Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count runs 17th July – 9th August – this annual UK-wide survey helps show how well our butterflies are doing in the wider countryside. Choose a fine day, find a place where you may see butterflies, count how many of each kind you spot in 15 minutes and submit your results online - you can do as many counts as you wish.