Rock pools- I love Radio 4! I was just listening to a series on identifying coastal species- on radio and thinking, only the BBC would use radio successfully for such a programme, when I remembered I’d drawn lots of the species they were talking about a couple of years ago, so here is my accompanying visual aid to a lovely programme! Conditions: Tail end of storm ‘Katie’ up here, with heavy rain, now clearing to sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 7- Min 3c.
Frogs are mating in our neighbours pond again (they tend to avoid ours, probably because of the mass of Smooth Newts, which eat the spawn). There are about 40 Frogs, some in a mating ball, others in pairs. The smaller, male Frog climbs on the female’s back, and grips her round her body in a position called ‘amplexus’, sometimes staying that way for days and fertilising the masses of eggs as they are laid, with around one in fifty surviving through to adulthood. Conditions: After a beautiful warm, sunny day yesterday, today is cool, windy and wet. Temperature: Max 12- Min 4c.
Masses of spawn
Frog’s beautiful eye
A Frog mating-ball and spawn
The Robin was back eating every insect which became exposed as I continued re-digging one of our ponds today. I wasn’t sure it would tackle a Centipede and it took quite a lot of juggling to get the best grip on it. From a distance, it looked like it had acquired a handlebar moustache but eventually the Robin succeeded in overcoming the Centipede’s wriggling legs and armoured body. Conditions: Low, solid cloud on a still day. Temperature: Max 5- Min 3c.
Robin subdues Centipede!
Frogs and hibernation: I moved a stone the other day and uncovered a hibernating Frog, flattened out as they often are when hiding away in protective crevice. Now the weather is really warming up, Frogs are emerging from all their over-wintering places, preparing to enter the water. Some, mainly the smaller males, will bury themselves deep in the mud at the bottom of a pond while most will bury themselves under logs, stones or mud away from water, so even if you don’t have a pond, this is another refuge you can provide while they live out of water, slowing down all their bodily functions, like all our amphibians, to survive our winters. With luck they will then wake in mild spells and help decimate your Slug population! Conditions: Warm, still and sunny. Temperature: Max 9- Min 2c.
Frog, flattened out for hibernation
Frog, flattened for hibernation
Song Thrush taking a bath- another reason for having even a small area of shallow water in the garden! Like many people, we rarely get Song Thrushes now so this is a great treat. We are more likely to get the Mistle Thrush. As well as being smaller than the Mistle Thrush, (and a little smaller than a Blackbird), the Song Thrush has more regular, upward-pointing arrow-shaped lines of spots, a browner back and an orange underwing. The BTO do a great little video on the differences in appearance and song. Conditions: Light cloud and drizzle after very heavy rain yesterday. Temperature: Max 7- Min 3c.
Song Thrush showing arrow-shaped markings
Song Thrush showing arrow-shaped markings
Song Thrush having a dunk- orange underwing
Light brown back of Song Thrush
A Robin’s territory: Robins are one of the few birds which hold territory all year, which is why we hear them singing throughout. But this is the time they get really aggressive, even fighting to the kill sometimes. While draining the pond, I watched some territorial behaviour (on average they hold about 1/6th of a football pitch for
Like Robins everywhere, this one turned up every time I exposed fresh mud
This shows the range of feathers
Robins are a light, yellow-brown colour on their backs
breeding.) Every now and again I heard a flutter of feathers and there was the Robin, a couple of feet away, eating insects as they became exposed. Then he, and I, would hear another Robin singing and off he’d fly, visiting the extents of his territory and, when necessary, flying up in a tight spiral with the other male until one withdrew. The red breast is thought to be entirely for territorial purposes, acting like a bright flag, for display. Conditions: A cool, still, grey day after days of ice and sunshine. Temperature: Max 6- Min 4c.
Busy male Wrens. Look what came very near me to feed on uncovered insects today, as I cleaned out the old pond. Male Wrens start their beautiful, loud singing in early spring, establishing their territories and maintaining them aggressively if another male approaches. Males in the South are also incredibly active, building 5 or 6
Wren finding insects in the drained pond
Both Wren and Robin took advantage of the pond being drained
nests for females to inspect. Females usually choose the best camouflaged (most ‘cryptic’), which they proceed to line before laying their eggs. In the South, a male Wren may mate with more than one female. In the North, where food resources are less plentiful and the season shorter, they build fewer and are more attentive to the female which chooses one! Conditions: Sunny spells and a little sleet. Temperature: Max 5- Min -1c.
Wren, showing its pale eye-stripe and chequered pattern on wing edge and tail
Wren showing its ‘sail’ tail.
Rook digging around in a cow pat
One Rook displaying to another
Rook showing its purplish plumage
The Rook showing its bare cheeks.
Rook: People sometimes struggle to tell Corvids apart so here’s the Rook, showing its distinguishing feature- bare cheeks. Similar size to a Crow (Jackdaws are smaller and have grey backs to their neck), sociable Rooks also have lovely purplish plumage. We grew up with the saying “See a Rook on its own it’s a Crow, see a Crow in a crowd it’s a Rook”. This is often true though Crows will flock in small groups, especially out of breeding season, so bare cheeks are a better identifier. Rooks eat a range of insects, fruits and seeds but they love nothing more than digging around in a cow pat, for invertebrates, as you will see! Conditions: We are promised snow and sun today. Temperature: Max 5- Min 2c.