Wood Anemone (Windflower) cover some woodland floors, before the leaf canopy shades it, or indicate woodland remnant by growing in patches along roadsides, hedges. They are a favourite pollen source for Hoverflies (see photo’s) and Honey Bees.. Different cultures associate them with different qualities- the Japanese, perhaps because they are poisonous, associates them with death, the Greeks with the wind god bringing spring, and the Romans with luck, believing to pick the first one and bring it indoors would ward off fever. The ‘petals’ are really sepals- usually white but often pink or purple-backed. Easy and beautiful to grow in damp shade in the garden, for early insects. Conditions: Mist burning off, sunny day down South. Temperature: Max 15- Min 7C.
Ladies Smock, also known as Cuckoo flower, and by us from Sussex as Milkmaids, is a wonderful wildflower you could grow in any damp spot. In the Cabbage family it is one of the food plants of the caterpillar of Orange Tip Butterflies. Feeding on the nectar and pollen yesterday were many insects, including the Drone Fly (a hoverfly), Bee Flies (more another day) and my first Small Tortoiseshell of the year- one of the few Butterflies that overwinter as adults and are therefore on the wing on these sunny spring days. Austrians believed that anyone who picked Ladies Smock would be bitten by an Adder, and Germans’ believed, if brought indoors, the house would be struck by lightening. Conditions: Sun and a strong breeze. Temperature: Max 13- Min 6C.
Telling Frogs and Toads apart- I promised help with this so here it is: Toads are warty and drier skinned, Frogs smoother and longer-legged. On average, Toads are larger. Toads walk, Frogs hop. The most obvious thing is their eyes- Toads have a horizontal-slit eye (see photo’s). Toads have bulges on the backs of their head, called Paratoid glands. They exude an unpleasant substance from their skin which deters some predators, and they seldom get back in the water after breeding. Frogs will get in in hot weather and daylight. Toads hide away in dark hollows during the day, coming out at dusk to feed. They are both brilliant at eating slugs! Conditions: Windy, with bright spells. Temperature: Max 11- Min 7C.
Common Toads, rejoicing under the Latin name Bufo Bufo, seldom appear in our garden nowadays but in Monyash (White Peak) they have notices up asking people to take care not to drive over the many Toads walking their yearly route back to the village pond, to mate. They mate slightly later than Frogs, but like frogs, the smaller male (on average up to 8cm) use what is known as the ‘amplexus hold’ to gr[p the larger female (up to 13cm) during mating. Wartier than Frogs, with a horizontally-split eye, I will do a direct comparison another day. The spawn, yet to appear, is laid in a lace, not a ‘blobby mass
‘ like that of the Frog.- on my trip south from tomorrow I will try to seek out some spawn for another blog. Conditions: Sunny, breezy following wild and wet weather. Temperature: Max 8- Min 4c.
There’s lots of great spring activity at present– birds of many species chasing in two’s, three’s, four’s, trying to win mates, pair bonding by much tail and wing-flicking and by males beginning to token-feed females. Dunnocks are trying to build a nest. Females build the nest, often in hedges or bushes, near the ground,– this one is trying to carry increasingly long twigs and old plant stems into a dense box hedge! Dunnocks seldom just pair up, but two or more males usually mate with one or more females- four have been tearing round the garden jostling for centrality here. Conditions: The calm before the rain and wind. Temperature: Max 12- Min 10C
Tree Bumblebee- here is an easy to identify Bumblebee that is common in our garden, and out feeding today. The first sighting of this highly efficient pollinator in Europe was in 2001. Spreading really fast, this very hardy bee has already reached north of Glasgow. Unusually, it nests in holes in trees, or in nest boxes, late May and early June. If you find one nesting you can report it to BWARS (the Bee, Wasps and Ants Recording Society) so they can monitor its spread- I just love these esoteric voluntary bodies so common in the UK! They want to monitor it to see if it is a threat to our other pollinators, or is filling a valuable niche as our native pollinators decline. Don’t worry about the nest- it is vacated after a couple of weeks. Conditions: Sunny, breezy spring day. Temperature: Max 12- Min 4C
Frogs and Newts are emerging from hibernation and getting back into water. These amphibians actually spend most of their time out of water. Re-making one of our ponds, this time last year, we uncovered both species, with flattened bodies, and slowed heart-rate, in hibernation under stones. In the water for a few weeks from now, to breed and lay spawn/eggs, both frogs and newts spend a lot of the summer and autumn out of water, only going in for short spells. They forage for slugs and insects, especially from dusk, when you are more likely to be able to see them hunting. Conditions: Cloudy, sunny intervals Temperature: Max 13- Min 8C.
Treecreeper- we have been lucky to watch this beautiful, wren-sized, highly camouflaged bird recently, in the garden. Often around and overlooked, known also as ‘Tree Mouse’, they are hard to spot, and harder to photograph so I went ‘back to the drawing board’. The full drawing includes Nuthatches, to emphasise the difference in their feeding methods- both prize insects and spiders from tree-trunks, but only Nuthatches can run down as well as up a trunk. Treecreepers fly down and work their way back up. Conditions: Another sunny day following a wet one. Temperature: Max 11- Min 5C.
Queens are the only Bumblebees to live through winter, and be out now, whenever the temperature rises to around 10C. The UK has 1 species of Honeybee, 24 species of Bumblebee and 225 species of Solitary Bee, plus many mimics! To add complication, the colours can vary, and can fade. Males and workers vary again. Some species are easy, and there is an app to help. You can also submit photo’s to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, for their help, or look at their online guide. This one, being large, with amber collar, amber/yellow stripe on the abdomen and a buff/orange tail is probably a Buff-tailed Bumblebee- great fun to watch today, upending into the Crocuses. Conditions: Sunny, mild. Temperature: Max 10- Min 6C.
Oak Trees- coming from one of the country’s most wooded areas, the Sussex Weald, (today’s photo’s), and living in the city said to have most trees per head of population, Sheffield, it is wonderful to have an Oak in the garden. Oaks support more wildlife than any other native tree- well over 400 species. How sad, then, that we are fighting to save the Vernon Oak, among many other mature trees, being cut down in Sheffield to save money on pavement maintenance etc, due to government cuts. Talking of different priorities on trees- I took delight that, despite removing the hedges, the Hooe farmer had left these three Oaks mid-field – my brother-in-law, a
farmer, saw the photo and said ‘I know those trees- they really get in our way when ploughing’- I’m sure they do! Conditions: A very wet day following a sunny day- the pattern at present. Temperature: Max 6- Min 4C.