Grey Wagtail: Seen on most fast flowing streams and rivers in and around Sheffield, and occasionally on our garden pond, these very active birds feed at speed on insects in and above the water. Why do wagtails wag their tails? As well as signalling to each other, It is thought this wagging flushes out the insects all wagtails feed on, and helps power and guide the little flights they do to catch flying prey. Although they have bright yellow rumps, they are easy to distinguish from the much less common Yellow Wagtail, having a grey back. Best time to see them: uplands in summer and lower areas in winter. Conditions: Sunny intervals with a breeze. Temperature: Max 19- Min 13C.
The Wall Butterfly- I was excited, out in Derbyshire yesterday, to see my first Wall Butterfly since I was a child, until I learned they have declined by 86% since 1976. Research indicates global warming is the reason. It is thought that a whole generation is lost, especially in the South, by warmer weather which prompts the butterflies to hatch in autumn and fail to survive winter, instead of remaining as caterpillars/pupae through the winter, hatching in spring. The Wall is a gorgeously patterned amber and brown, with exquisite cryptic markings on the underwings (see photos). Typically, they rest on stony paths or walls, hence the name,
and fly up as you approach, re-settling a few feet ahead, as these did. Conditions: Cloudy with rain. Temperature: Max 20- Min 13C.
Vetches, of the legume (pea) family can be hard to tell apart so here are a couple of common, easy purple ones. Tufted Vetch is the deepest purple, with many long flowers growing up one side of the stem. Favouring damp areas it needs plants to scramble up through. Using its spiral tendrils, as do the other vetches, it grows as high as 2 metres in places. Great for pollinating bumble bees, it’s relatively large seeds are a favourite of birds (and some humans! Must be tedious to collect). Bush Vetch, as its name suggests, is altogether broader and squatter– scrambling in tangles through low vegetation, with broader leaves and clusters of flowers which vary more in colour, from clover to purple and blue. We have some on the garden- bees love it, too. Conditions: Foggy and wet. Temperature: Max 18- Min 14C.
Common Blue Butterfly- the most likely blue butterfly to be spotted in the UK, (outside of parks and gardens, where Holly Blue is more prevalent- see earlier post). The male has bright blue upper wings but the female is predominantly brown, with very variable degrees of blue. Both male and female have patterned underwings, with the orange marks distinguishing Common Blue from Holly Blue. A small but strong-flying butterfly it even turns up in Orkney and on wasteland or wild grassland anywhere in the UK except the high mountain. A gorgeous sight, with two broods yearly, populations vary widely from year to year. I’ve seen far fewer this year. Caterpillars feed on Clover and Bird’s Foot Trefoil. Conditions: Sweltering day. Temperature: Max 26- Min-16 C.
St John’s Worts – there are many wild St John’s Wort species (Hypericums) so here are a couple of easy-to- identify species out now- Perforated St John’s Wort, widely used in herbalism, has bright yellow flowers with tiny, blood-coloured spots around the petal-edges. Just hold a leaf up to the light and the eponymous ‘perforations’ (actually translucent glands) will clearly show up (see photo). Broken stems give off a deep red sap. Bog St John’s Wort is a bit less common, likes damp grassy areas and has glaucous, fleshy leaves. Old flower heads look distinctly orange. Conditions: Drier spells following two days of welcome,
heavy rain. Temperature: Max 19- Min 17C
Teasels and Bees– Teasel-heads contain hundreds of flowers which emerge over time in rings up and down the head. The whole plant- stem, leaves and all- is spiky! A brilliant provider of nectar and pollen for different bees and insects, the seeds are taken by Goldfinches in autumn– though only the male has a long enough bill to reach the seeds. I love having Teasels in the garden, though they do seed around. This is the first time I’ve noticed how, once the tiny flowers are older and have given all the food they can, the action of the bee feeding pulls the flower out altogether, or maybe it deliberately pulls them out once redundant, I don’t know. Conditions: Sunny spells. Temperature: Max 23- Min 14C
Holly Blue Butterfly- If you live south of a Cumbria/`Durham line, and you see a fast-moving blue Butterfly zig-zagging through your garden or park it is most likely to be the delicate Holly Blue. Hard to photograph, this female of this blue Butterly has a dark edge to its forewing. The larvae, which feed mainly on Holly, Ivy and Spindle are parasitised by the Ichneumon Wasp. causing huge variations in populations from year. We have only seen one this year in the garden, but it is a really poor year for Butterflies in general. Conditions: Very sunny. Temperature: Max 22- Min 13C.
Green Woodpeckers have specially evolved salivary glands which emit a sticky substance onto their very long tongues, enabling the gathering of thousands of ants which live just under the surface of unimproved grassland and lawns. Their bills are relatively weak and they don’t drum on trees like Spotted Woodpeckers do. Male and female adults are very similar but close inspection shows the male have red in their black moustaches, as does this one. Conditions: Sunny spells and breezy. Temperature: Max 20- Min15C.
Juvenile Green Woodpeckers: shy birds, hence the rather blurred photo’s. Green Woodpeckers, our largest Woodpecker, nest in the same tree year after year, and have one brood of 4-7 young annually. Both adults feed the young in the nest- a study estimates that an
astounding 1,500,000 ants and pupae are fed to a brood of 7 Green Woodpeckers in the nest! Young have much streakier plumage than adults and when they fledge one adult usually takes half the brood each to show them where and how to forage. Conditions: Cloud and sun. Temperature: Max 19- Min 13C.
Two Fleabanes out now: the yellow Common Fleabane (below providing food for a Common Blue) resembles a small sunflower, but with glaucous, ‘furry’ leaves. It grows in damp areas and ditches and is more scarce further North. It contains an insecticide and was used, fresh or dried and burned, to ward off the many fleas that thrived in herbs and rushes strewn on floors in past times, the Romans used it in wreathes. The less showy Blue Fleabane grows in drier areas, grasslands and dunes. It was used to treat tooth-ache. Conditions: Sunny day. Temperature: Max 20- Min 12C.