Common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) photographed in Baja, California

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: The unbearable lightness of dolphins

Tomorrow is my annual expedition to look for purple emperor butterflies in a wonderful Wiltshire oakwood, much anticipated, but the weather forecast is dire, and downpours will wash away any chance of catching those resplendent purple wings glinting around the tree canopy or even coming down to the ground. I feel the need for a word like Bah! (used by frustrated villains in the comics of my youth) or perhaps even Curses! The appalling sodden summer of 2012 has cast a pall over a number of such wildlife watching opportunities (and, more importantly, done a lot of real harm to the wildlife itself).

Swift decline: the rain has been catastrophic for breeding

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: Rain stopped play - why birds aren't breeding in the wet

There are reports of problems with tits and chats and pipits and larks

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: Moths are just as worthy of our wonder as butterflies

Our human prejudices often lead us astray in looking at the natural world. For example, we so love our butterflies that we tend to think butterflies come first, and moths are merely an afterthought. But actually, it's the other way round.

Our man McCarthy with the paper's adopted cuckoo in Wales

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: Good luck, Indy – the cuckoo that's carrying our name to Africa

I thought he was beautiful beyond description. And then I let him fly

A 'roding' male woodcock patrols a circuit

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: The shy woodcock, our most mysterious bird

Setting eyes on a mystery is always memorable, perhaps even more so at dusk, in the atmospheric borderland between day and night; most of all in the long dusk of early summer. And on Friday evening of last week, which was 1 June, the first day of summer in some calendars, I found myself deep in a Hampshire woodland as the light faded and the owls began to call, waiting for the mystery to appear.

Dazzling: the small tortoiseshell butterfly

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: The love that dare not speak its name – butterflies

Butterflies are back. For me the greatest blessing of the return of the warm weather this week, after that sodden April and that glacial most-of-May, has been that butterflies are once more on the wing and visible. I walked out of the house on Tuesday morning and bumped into a holly blue almost immediately. What a boost to the spirits that was.

The hawthorn: an uncommon and arresting colour combination

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: If the blackthorn is sugar, then the hawthorn is cream

I grew up with a whacking great hawthorn hedge at the end of the garden

Tardigrades (x135 magnification): 0.18mm long, smaller than fullstops

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: We've lost touch with the tiny, microscopic things

Ask your child what a tyrannosaurus is, or a velociraptor, and you'll probably get an intelligible answer. Movies have made dinosaurs familiar to millions. But ask them what a rotifer is, or a tardigrade, and you'll get a blank stare.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: Cuckoo miracle - from Norfolk to Congo and back

Giving names to Clement and the other four birds was a masterstroke

In fine voice: a sedge warbler makes itself heard

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: From ants to birds to whales, there's a soundscape to be marvelled at

In nature's collective voice, we can locate the origins of human music, even language

Dazzlingly handsome: the first orange tip butterflies are out now

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: Prepare to be amazed - spring is nearly sprung

When exactly is spring? Using the ancient, astronomical calendar you can say it begins at the vernal equinox, the moment when day and night are of equal length (as the tilt of the earth's axis is inclined neither towards the sun nor away from it). That occurs in March, usually on the 20th of the month; spring can then be said to run until the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, usually on 21 June.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: Where is the elegy for the mountain blackbird?

I can clearly remember the moment I first saw a ring ouzel. I was 17. It was in the Easter holidays and I had gone hiking in Snowdonia with my friend Chris, and one bright morning we left Bala and tramped along the side of Llyn Celyn, at that time a controversial new reservoir, and then struck upwards into the hills, over the open moorland to Ysbyty Ifan.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: It's springtime for the swingers of suburbia

One of the most fascinating things we have learned about life in the past 50 years is that the principle purpose of all living things, in so far as they have a purpose at all, is to reproduce. It's an insight from evolutionary biology (if you want to explore it further, pick up Richard Dawkins's bestseller, The Selfish Gene).

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: Reason to be cheerful. It's rook-building time

It sometimes seems a pity that there are only four official seasons. Golden October is a world away from sodden November, but they're still lumped together in autumn. And this period at the moment, mid-March, is a sort of in-between time, with winter officially gone and spring officially here, but it doesn't really feel like either. It's a waiting time, when things are coming, but haven't yet arrived.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: Sense and sensibility – birds have lots of both

You think you know the world, at least the general shape of it, the way it works, yet sometimes you are struck by just how far you are from truly comprehending it in all its glorious peculiarity.

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