14th December 2017

Some insect and extinction facts to fascinate and depress: Insects have been on earth 1,000 times longer than humans. In the first week of November this year 95 new species of beetle were identified in Madagascar alone. In what is being called the ‘sixth extinction’ many will become extinct before even identified, and at a precipitous rate. As well as extinction, there is devastating reduction in populations: recent studies in European nature reserves recorded a 75% decline in insects. Insects are crucial in all food chains, in pollination, in ‘cleaning up’ dead plants and animals- in many more ways. They have been overlooked in all conservation projects, in favour of more ‘cuddly’ creatures further up the food chain. Here are a few local, overlooked insects

Noeeta pupillata

Shield Bug

Scorpion Clearwing

. Conditions: Wet and dreary, to match the blog!. Temperature: Max 4- Min 1C.

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12th December 2017

Our Siskin population is boosted by migrants during the winter months. The migrants, and the native populations can be seen feeding on their favourite conifer, Alder and Birch seeds but are increasingly taking to peanuts and seeds from feeders in gardens, like these  in Pitsmoor today. Siskins are predominantly olive green and citrus yellow, and are smaller, and more streakily marked than the two finches you could, at first glance, confuse them with – Greenfinch and Goldfinch. Conditions: Icy and blue-skied following the coldest night of the year so far. Temperature: Max 2- Min tonight, 1C.

Male Siskin

Female Siskin

10th December 2017

Hawfinch– if, like me, you have never seen our rarest finch (hence the need to draw it- no photo’s) then this winter may be your best chance. Our small, native population has been boosted by 1,000’s rather than the usual 100’s of winter migrants from their main over-wintering areas of Romania and Germany, which have a bad harvest of their favoured fruits and seeds, while we have an unusually high harvest this year. Shy birds, they particularly favour Hornbeam and Yew but you may even see them in your garden. Conditions: Forecast snow beginning to fall- I’ve just put some water out for the birds- crucial during icy spells. Temperature: Max 1 Min -2C.

6th December 2017

Chaffinches from Scandinavia begin to double our native populations now. As usual, we have more female than male, which is due to differential migration. The 18th Century naturalist, Linnaeus, noticed this when he gave them their scientific name, Fringilla Coelebs. Coelebs means ‘unmarried’ and in his home Scandinavia he noted more males than females over winter, assuming they were bachelors. Males are more dominant in winter, and can forage for food better in colder areas, so females are more likely to migrate  West  to find enough food. However, female Chaffinches dominate in summer. Conditions: Mild and cloudy with heavy rain and strong winds moving in tonight. Temperature: Max 10- Min 8C.

Female Chaffinch

Female Chaffinch

Male Chaffinch

Female and Male Chaffinch drawing

1st December 2017

This healthy, (ringed) female Sparrowhawk, flying in yesterday, at first scared all the other birds away. After a couple of minutes, a Magpie landed in the same tree and started to approach. They eyeballed each other but it wasn’t until a second Magpie arrived that the first dared to get really close and scare the Sparrowhawk off. Meanwhile, the little birds quickly pick up, from body language, whether the Hawk is in hunting mode–  after 3 or 4 minutes, six Blue Tits had  reappeared in the tree and happily fed a few feet from her. Conditions: Cold and bright. Temperature: Max 5- Min 3C.

Female (note the ring) Sparrowhawk

Magpie scares off Sparrowhawk

 

30th November 2017

New data on, appropriately, Darwin’s Finches, in the Galapagos, show definitively that new species can arise in as little as two generations. Closer to home, studies show that this lovely species, the Goldfinch, is evolving longer bills. This is thought to be an adaptation to garden feeders, which they increasingly visit- we have a small charm every day at present. Males already have longer bills than females, enabling them to obtain seeds from Teasels. Conditions: Cold, with sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 6- Min -1C.

Goldfinch

Goldfinch

Goldfinch

26th November 2017

The Oak Marble Gall, produced by one of 30 UK Oak Gall Wasp species, arrived here from the Middle East in the 1800’s. Still be seen on Oaks now, they have a small hole where the gall wasp has emerged in autumn. Rich in Tannic Acid, ink made from the Oak Marble Gall has been used since the middle ages, on many ancient documents- traces have been found on the Dead Sea Scrolls. The first recipe was given by the Roman, Pliny the Elder. The ink has long been superseded as it fades and can damage the page.

Oak Marble Gall