Reed Bunting- These lovely long-tailed, sparrow-sized birds traditionally nest in damp areas and reed beds but lately have spread to drier habitats, probably due to the loss of wetlands, and are becoming pretty successful nesting in the shelter of Oil Seed Rape fields, although these are usually cut before they can get a second brood in. The strikingly bold patterned male finds a suitable nest site and the more muted female builds the nest. This female was finding plenty of insects, which the young and adults eat in spring, before adding seeds to their diet in summer. She was dropping down into the nest in the bottom of the grasses, but if a predator is around, as with some other birds, including the Lapwing, the Reed Bunting will feign injury and move away from the nest to draw the danger away.
This Seven-spot Ladybird, our most common Ladybird species (numbers being boosted in sumer by migration from Europe), was very busy eating aphids on some Yarrow, in the garden yesterday. You can see it has slight damage to its wing-case (elytra) which means it carries one wing extended and allows us to see the way the wing-cases open and the wings extend when it flies. It didn’t seem to hinder this one feeding avidly on aphids, which, as you can see in the photo’s, try to get out of the way but the Ladybird can move quite fast when it needs to. They can eat 50 Aphids a day so are great pest controllers. They themselves have two protective characteristics- their red case is a warning that they don’t taste very nice, and if handled, they emit an oily yellow substance from their joints. This doesn’t always protect them from predation and in the past people even believed the yellow fluid was a pain-killer that could ease toothache, and ate them! Being common, they have some lovely local names, including ‘Dowdy Cows’ in Yorkshire, and ‘Bishy-Barny-Bees’ in parts of Norfolk. Conditions: Cloudy with some drizzle. Temperature: Max 19 Min 14 C.
Heartease, or Wild Pansy- one of my mum’s favourite flowers, and mine, so it was lovely to come across patches of them on one of their favourite settings- sand dunes- recently. They also appear on cultivated, sandy soils. The colour-patterns vary and it is easy to see why they are also called ‘Viola Tricolour”. ‘Pansy’ comes from the French, “pensee”, “to think” and Louis the XV decorated the coat of arms of his favourite advisor, Francois Quesnay’, who he called his ‘thinker’ with these little gems. Heartease has long been used in herbal remedies, for skin conditions, chest complaints, as an anti-inflammatory and a diuretic. It also has a long association with grief. Shakespeare, in Hamlet, has Ophelia strewing herbs after the death of he father, saying ” And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts”. Conditions: Warm, with sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 22 Min 12C.
Starlings- now they are on the red (endangered) list in the UK, maybe we should take another look at our relationship to Starlings, which aren’t the most popular garden birds. In Scandinavia, they encourage them by putting up nest boxes but, as they need to nest in colonies it would take quite a few boxes to replace their traditional nesting sites of holes in trees and buildings. Starling colonies synchronise their egg-laying, and most have one brood- only occasionally two. On Orkney and more recently in East Yorkshire we saw the sorts of numbers I would see as a kid, but we seldom have them visit our garden in north Sheffield. The decline in insects numbers is a key cause of their decline, especially as, although they will eat almost anything as adults, for about their first twelve days Starling young are fed on insects and invertebrates, and we watched the pale brown young squawking energetically and noisily to be fed as the adults dug pests and worms from the grass. The young moult completely in autumn and then put on the iridescent plumage of the adult (see photo’s). Conditions: Breeze and sun. Temperature: Max 19 Min 11C.
Bottlenose Dolphins on the Moray Firth. One of the very special things we did on our recent Scottish holiday was to watch the Bottlenose Dolphins at Chanonry Point on the Black Isle, Moray Firth. Unless you are lucky, this takes patience but the rewards are wonderful- here are some photo’s of the mother and calf we watched catching a large fish, which the mother threw into the air by flicking her tail fluke. They do this to stun the fish before eating. A nursing mother needs to eat 8%of her body weight each day , and young can suckle up to two years and stay with the mother 3-6 years. There is a colony of about 130 Bottlenose Dolphins along the Moray Firth and they are the
most northern colony in the world. Because they have to survive in the cold north sea they are larger than other Bottlenose, needing extra fat and blubber to live in these waters. Conditions in Sheffield: Extremely hot, still day. Temperature today: Max 30C Min 15C.
Skuas– another couple of wonderful sightings from our Scotland /Orkney June trip, the Great and Arctic Skuas are predatory birds which will harass other birds, forcing them to release their catch of fish– they are sometimes called ‘piratical’ for this habit. Great Skuas, also known as ‘Bonxie’ In Scotland, will even tackle birds as large as Gannets and have been known to attack and eat Puffins as well as carrion. The Arctic Skua, now sadly on the endangered ‘red’ list, are very agile birds, flying fast and low, twisting and turning to harass birds to release their catch of fish- this one appeared over the coastal slope in front of me before zooming off across the heather. Conditions today in Sheffield: Warm and sunny Temperature: Max 21 Min 11C
The lovely House Martins, (they were my dad’s favourite), are in decline all over central and northern Europe so it was wonderful to see these on the Moray Firth recently, with the ingredients they so desperately need to breed- muddy puddles! about twenty were collecting mud pellets which they mix with grass to build their cup-shaped nests under eaves. It takes about two weeks to build a nest from scratch, lining it with feathers, but they sometimes recolonise their old nests, which takes less work. Pre-19th century, House Martins nested on cliffs but they have now abandoned these sites for domestic and farm buildings. The other thing then need is an abundant supply of flying insects which are also declining of course. The young can, amazingly, survive a few days without food, going into kind of mini-
hibernation, but the sorts of extreme weather we are having more- both bad conditions and too hot and dry weather, are affecting breeding success. Conditions: Hot, humid with storms around. Temperature: Max 18 Min 12C.