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.
Bees are about again, Spring is on it’s way, though it is still pretty cold. Male honey
bees die as soon as they have fertilised the eggs so it is only the females that survive through the winter– they huddle round the Queen in the hive, moving, to keep her warm, and only emerge to feed if it is warm enough, but they don’t hibernate. Bumble Bees are different– only the Queen survives the winter and she emerges in Spring to gather nectar for energy. You can se them out and about in warm weather now, as shown in the photo taken a couple of days ago. They then look for a nest site, gather pollen and lay eggs, having been fertilised last year. Conditions: Still, cloudy and chilly day. Temperature: Max 7- Min 3c
Frog Spawn and Marsh Marigolds, signs of Spring
– being near the Botanical Gardens today I popped in to see if Frog Spawn was there yet- sure enough, huge quantities have been laid in the shallow end, which is where the spawn has the best chance of surviving. There’s never too much- an individual female lays, on average, 4,000 eggs but predators, disease and cold destroy most of them. Watch the black centres closely- you will see them gradually change shape if they have been successfully fertilised, and survived the conditions. If the spawn goes milky, it means it has ‘died’, probably through the cold, but any that successfully hatch will eat the jelly so nothing goes to waste. If, like us, you have a lot of Newts in your pond you are unlikely to have successful spawning, since Newts are a main predator. Conditions: Overcast and still. Temperature: Max 7- Min 3c.
These wonderful Long-Tailed Tits are probably already gathering materials and building their complex nests. The nests, built by male and female working together, are usually located in dense thickets among shrubs with thorns. I haven’t see any gathering any of the 2,000 or more feathers they use to line their nests yet and will put feathers out for them in a few days, in order to help. The other three materials are lichen, moss and many spiders webs. The latter are woven into the fabric of the beautiful nests so that, as the young hatch and grow the elasticity in the webs allows the nest to expand as they do. In the meantime, we are lucky just to be able to watch these fascinating birds at the feeder. Conditions: Dreary day with drizzle and heavy rain. Temperature: Max 6- Min 3c.