KESTREL– These small falcons have declined steeply since the 1970’s and their lifespan is reduced by 50% for every 100 metres closer they live to a road. However on the east coast, this time near Spurn Point, they are still seen more frequently. Most stay on their local patch and are highly territorial, mating for life. The oldest recorded was 24 years old but mostly they live for a few years in the wild, laying 3-7 eggs and nesting in tree-holes or cavities I buildings. Their eyesight is 4 times stronger than ours, and of course they have an amazing ability to keep their heads completely still, even in blustery winds, as the hover over possible prey and then stoop-dive onto it, whether it be small mammals, birds, grasshoppers, beetles, or lizards. Like all hunters, they are only successful every few hunts but they need the equivalent of 4-8 voles a day on average, to survive. Clearly they need more than this when raising their young. Stunning birds and a treat to watch. Conditions: Strong westerly winds which isn’t helping the migrant birds come in from Northern Europe. Temperature Mild at 18 max and 99 Min. Scattered showers.
This very easily distinguished bracket fungus if fairly common in broad-leafed woodland. Reddish above and creamy-white below, they give off a blood-like red liquid if cut. Some people like to eat them, fried in flour, others find them a bit rubbery but they are definitely edible. When they grow on Oak, they can cause a brown rot that makes the wood a brown-colour. Wood like this is very sought-after by furniture makers and turners. When partly infected the oak wood can appear striped, and it is known as ‘tiger-striped oak’, again much sized by woodworkers.You can find Beefsteak bracket fungi on oak stumps. Conditions: Autumnal, cool with sunny intervals and showers. Temperature: Max 14, Min 5C.
Mantling is a behaviour used a lot by hawks. When they are protecting prey they have killed, hawks mantle, that is, they hold their wings out to obscure their prey and put off other scavengers. However, if you watch small birds like Blue and Great Tits you will see a similar behaviour. I’ve been enjoying Blue Tits competing for the fat we put out in a half coconut and a dominant bird, while feeding, will ‘mantle’, spreading its wings and sometimes its tail to scare off other Blue Tits and protect the food source for itself. By doing so I guess it appears larger and more intimidating and thus often displaces other less dominant birds. Sometimes, though, the Blue Tits will feed more happily together on the same food source so it could be, once the birds have begun gathering in flocks of mixed families, they are more at ease sharing food with closer relatives. I don’t know and can’t find anything definitive about this but enjoy watching the varied behaviour close to our window whatever the explanation! Conditions: A sunny, still spell of beautiful, mild autumn weather. Temperature: Max 19 Min 11.
Mandarin Ducks- otherwise known as The Yuan Yang, these ducks are beginning to feature more and more along wooded streams and rivers in England. They were held in collections and either escaped or were deliberately released and are proving to be very free breeders, certainly on rivers like the Derwent and Wye in Derbyshire and some of Sheffield’s parks. A few days ago we came across a group of 23 on the Derbyshire Wye, in eclipse plumage, as they moult and take on their new full plumage. Like Mallard, they tend to gather together in groups in autumn, and skulk about, since they moult so fully that they can’t fly adequately during this period. They will stay together in flocks through winter, and disperse again to new territories in spring. There is now a significant population in the UK and it has been accepted as an official British bird. These dramatic-looking ducks don’t really threaten our own species as some new colonisers might because they are fundamentally wood ducks and fill a niche that doesn’t fundamentally compete with our native ducks. They have sharp claws which enables them to scramble into their tree nest-sites, where the female, lining the nest with her own down, lays up to 10 eggs. She is distinguished by her delicate build and long pale ‘eyebrow’ marking. The biggest problem may be their use of nest-sites in trees, competing with tree-nesting native birds. especially as such sites are already under some threat from Parakeets. They are mostly quite shy and retiring birds but will change their habits when food is made available. Naturally they feed on invertebrates. Conditions: Cool breeze, blue-skied days. Temperature: Max 16 Min 10 C.
Dippers can be seen on rivers and streams, mostly in the North and West of the UK and we watched a couple on the River Wye, near Miller’s Dale, Derbyshire at the weekend. Dippers are highly territorial and a pair may use the same nest-site and territory over several years. They nest in crevices in river banks or in walls and bridges,. The same outer nest cup, built of grasses and leaves, may be re-lined each year, with small roots and hairs for their two broods of 4-5 eggs raised each year. Dippers are not much bigger than Robins and their dense, insulating feathers and powerful chest muscles enable them to submerge and swim or dip under strong currents while catching the insect larvae, freshwater shrimps etc which they feed on. Another adaptation, which you can sometimes see while they are newly emerged from underwater, is a third eyelid, or ‘nictitating membrane’, which helps them see and protects their eyes while feeding underwater. Other species, including Mallards and frogs have similar nictitating membranes for the same purpose. One of the Dippers still had a more mottled back and neck which showed it was a juvenile, lacking the completely white bib which adult Dippers sport. Of course, Dippers classically stand on stones or shingle and ‘bob’ their bodies up and down. Whether they dip or bob to help conceal their outlines, to help spot food underwater or for another reason is debatable. No-one knows for sure. Conditions: Showers and cloud. Temperature: Max 19 Min 12C.
