The first spears of Algerian Winter Iris appeared- gently pull a flower stalk and bring it inside and it virtually opens before your eyes, giving off a delicate scent of primroses. A gorgeous and hardy plant given me by a friend some years ago, who helpfully said it flowers best if put against an edge, like a path or wall, west or south facing. Easy to split and give away once established, though it can be susceptible to slug damage. Conditions: A bleak, heavily clouded and rainy day with cold winds increasing, becoming more southerly. Temperature: Max 6 – Min 2c.The wettest January for 100 years for many parts of England, especially the south and west where more floods are forecast. Meanwhile California had it’s driest year on record and recently declared a drought.
When I was growing up the Dunnock was called the house sparrow. It’s name comes from the Ancient British word ‘dunnakos’ meaning little brown one. Males and females are very similar in plumage. It is robin-sized and spends most of it’s time feeding on insects on the ground or in hedges. It is shy and often overlooked. I think, with it’s streaked brown back, greyish head and chest and bright pink/orange legs, it is a bird worth taking more notice of. Its thin, tinkling song is also beautiful. Conditions: Flurries of snow and sleet, and heavy cloud al day. Temperature: Max 4 (at night!) and Min 2c (in the day)
Since it’s one of those January days where it rains and never seems to get light, I thought I’d pay tribute to Sheffield’s wonderful wildflower and meadow planting schemes, which spring up on empty building plots, roadside verges, parks and open spaces. A combination of initiatives over the years by the City Council, Sheffield Wildlife Trust, Green Estates, Sheffield University and voluntary groups, they reflect Sheffield’s Biodiversity Action Plan. As you probably know, Sheffield University Landscapes Department also designed the wonderful Olympic Parks wildflower planting. This year, anyone driving to Rotherham would also have seen their ‘River of Colour’ meadow planting of roadside verges and central reservations- as beautiful as Sheffield’s. Conditions: Slight Easterly breeze, rain or cloud. Temperature: Max 5- Min 1
The journey through collective nouns continues as a charm of Goldfinches turned up this morning! Here they are feeding on their winter favourite, nyger seed, though they’ll also enjoy sunflower hearts . Males and females are very similar, males having a slighter larger red mask which extends further behind the eye. They are smaller than greenfinches, and have more pointed, slimmer beaks which can tease out seed from thistles, ragwort, teasels etc. Thousands were trapped and caged during the Victorian era, valued for their beautiful plumage and song. Their population slumped again in the 70’s and 80’s, probably due to herbicide use.
Conditions: Wet, cold start. The southerly winds of the past few weeks beginning to veer to the east. Temperature: Max 6 – Min 4c
Only just enough light to catch this Grey Heron– they stripped ours and next doors ponds of fish, years ago, but come occasionally for frogs and newts. Herons will also eat small birds and mammals. In the 16th and 17th centuries they were hunted as a sport using Peregrine Falcons! This ancient-looking bird nests in colonies high in trees and returns year after year, from January on, building their nests up with new sticks. The oldest known continual heronry is in Kent and dates from at least 1293. There’s a good one on the lake at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. They have a great collective noun too- a siege of Herons! Once, a friend donated a plastic heron, hoping to deter a real heron from poaching the fish. It failed!
Conditions: A very still, mostly dry, cool day. Temperature: Max 6 – Min 3c
While doing the RSPB Garden Birdwatch, a male Greenfinch turned up. They are the size of sparrows, have olive green plumage and lemon yellow marks on their wings and tail. Females are duller coloured yet still have the yellow marks. Their strong beaks, good for cracking open seeds, are flesh coloured. Greenfinches increasingly rely on garden feeding as farmlands have less stubble left over winter and less nesting sites. They nest in colonies in dense shrubs. Their populations are also threatened by a parasite which hampers their ability to feed. Conditions: Following yesterday’s storms, a very wet morning giving way to bright spells. Temperature: Max 6 – Min 1.
The Great Tits are in very bright plumage now. They are the biggest tits, and easily distinguished by their white cheeks, green backs, and black stripe down their chests. Males have a broader black stripe than females. It’s also quite easy to tell their calls- one loud ‘pink’ or the two note ‘teacher, teacher’.Like blue tits, they only have one brood a year and on average only one adult and one young survives into next year. (There will inevitably be some days away from this blog, but it will resume another day!)
Conditions: Fog and low cloud. Temperature: Max 8 – Min 4c
A Murder of Crows turned up in the garden today! Seven gathered in the poplars- they have increasingly visited the local gardens over the last few years. Despite their collective noun, (crows were often associated with death in folklore) crows are very sociable, caring and intelligent birds. They mate for life. Some species have been observed making, as well as using tools. They will eat almost anything and live almost anywhere- the only part of the world without crows is The Antarctic! Other good collective nouns for birds include an ostentation of peacocks and a parliament of owls. Even if you see only a few birds it’s worth spending an hour this coming weekend doing the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch– they have forms and identification charts on-line.
CONDITIONS: Heavy frost, with bright spells. Another still, dry day. TEMPERATURE: Max 10 – Min 8.
Although I wouldn’t trust the ancient belief that wearing a wreath of Ivy leaves will prevent you getting drunk, and though all parts are poisonous to people, native Ivy is a great wildlife plant! It’s leaves provide shelter and nesting places, and don’t harm mature trees as once thought. At ground-level leaves also reduce frost, enabling foraging by birds on woodland floors in cold spells. It’s flowers provide late autumn sources of nectar for insects like bees, hover flies and butterflies. The berries, occurring in late winter, are a food source for thrushes and blackbirds. Unusually the leaf shape changes depending on where Ivy is growing. Against a surface the leaves are typical ‘Ivy’ shaped. In sun the plant will bush out, the leaves become smooth edged and the flowers and fruits start to develop.
Conditions: Crisp, cold sunny day after heavy frost. Temperature: Max 5 – Min 1c
Today four Bullfinches turned up – two males and two females. Females, though lacking the males rosy chest, are beautifully marked. Adult Bullfinches are vegetarian and adapt well to gardens, feeding on the buds of fruit trees, forsythia etc. Their strong beaks easily crack open seeds. While they start by feeding their young on regurgitated insects they soon wean them onto a vegetarian diet.
Conditions: Warm sun all morning, clouding over but staying dry. Temperature: Max 7c – Min 0c.