Male Chaffinches, like most of our birds, are really coming into their brightest plumage by now, ready for breeding. The greyer feathers of their winter caps are growing out, revealing the blue cap typical of spring and summer. We are seeing quite a lot of Chaffinches compared to some years, but mostly the males right now. Females are probably busy building their cup-shaped nests in the fork of trees, preferring open woodland but the nests could be in gardens and parks, too. They lay 4-5 eggs and both parents feed the young. Chaffinches are Passerines,a word that used to puzzle me but it just means perching birds. However, like Robins and Blackbirds, some are learning to hover by hanging feeders and grabbing a morsel of seed. Conditions: Strong winds and heavy showers through the night, with sunny intervals, hail and rain showers and strong gusts of wind in the day. Temperature: Max 8- Min 2c.
Tree Bumblebees are one of the earliest species to be about in spring and are, thankfully, pretty easy to identify, unlike many Bees. They only arrived from mainland Europe in 2001 but now inhabit most of England and Wales. The Queens, which are out feeding and searching for nest-sites now, vary in size but like the later drones, which are usually smaller, they have reddish to tawny brown thoraxes, black middles and always have a white tail, although the amount of white varies. The Queens look for nesting sites well above ground level and it is not uncommon to find one choosing a bird-box with a nest in it, as we had a few years ago. They can drive the Blue or
Great Tits out! They are very good pollinators so very welcome in the garden. Conditions: Sunny morning followed by wet afternoon and evening. Temperature: Max 9- Min 6c.
Wrens nesting habits are fascinating. Male Wrens are fierce territory holders and you will hear their loud and beautiful song from early spring, defending their chosen area. The males in the South will build up to five nests (less in the north) and show a female, hoping that she will find one suitable! The nests are usually in thickets but, with the Wren population doing well at the moment, they will also stray into gardens and use open-fronted nesting boxes, as one did last year in out garden. Once she approves a nest, the female will take over and line it with feathers. We emptied our box this week and had to pull the nest apart a bit to get it out- you can see a couple of eggs which didn’t hatch were still in the nest. A male Wren was investigating another of our bird-boxes the other day but being a box with a hole rather than open fronted it is unlikely to build in it. That and the fact that
have their eye on it and scared the Wren away! Conditions: Rain and a strong westerly breeze turning into sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 8- Min 3c.
Bumblebees are gradually increasing in numbers. I watched this one, probably an Early Bumblebee, as it was quite small for a Queen (all Bumblebees emerging from hibernation are Queens as only they survive winter), with a red tail and two yellow bands. Many species are hard to identify, especially after winter when they can be pretty faded. Whichever species, it immersed itself in a daffodil and emerged so covered in pollen that, as it revved up it’s wings to take off you can see the pollen flying off it. Conditions: Mild with showers, sunny intervals and a gusty south-westerly breeze. Temperature: Max 11- Min 7c.
Spring flowers in the sunshine today, providing nectar for early insects and pleasure for us gardeners. The Winter Irises and Primroses have been particularly floriferous this year. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen these plants with more flowers on them, any other spring. Conditions: A mostly sunny day with some cloud. Temperature: Max 9- Min 3c.
Dunnocks and bouncing hail, today! Many birds are showing mating or nesting behaviour by now. The Dunnocks are wing- and tail-flicking to attract females. Dunnocks have recently been discovered to have very varied mating behaviours. Some pairs are monogamous, some breeding involves 2 males with one or 2 females and in some cases a male from another territory has been discovered pecking at the cloaca of a female to dislodge any previous sperm before mating with the female himself. While watching the displaying Dunnocks (they were called Hedge Sparrows when we were young) a very heavy hailstorm occurred with the hail bouncing several inches back off the ground, it landed with such a thud! Conditions: Cool with some sun and showers.
Temperature: Max 7- Min 2c.
A little round-up today, partly to check if my new blog memory is up and running yet- I’ve used all my free space in the last year and have bought a load of memory to keep going with (Wish I could do the same for my brain). The cold weather and winds have delayed the spring migration of birds from Europe arriving here. Conditions are supposed to improve in a few days so Chiff-Chaffs etc may begin to appear soon. The Cuckoos have started their migration and you can track them on the BTO Cuckoo Tracking link (Stanley, it tells you, is moving west through Ghana!) . The Sheffield Peregrine webcam shows they now have two eggs (correction from just now- I was looking at last years!!). And if your community hasn’t done this yet, how about taking a leaf out of the Bradfield book and creating a Community Orchard for wildlife, local people and visitors to enjoy. Here’s the notice we came across walking yesterday. Even a short line of ‘edible hedge’ in your garden, with current bushes, blueberries, raspberries etc can be brilliant. Conditions: A dull day, with a cold breeze continuing the cool spring. Temperature: Max 10- Min 2c.