Summer is a time of abundance, colour and life, when nature thrives on our canals and rivers. As we humans slow down and relax in the sunshine, many creatures are hard at work. They need to raise their young while the weather is fine and food is plentiful. This buzz of activity is great news for wildlife lovers, as it means there’s lots to see while you are out and about.
You can watch water bird chicks growing up as summer progresses.”
Many mammal young are born in the spring. This means that during the summer, you can see the lambs, calves and cubs growing in strength and independence as they get older.
Badger cubs are weaned in late May and early June. At this time, look out for patches of grassland marked with small, freshly-dug holes – a sign that badger cubs have been out feeding overnight. Fox cubs first emerge from the earth in April and, by August, most are able to forage and fend for themselves.
Red deer, Britain's largest mammals, continue calving throughout late spring and early summer - though calves born earlier enjoy the best chances of survival. Stags (male deer) live happily together in large groups until August. At this point, they start to prepare for the autumn rutting season, and become less tolerant of each other. By the end of the summer, stags are a magnificent sight, with a full-grown rack of antlers.
Water birds such as mallard ducks, swans and moorhens are a common sight on the canals and rivers all year round. If you regularly visit the waterways, you might be rewarded by watching their chicks grow up as summer progresses.
Moorhen parents raise two or three broods of young every season, and those from earlier broods often stay around to help their parents with the younger chicks. This means you might spot a family with both cute and fluffy new-borns and straggly half-grown ‘teenagers’.
If you are a watcher of mallards, you might be wondering where all the colourful drakes (males) have gone. In fact, they moult their flight feathers in the summer, leaving them grounded and vulnerable to predators. To stay safe, the males turn a less noticeable brown colour – meaning it’s easy to mistake them for females at this time of year.
Hedgerows along the canal are another habitat that is full of birdlife. Many species, including the common blackbird and robin, use hedgerows to raise their young, and they are quite easy to spot at this time of year. In late summer, large groups of swallows and martins will gather around the UK in preparation for their long flights to Africa. They can often be seen flying over water, where there are plenty of insects for them to catch.
A rich variety of flowers burst into bloom alongside canals and rivers in summer. As well as looking pretty, these are also a magnet for insect life.
The lazy buzzing of bumblebees and the chirping of crickets in the evening are sounds that always conjure up the image of warm summer days. Crickets are relatives of the grasshopper, and can often be found perching in canalside hedgerows. Although it is easy to hear them, you’ll have to look closely to actually see them – they have excellent camouflage to protect them from predators.
Fly and wasp populations also boom in the summer. A fly can lay more than 1,000 eggs in a two-week period and, in warm weather, an egg takes only eight days to reach adulthood. Queen wasps produce large numbers of worker wasps during the summer, meaning that nest sizes increase.
Although these insects might not be your favourite aspect of summer, don’t forget they have a vital part to play in the natural world. Both flies and wasps provide an important source of food to larger creatures. Flies pollinate flowers and clean up their environments by feeding on waste materials. Wasps help control the insect population by feeding on smaller creepy crawlies.