Cunning Herring Gulls– One of mum’s favourite sights, along the prom at Bexhill-on-Sea, is to watch the gulls prizing shells off the rocks at low tide, flying up above the shingle beach and dropping the shells, repeatedly, until they crack open and they can eat the flesh. Later, parked along the front among many other cars, an even cannier adult and juvenile somehow spotted that I was eating a sandwich in the car, flew immediately down, and stood on the bonnet, their beaks against the windscreen, squawking at me for food! Such adaptable scavengers. Conditions: Blue skies and cold air. Temperature: Max 6- Min -2c.
Spindle- definitely my favourite berry of the year, we have a Spindle tree in the garden but the crop of beautiful berries is definitely better in Sussex, as here in my sisters garden. This lovely hard-wood, small tree provides nectar for bees in spring, great autumn leaf-colour and these wonderful berries, eaten by the thrush family. Stems were used to make ‘spindles’ and used by the ‘spinsters’, women workers in the early spinning industry. Also known as ‘skewer wood’ and ‘peg wood’, it is now used for high quality drawing charcoal. Conditions: Cool and cloudy. Temperature: Max 9- Min 4C.
Woodpeckers, like this female adult Great Spotted Woodpecker at the end of our garden (no red on top of head, like juvenile, or back of neck like adult male) is closing and opening its eyes for every hammer. This is thought to help keep wood chips out of its eyes, but more important to prevent the force of the hammering popping its eyeballs out of their sockets. But there again, it was thought we close our eyes when we sneeze for the same reason, but now this is discredited, so who knows. Anyway, this also shows the value of putting dead wood, lying or upright, in your garden- woodpeckers will feed on insects in the wood. Conditions: Down South is breezy and sunny. Temperature: Max 10- Min 6C
The UK’s Chaffinch populations are boosted over winter by Scandinavian migrants. Winter Chaffinches exhibit ‘differential migration’. Females are more likely to travel further west and south west, hence we have more Chaffinches in the garden than in summer, and most are female. Males are dominant in winter, and females dominant during the breeding season, when the male accompanies them everywhere.
It is thought that females are pushed further afield in competition for scarce food in winter. In the South and East, the majority is likely to be male, hence their nickname ‘bachelor bird’ (males’ caps are grey in winter- the blue only emerges as the grey tips wear off in spring). Conditions: Heavy, continuous rain, but lacking the strong winds experienced in the South of England. Temperature: Max 6- Min 6c.
Female Blackbirds are busy eating our ‘Joseph Rock’ Rowan berries. Female Blackbirds are quite aggressive in the breeding season, when competing for good nesting sites, and they do most of the nest building and all the incubation. Breeding is from early March till July. Only 30-40% of broods successfully raise young, though the percentage is higher in town nests than in rural areas, despite clutches being smaller. Pairs stay together for life. Conditions: Sun with increasing cloud. Temperature: Max 6- Min 2C.
Ring-necked Parakeet– The UK’s only naturalised parrot, here’s a first in our garden! It turned up, screeching, in the Rowan outside the window, in very low light, (hence blurring). A pair were reported yesterday in nearby Roe Woods. This could be female, as it appears to lack the ringed marking on the neck. First recorded breeding in 1969 in the UK, from escapee caged-birds, big flocks of these bright and loud birds are now
seen in the South East. A pair were also spotted in Sheffield in 2003. Conditions: Heavy showers and cool. Temperature: Max 7- Min 2C.
Sulphur Tuft fungi– a common and poisonous fungi. So many fungi are hard to identify, or localised in their growth, so here is one that is widespread, can be seen at any time of the year and grows on rooting conifer and deciduous wood and tree stumps. Starting off a brighter yellow, more orange in the centre, they grow in clumps and become paler and more cream/brown-coloured as they mature. Conditions: Mild, with some sun following the biggest full moon last night for seventy years. Temperature: Max 14- Min 8C.
Waxwing alert- these stunning (small) winter migrants from Scandinavia are beginning to be seen near Sheffield, and could turn up in any part of the country where there is a good supply of late berries and fruits, though they will also feed on insects. These photo’s are from Sheffield in 2012,when many of these
crested and colourful birds turned up. Some years there are very few- keep your eyes peeled or look on Waxwing Sightings 2016, which has updates from all over. Better still, plant a cotoneaster or similar that has late berries. Conditions: Cool and cloudy. Temperature: Max 7- Min 3C
The Mute Swan, our biggest bird (2.4 metre wingspan) and one of the heaviest flying birds in the world, is well known.
Bewick and Whooper Swans will be migrating into the UK this winter, but the Mute Swan is ever-present, not moving far from its territory, which it defends aggressively. Traditionally, all Mute Swans belong to the monarch, and were eaten. Protected now, their numbers are increasing and the ban on lead fishing weights is helping, as fewer get poisoned. Conditions: Cold and cloudy with rain and snow predicted over night. Temperature: Max 6- Min 1C.
Waxcaps- I am finding far fewer Fungi than usual, maybe due to the exceptionally dry, warm October but here are some Waxcaps which sprang up through the dew. In the UK, Waxcaps are usually found in grassland, have strong colours and are often bright and shiny. For help online with identifying our Fungi, the somewhat prosaically named website ‘British Fungi and some Slime Moulds’ is very good! Conditions: Colder and more seasonal, but still dry and bright. Temperature: Max 9- Min 6C.