29th March 2020

Primroses – I have covered this in previous years but then, I know people love them, and forget some details as well as there being some new people to the blog. Primroses are really making a come-back along lanes and roads, probably thanks to less road-verge cutting as well as my (grandma among many others no longer digging up plants and putting them in their gardens!) Primroses have evolved a clever way to encourage cross-pollination rather than self-pollination, which makes them more resilient. If you look at the centre of the flowers, some are ‘pin-eyed’ with the female part or stigma  prominent and the other, the ‘thrum-eyed’ have the male pollen-bearing anthers prominent (see photos). But further down the flower-tube hides the opposite part of the reproductive organs. This arrangement means that, when an insect visits each flower, they  don’t pollinate that flower but one of the opposite arrangement. You can carefully pull the petals of a flower to reveal either the anthers or stigma below whichever is uppermost. Primroses are brilliant for early butterflies, bees and smaller insects. Really worth having in your garden (easy to buy native

Buff-tailed Bumblebee on Primrose

Primrose

 

Primrose, pin-eye

Thrum-eyed native Primrose

plants online)- you can split them into several plants, every couple of years and pass on to others, Conditions: Cooler but mainly dry spell of weather. Temperature: Max 8 Min 4 C.

27th March 2020

Bee Fly- we have just started having visits from this extraordinary little fly again, which disguises itself as a Bee in order to parasitise the larvae of ground-nesting Bumblebees. Numbers seem to be in a good balance though so you don’t need to be too worried about their unusual  life-style. At present you will see these little balls of fluff, with their semi-transparent wings and brilliant ability to hover, feeding up on things like Forget-me-nots and Pulmonaria. Then they will start hovering a few feet above the ground, watching for ground nesting bee nests. Next, they gather small particles of sand, cover each of their eggs with it, to give the weight and disguise, and fly down past he nest opening, flicking eggs into the nest. The eggs will rest

Bee Fly

Bee Fly

Bee Fly

Bee Fly

their until the bee eggs hatch and then feed on the young. An amazing evolutionary pattern acted out in your local patch of flowers or weeds. Conditions: A sunny, warm spell. Temperature: Max 12 Min 3 C. 

22nd March 2020

Buff-tailed Bumblebee- it is that time of year again when Queen Bumblebees start to buzz around the garden. Yesterday this very healthy-looking Queen Bumblebee spent ages on a daffodil stem, hardly moving and trying to warm her body up so she had the energy to feed. Today, a few degrees warmer and no stiff breeze and there were several speeding from Plum blossom to a real favourite of early bees, the common Pulmonaria (Lungwort). All the bumblebees you see at this time of year are Queen’s, as they are the only bumblebees to overwinter- hibernating in undergrowth or a sheltered spot. They need to feed-up to replace lost energy and start losing for nesting-sites. Buff-tailed Bumblebees are one of the most common and have two amber bands plus a lighter tail. Only the Queen’s tail end is buff-coloured so the is the time to learn to identify them, as later workers and males have whiter tails and can easily be confused with other species.

Buff-tailed Bumblebee Queen

Buff-tailed Bumblebee Queen, feeding

Buff-tailed Bumblebee Queen

Buff-tailed Bumblebee Queen

14th March 2020

Long-tailed Tits are nest-building– I love this time of year in the garden- Primroses, Celandines, Wood Anemones,  Daffodils, Crocuses, Pulmonaria all flowering well, and birds beginning to display and pair-up, while the beautiful Long-tailed Tits flit through and pick up any stray, downy feathers they can use in their mammoth engineering feat of building their stunning nests, somewhere in Roe Woods. The light was bad today so apologies for the photos but this Long-tailed Tit gathered one feather of the extraordinary 2,000-2,500 a pair will need to build  their dome-

Long-tailed Tit gathering feathers for its nest

Long-tailed Tit with feather for nest-building

Long-tailed Tit nest

nests. The nests are well hidden and therefore hard to find so I did a drawing some years ago, which I include again today. If you can put any small, downy feathers out for them please do- not only to help them but to watch them gathering the feathers in their tiny bills, often several a a time. Conditions: Cloudy and still day. Temperature: Max 11 – 9C.

11th March 2020

Mallard breeding- Mallards pair up in October and November, performing displays including head-bobbing. The female build her nest, lining it with downy feathers plucked from her own breast. Mating can involve her being weighed down so she disappears completely underwater for periods of time (see photo’s). The clutch size, around 12, laid one every couple of days, is stressful as she lays over half her body weight over this period. She then needs to rest and feed-up intensively but at this point she is sometimes under threat. An isolated female Mallard can be targeted by a group of males who aggressively attempt to mate with or rape her and, on

Mating Mallards

Mating Mallards- the female is nearly underwater

Mating Mallards- female completely underwater

Mating Mallards

some occasions, this can lead to drowning. So, look out for the female Mallard– not as brightly coloured as the male but a bird that has to face many stresses in their drive to successfully raise a nestfull of ducklings. Conditions: A spring-like day. Temperature: Min 3 Max 12 C.

7th March 2020

Common Polypody fern– I love these ferns, that are so bright at this time of year, on damp banks, walls or ditches, like these along Spratt’s Hollow in Catsfield, East Sussex. They are ladder-like in their form and the dots, showing up so well backlit in these photos, are the spores by which they reproduce, although they also spread by stem growth. These are also the native ferns you may see in damp woodlands, where they can often be seen as ‘epiphytes’, that is, plants which are found growing on another plants, because in our UK rain forests in West Scotland and Wales they can be seen growing on trees. You can get other cultivated varieties of Polypody for the garden. Conditions: A rare sunny, dry, mild day yesterday. Temperature: Max 10 Min 8 c.

Common Polypody fern

Common Polypody fern

Common Polypody fern

5th March 2020

Ring-necked Parakeets are now getting a bit worrrying in our garden in Sheffield centre- a flock of 9 flew into our Oak a couple of days ago, so the flock-numbers are already building locally. These acrobatic, strikingly beautiful and noisy Parakeets are already building high numbers in parts of London, but up until now we have only had a handful. Not only do they eat a lot of the food needed by other species but, naturalising and breeding more, they will also be taking up many of the nesting-sites such as holes in trees that other birds have been using. So, will they settle at a sustainable level or out-compete native species? The jury is out at present but they are clearly successful as far north as Sheffield already. Conditions: A very wet day again. Rivers high and some flooding. Temperature: Max 7 Min 3 c.