Acorns- the crop of autumn fruits and seeds varies year on year and Acorns are no exception. Last year was poor but this year seems much improved. So will it prove to be a ‘mast year‘? There is a lot of fascinating research being carried out about ‘mast years’, which are years where trees and bushes, notably Beech and Oak, produce much heavier crops than usual. ‘Mast years’ occur every few years and the heavier crop costs the trees a lot in energy terms, reducing their ability to grow that year. Theories are emerging, though how the trees communicate over distance is still a mystery. The spring weather has something to do with it, but Dr Hacket-Pain has discovered that the trees produce similar amount of flowers each spring. Jays, mice and squirrels feed heavily on Acorns and one theory is that poor years are an evolutionary device to reduce the number of those species while mast years can then be useful to ensure spread of the trees by natural means, with the trees able to restore their strength and growth in the intervening years. Thus both good and bad years of acorn production help the species thrive and produce new individual trees, while controlling the predator populations. Jays, as you will know, really help spread Oaks by burying stashes of the Acorns they gather and, never retrieving every Acorn, some of them then germinate! There is still so much subtlety about the living world that we don’t understand. Conditions: Mild and cloudy, following a shower. Temperature: Max 4 Min 15 C.
The Mint Moth is a tiny gem of a moth that is frequenting gardens more and more. We have certainly had it turning up for the last two or three years, regularly. Only about 15-18mm with its wings open, this moth can be seen fluttering around and feeding during a sunny day, though it also flies at night. It lays it’s eggs on any mint-related plant, including Marjoram and Catmint, and feeds on small flowers like these Hebes. It also inhabits quarries, limestone areas and woods. There are two generations a year, April-June and July- September so this is the second generation. I’ll look out on my mint and marjoram for the tiny caterpillars. Conditions: Fresher breezes, with sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 20 Min 11 C.
The Common Darter is well named, as it is the most common darter species of Dragonfly we have, and it rests up on plants or fences, watching for prey which it darts out to catch before returning to its perch. It is often around from July, through late summer and even into November as it doesn’t need to warm up as much as some dragonflies, to be on the wing. The males are reddish-orange, fading to brown as they age. They have yellow bands on their thorax, visible in some of the photos. The females are yellowish when fresh and also fade as they age. They breed and spend most of their time on slow-moving water, or ponds and stagnant. ditches etc but can also be seen away from water, often perching on fences or the tops of plants, awaiting their prey or warming up. Conditions: Sunny intervals and gentle breezes following yesterday’s welcome rain as today we start our hose-pipe ban. Temperature: Max 21 Min 13C.
Great Bindweed is familiar to most gardeners, as it is very invasive and the roots can extend 5 metres or more deep, and as we know to our cost, any bit of broken root left in the soil can generate a new plant. The stem tips can completely encircle a stem they are growing up in two hours- always anti-clockwise, it is how they scramble through and up any place they grow. The beautiful flowers stay open on moonlit nights and are valuable food for bees, butterflies , hoverflies and moths, and the Convolvulus Hawkmoth caterpillars feed on their leaves. We kids loved ‘popping’ the open flowers out of their cup-like sepals says ‘Grandmother, grandmother pop out of bed’, a reference to the long white night-gowns favoured by our ancestors. Their invasiveness also led to ruder names, like ‘Devil’s Pisspot’ (Thanks to Sandra S for that name!). The related, much smaller Field or Corn Bindweed is similarly hated by farmers and gardeners, as it scrambles through crops, strangling them, a habit that has earned it the name of ‘Devil’s guts’. Field (Corn) Bindweed can be varied in colour from white to pink and white striped or just pink. Conditions: Fresher with sunny intervals. Temperature: 23 Min 13C.
HOVERFLIES: There are several (harmless to us) mimic bees and wasp Hoverflies, and here are three of the easier ones to identify. Hoverflies differ in form in several ways from Bees and Wasps so a close inspection will help, if they hang around long enough for you to do so! Hoverflies have enormous eyes, taking up most of the head. They have shorter antennae than bees and wasps, only one rather than two pairs of wings and often hover for longer. They are really useful pollinators, so very valuable in the garden and countryside. The Bumblebee Hoverfly is a great Bumblebee mimic and appears in two forms- the white-tailed and red-tailed (pictured). The larvae of these develop inside the bumblebees nest, feeding on debris. The Dronefly is a Honeybee mimic which appears in greater numbers in late summer and often can be seen feeding on Hogweed and Ivy. Their larvae are the rather unpleasant-looking rat-tailed maggots found in stagnant water. The Hornet Hoverfly is a favourite of mine and has been growing in numbers since the 1940’s, seen more often in the south of England but spreading gradually north. These, like many mimics, mimic stinging insects as a deterrent to predators. Conditions: Drought conditions in the south and many other parts of the country, with the driest July in recorded history. Temperature: Max 32 Min 15C.