Black-headed gulls are in the process of regaining their black (more chocolate-brown really) heads. These noisy and sociable gulls can be seen in almost every park and lake in the UK. Losing the dark colouring in winter, you can see all stages of their plumage-change at present, among different individuals. I was photographing these on Galley Hill, when a young man stopped his cycle-ride to ask what I was photographing.
Dark head almost full on this individual
This individual is getting its breeding plumage
This one is starting to get it’s breeding plumage
This Black-headed Gull is still in winter plumage
He frightened the gulls away but never mind- he hadn’t realised they change over the seasons. He cycled off, then returned up-hill to ask if it was true of males and females- it is! Conditions: Heavy cloud, high winds and rain later. Temperature: Max 11- Min 7C.
Fieldfare, a winter thrush which, like the Redwing, migrates to the UK between October and April, from Scandinavia and Iceland. I watched a small mixed flock hunting insects and worms on their favourite rough grazing, this morning. I couldn’t get good photo’s so include my drawing, to show how much bigger the Fieldfare is than the Redwing. Fieldfare’s are described as having a loud ‘chuckle’, very distinctive– go to the RSPB website to hear this and all uk bird calls and songs. Fieldfares are on the red (endangered) list. Conditions: Glorious sunny morning. Temperature: Max 8- Min 3C.
Fieldfare (above) and Redwing
Fieldfare, in front and Redwing, behind, feeding on insects
Snowdrops are gracing our gardens and parks, and this is the best time to buy and plant any of the many varieties- in the green. An excellent on-line nursery for them, which grows its own plants, has free p and p this week (on orders over £20.00- code PP420)- Ashridge Trees- great for edible hedges, fruit bushes and lots more, too. Unlike Daffodils, don’t dead-head Snowdrops – ants gather the seeds, plac them in their nurseries, where the emerging larvae feed on their sticky coating. The ant’s faeces help fertilise the intact seeds, which then grow into new plants in another part of the garden! Conditions: Blustery, with sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 10- Min 6C.
Helping Long-Tailed Tits, which start making their nests early. Astonishingly, they need 1,500- 2,500 downy feathers to line every nest. If you can get hold of any feathers, put them out in a feeder or net with small enough mesh to contain them and big enough for the Long-tailed Tits to collect them. As well as helping them, it is fun watching them gathering as many as they can at once, as these photo’s in our garden show. Condition: Mild and cloudy. Temperature: Max 12- Min 8C.
Long Tailed Tits
Long Tailed Tit
Long Tailed Tit
Hazel- the familiar, lemon-coloured catkins appear in January and February, long before the leaves. Look more carefully on the same stems and you will find the tiny, red, female flowers. These are fertilised by the clouds of wind-blown pollen from the ‘lambs-tail’ catkins. The pollen is hard for bees to collect- being wind-pollinated, the pollen is not sticky as it is for insect-pollinated plants, so each grain resists adhering to the next. Hazel is very useful to other wild-life and people have used it for millennia, especially valuing its flexible growth when young and its straight stems for walking sticks and bean poles, hurdles and handles when coppiced. Conditions: Mild and cloudy. Temperature: Max 11- Min 7C.
Hazel catkin and female flower
Hazel female flower
Goldcrest,- weighing the same as a 20 pence piece, the UK’s smallest bird is back in our garden and their call is worth listening out for. Usually eating insects on and around conifers, these stunning, very active, ‘busy’ birds venture into gardens more in cold winters. Their call is so sweet and high-pitched it is beyond some people’s hearing range- described as “Siii Siii” (!), if you can’t hear it, look out for it among conifers any time of year- flitting through vegetation, picking at small insects. Conditions: Still, light cloud. Temperature: Max 9- Min 5C.
Adult male Siskin
Adult male Siskin
Siskins are back on our feeders. These beautiful and agile finches, about the size of a Blue Tit, only appear here and on most garden bird-feeders after New Year, boosted by winter migrants, but they are a joy to watch. Feeding naturally on Alder and Conifer (especially Sitka Spruce) seeds, they come into gardens when seeds are scarce and especially on wet days, when cones close up, which is therefore the best time to see them in your garden. Conditions: Milder and lighter cloud. Temperature: Max 6 Min 2C.
Woodpecker drumming– another call you are likely to hear, during February, is the territorial and mate-seeking hammering of Woodpeckers. Only the Great and the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers drum- not the Green Woodpecker. Since the sparrow-sized Lesser Spotted, (the male of which has a red cap, and no white shoulder bar. ), is now on the endangered red list, having declined by 73% in 25 years, the most likely one you’ll be hearing is the louder, faster and much more common Great Spotted Woodpecker. The male Great Spotted, starling-sized, has a red nape. The sound really carries- I heard three trying to out-drum each other recently in Sussex. But listen carefully- if you should hear or see a Lesser Spotted it is worth letting the RSPB or BTO know. Conditions: Sleet, rain and low cloud. Temperature: Max 3- Min 2C.
Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming- male has red nape
Great Spotted Woodpecker- male
Recognising birdsong– this is a good time of year to gradually learn, one at a time, before many birds start singing for territories and to attract a mate. The Great Tit has several calls, but the easiest is the loud two-note song you’ll hear now, often represented as ‘teacher-teacher’ but I think of as a tick- short down, longer up note. I found that learning one bird-song at a time really helps, and Great Tits are common to most areas so good as a start. Conditions: Chilly and grey, with some rain. Temperature: Max 3-Min 0C.
Butterbur, which grows in damp areas, is scenting the air with aniseed alongside Catsfield Church already, providing food for overwintering butterflies and bees. Used since medieval times to treat migraine and asthma, recent scientific research shows that it contains ingredients effective for these complaints. The name comes from the old practice of wrapping butter in the leaves, to store. Only male flowers grow in the South, while the much larger female grow with male in the north, at Millers Dale and other sights. Conditions: Overcast and nippy Temperature: Max 6- Min 2 C.
Butterbur leaves are small when the flowers are out, but increase in size later
Butterbur, male- growing in a damp ditch by Catsfield Church