30th April 2017

Early Purple Orchid- out at the same time as Bluebells, these earliest of orchids, rising from a basal ring of spotted leaves, prefer alkaline soils. They are the “long purples” of Shakespeare, in Hamlet: Ophelia’s

Early Purple Orchid, short because it is growing on thin, cropped limestone turf

Early Purple Orchid, growing in acidic woodland

Early Purple Orchid, showing rosette of blotched leaves

garland is described as ” of crow flowers, nettles, daisies and long purples, that liberal shepherds give a grosser name”! When first out they smell of Lily of the Valley but later this turns unpleasant. The great Natural History Museum orchid id site, nhm.ac.uk tells you how to distinguish them from the similar Spotted Orchid. Conditions: Prolonged, much needed rain. Temperature: Max  12- Min 9 c.

29th April 2017…

Whitethroats and Blackcaps– both birds of scrubland, which is so under threat in many areas, Whitethroats sing their scratchy song in just such bramble, bush and Gorse tops as this one was yesterday. A scratchy song unlike the beautiful male

Whitethroat

Blackcap

Blackcap, singing from a Blackthorn bush. Both migrate here in spring though some Blackcaps are overwintering nowadays. Conditions: Cool breeze, cloud, sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 12- Min  5

28th April 2017

Stack Rock, Pembrokeshire- ended our coastal day of cloud, in wonderful sunshine looking on the overwhelming sights, sounds and smells of Guillemots and a few Razorbills here, a few miles from Stackpole. As you can see, squabbling hordes, trying to find a foothold on the stack top and precipitous ledges, with hundreds more in rafts on the sea. Conditions:

Razorbills

Mostly cloudy but mild. Temperature: Max 11- Min 6c.

Guillemots

27th April 2017

Spring Squill, a speciality of  coasts  in the South West, is out now in South Pembrokeshire. Related to the garden bulb, Scilla, this lovely blue flower grows in short, free  draining turf, and will be a bonus for bees if you grow the garden variety. We have been seeing carpets of it on the limestone cliffs.   Conditions: cool and cloudy.  Temperature: Max 10, min 7 c.       

Spring Squill

Spring Squill

Squill among the Gorse

25th April 2017

Cuckoo Pint is a fascinating plant out in woods and hedgerows now. When ready to be fertilised, the brown Spadix heats up to attract tiny insects which carry pollen from another plant down into the base of the plants, where they are trapped by tiny hairs. Once they have fertilised the female flowers hidden in the bulbous base, the hairs die and the insects can emerge. Timed to perfection, they gather ripe pollen as they emerge and take that onto another plant! Cross pollination which adds to a plant’s robustness, is achieved. Also called Lords and Ladies, Wild Arum and Jack in the Pulpit, and many local names this plant contains an irritant, and the orange berries of summer are poisonous. The tubers were once used as starch for collars and ruffs, but the laundresses suffered blistered hands. The ‘pint’ rhymes with lint and, for obvious reasons, derives from a 15th century word for penis! Conditions: sun, showers including

Cuckoo Pint

Spadix of Cuckoo Pint

hail, and strong northerly breezes. Temperature: Max 10, min 3 c.

23rd April 2017

Image

We get Stock Doves

Stock Dove

Wood Pigeon- head

as well as Wood Pigeons in the garden now. Though not particularly welcome, they are both species increasing in the urban environment, so worth learning to tell apart maybe! Stock Doves are smaller and don’t have the white collar- see photo’s. I have no idea what the weather is like in Sheffield- reports for this week will be from glorious Pembrokeshire! Trying to learn to do it on a different machine so bear with me.

19th April 2017

A Parasitic Wasp, in the garden yesterday feeding on pollen and nectar, is one what is thought to be the largest group of animals in the world- estimated at 2 million species. Parasitoids rather than true parasites (as they kill their hosts, albeit slowly) each species targets a specific host, whether ants, caterpillars, flies, bees, aphids, spiders or other insects. Most inject their eggs, which hatch and feed off the host at larvae or nymph stage. Many keep pests at bay in the garden and some are sold as biological controls, for  farmers and gardeners. Conditions: Another dry day in tis worryingly dry spring. Temperature: Max 11- Min 9C.

Parasitic Wasp- Ichneumon type

Parasitic Wasp, in the garden, ichneumon type

Parasitic Wasp

Parasitic Wasp

17th April 2017

Holly Blue Butterfly- This is a good time to learn to identify the small Holly Blue. It flies high among bushes and hardly settles -you tend to see is a fast-moving blue flash (very hard to photograph!). The underwings are paler. Holly Blues are out earlier (out now) than other Blues, and much more likely to be the Blue Butterfly you see in your garden or local park or verge. They are the only Blues we get in our Sheffield garden. The caterpillars feed on tender new Holly or Spindle shoots and buds. A real treat- keep your eyes peeled. Conditions: Cloudy, with some sun. Cold nights predicted. Temperature: Max 11- Min 2C.

Holly Blue

Holly Blue

Holly Blue- dark wing-tips and spotted underwing

15th April 2017

Coppicing- this wonderful way of managing woodland and maximising bio-diversity (see poster on this blog) is declining and our decisions can help. The last old hurdle-maker in Catsfield died in my teens but Richard Ely and others are taking the tradition forward. In many parts of the country, including South Yorkshire, coppices are overgrown and diversity is suffering. Iron smelting disappeared, pit-props were no longer needed but if we buy chestnut spiles, fencing, (chestnut rots slowly), hazel hurdles or pea and bean sticks, and locally made charcoal we can support new woodworkers. Cut for wood-products, on a regular cycle, coppices are rich in a succession of plants, birds and insects

Chestnut spiles, one of the products of coppicing

Coppicing lets in light, encouraging a range of wildlife, and regrows for renewable wood

Bluebells and Wood anemones in recently coppiced woods

Foxgloves spring up in coppiced woodland

How coppicing helps diversity and renewable wood products

. Conditions`: Cloud with sunny spells and a breeze. Temperature: Max 11- Min 6C.

14th April 2017

Tawny Mining Bee- April is the best time to spot this harmless solitary Bee- in lawns, flower-beds, gardens, parks and farmland. Little ‘volcanoes’ of mud appear for a couple of weeks (see photo).The female, which mines the nest, and lays a single egg in each of the underground chambers, also gathers all the pollen and nectar for the young, before sealing the nest. She is a beautiful, fluffy ginger bee and is a great

Tawny Mining Bee- female, flying

Tawny Mining Bee nest

Tawny Mining Bee

Tawny Mining Bee- female

pollinator of fruit trees and early flowering crops like Rape-seed. The male is smaller, and has a pale tuft of hairs on its face. The young hatch the following spring. Leave the nests, if you find them- one of many species of solitary bees, these do only good in our gardens. Conditions: Cloudy, with light showers. Temperature: Max 12- Min 6C.

Male Tawny Mining Bee