From the beginning until the end of July the early summer blossoms into high summer. July is normally quite damp, and marks the time when the natural vegetation of Wicklow grows most vigorously, often into dense jungles of undergrowth.July is often the hottest time of year, and temperatures can be in the high 20s Celsius in the shade in many areas of Wicklow, particularly in east or south-facing valleys. Night time temperatures can be over 20 Celsius at night. In the fields White Clover(Trifolium repens), the Irish Shamrock, grows densely and produces beautiful white flower clusters that feed bees and hoverflies, and meadow butterflies, such as the Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus).
On more rough ground scrambling plants form dense mats, and often produce dazzling flowers, as in the case of the Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagalis arvensis).
In the hedgerows glorious clouds of white umbelliferous flowerheads belonging to Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) begin to climb towards the sunlight.
Plants are usually considered silent, but in the hot days of July one of them makes a lot of noise. Loud crackling sounds can be heard from hedgerows and meadows where Bush Vetch (Vicia sepium) grows. The noise is caused by black seed pods, which explode when the sunlight causes them to expand, firing their tiny hard seeds sometimes metres away.
The explosion of plant life sustains the vast insect population of Wicklow.The Cuckoo-spit that appeared in late June on various stems gradually begins to slough off, revealing the so-called "cuckoo-spit aphid", which is actually a spittle-bug, a young froghopper.
At this point the young sheds its skin and emerges as an adult froghopper. The largest of these bugs found in Wicklow is the exquisitely handsome Alder Spittlebug (Aphrophora alni), which measures about 1cm or a third of an inch in length. Despite its name this large froghopper feeds on a wide variety of plants.
The lush growth provides vital food for many young insects, but particularly caterpillars. Caterpillars are easy prey for birds and many other kinds of animal. For this reason many are camouflaged, but others use different defence methods. The huge caterpillar of the Elephant Hawkmoth feeds on fuchsia and Willowherb (Epilobium), and can grow to 15 cm long. If annoyed by an observing naturalist, the caterpillar raises the front of its body up, like the neck of a snake. To add to the illusion it has four large eye-spots. At the rear there is a huge thorn-like projection. This caterpillar grazes until September and then descends to the Autumn leaf litter where it pupates and will remain dormant until next summer.
Other caterpillars have a more dealy defence-mechanism. All along the coast where Common Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) grows you will find the bizarre, Witches's stocking like yellow-and-black caterpillars of the Cinnabar Moth (Tyria jacobaeae). These caterpillars are highly poisonous, due to eating ragwort. As a result, they are avoided by predators and can happily munch their food in broad daylight.
Some have more bizarre methods of defence: the Pear and Cherry Slugworm (Caliroa cerasi) is the caterpillar of a species of sawfly.It is a semi-transparent jelly-like creature that feeds on the leaves of Pear and Cherry trees, as the name suggests. However, its sliminess seems to keep predators such as ants, spiders and birds at bay, and it can boldly graze in broad daylight.
But at this time of year the naturalised "butterfly bush" comes into bloom, produces dense fragrant flower-spikes that are beloved of every nectar-drinking insect. As their name suggests they are particularly popular with butterflies, and are the best places to find such colourful ones as the Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) and the Peacock (Inachus io).
However, buddleia are equally beloved of their mostly nocturnal cousins, the moths. Many moths are as spectacularly colourful as butterflies, and in Wicklow you can find dozens in a single night, many of them simply coming to a lighted window.
The predators time their reproduction to correspond with this abundance of prey. Spiders, such as the tiny, camouflaged Araniella cucurbitina can be seen garding nests.
Larger insectivores too begin rearing their young in July. Hedge hoglets, the young Hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus), can be found in gardens, parks, fields and woodlands feeding on the abundant invertebrate life. Snail and slug numbers crach at this time of the year in gardens frequented by hedgehogs. Unfortunately these little mammals sometimes get themselves into dangerous situations while foraging for food - the little one in the photograph had to be rescued after somehow squeezing beneath under a heavy covering and falling into a drain below.
But much larger animals can be found taking things in their stride - July is the perfect time to head to the Wicklow coast and look for Grey Seals (Halichoeris grypus) basking near the shore. They stay close to the shore as this is when shoals of migrating fish enter the shallows to breed, or to escape shoals of larger predatory fish. Seals are among the few large marine animals that can pursue such prey up to the shoreline. And for the rest of the time they are happy to loll about and enjoy the warm sunlight.