Tree Sparrow- These beautifully marked birds used to be seen in many places, but their population dramatically crashed by a devastating 93% between 1970 and 2008. Concentrated conservation efforts have led to a slight rise since. Best seen along hedgerows and wood margins, they have a brown cap, unlike the House Sparrows grey cap, and a black spot on their cheeks. You can see them in South Yorkshire, at Old Moor- there is a colony in the aptly named Tree Sparrow Farm area there, and at other reserves. Conditions: Hot and still. Temperature: Max 20- Min 15 C
House Martins– Traditionally, House Martins nested on cliffs, like this colony we watched on the East coast chalk cliffs recently. SInce the 19th century they predominantly build their intricate nests of mud-pellets and grass, lined with feathers, under the eaves of buildings. Damp mud is essential, and this noisy group of Martins were flying continually to and fro between a patch of mud, dripping from a spring, to their large nests on the other side of the small bay. Mud needs to be within 300 metres, preferably much closer. Many sites, including my mum and dad’s old house, have been abandoned, numbers have dropped and the House Martin is now, sadly, on the amber list. Conditions: A cooler, wet day. Temperature : Max 18- Min 14 C.
Gannets: I can’t really go to Bempton Cliffs, the largest mainland Gannet colony in the UK, without one feature on them. Named after the old English ‘gano’ meaning ‘strong’, the monogamous pairs, when meet up at this time of year, go through ‘sky-pointing’ rituals (see photo’s), before mating and laying one egg. Born brown, they gradually go through varying degrees of black and white till mature at 5. At about 3, their wings are described as like ‘piano keys’– see juvenile photo. Living into their twenties, they are our largest sea-bird, and can dive from 40 metres to a depth of 22 metres, searching for fish, squid etc. Conditions: Cloud, sun and breeze.
Temperature: Max 20- Min 13C.
Puffins- We are just back from a wonderful couple of days bird-watching at Bempton Cliffs. Puffins are struggling to find food at many of their traditional sites but we saw a few more this year than on other recent trips. They are difficult to photograph in flight, with 400 wing-beats a minute, and reaching 88km an hour, so these took some time to get as they flew in to their nesting ledges out of sight beneath me, orange feet acting as rudders. Conditions: Steaming hot and sunny Temperature: Max 26- Min 15C.
Greater Celandine -in my occasional series on wild flowers, here is a very widespread plant. Related to the poppy but not to the common Lesser Celandine of early spring, Greater Celandine is often overlooked. Its common name of Swallowwort relates to the way it flowers as Swallows arrive. Recorded in the U.K. since at least Roman times, the definitive identification is its bright orange sap. Greater Celandine often occurs along paths. All parts of the plant can be poisonous if ingested, but it has been used to treat warts and other ailments for many centuries. Conditions: Warm and bright. Temperature: Max 18- Min 11 c.
Geranium Phaeum or, in the wild, Dusky Cranesbill is the best early, easy-to-grow and beautiful plant for bees that I know of, particularly happy in dry or damp shade, I was watching up to ten Bumblebees and some Honeybees feeding on this one plant in the garden yesterday. Garden varieties extend the native, deep maroon flowers through pale mauve to white. All hardy geraniums are good for insects but Phaeum is early and can be cut back to reflower later, or left to provide seed for finches.
Conditions: Cloudy and some rain. Temperature: Max 12- Min 9 c.
Coal Tits, the smallest European Tit, are among many young birds in the garden this week, being fed by their adults– even in the pouring rain. Coal Tits eggs are laid in April, hatching 18 days later. Three juveniles were calling from the Rowan- both adults feed the young. Coal Tits eat insects, seeds and fat and benefit from mild winters and from garden-feeding. They cache extra food in holes in the ground– one of the reason we have sunflowers coming up randomly round the garden! While they nest in holes in trees, they will use nest-boxes, preferring ones with a narrow-slit
entrance. Conditions: Very wet couple of days, at last. Temperature: Max 15- Min 6C.
Green-veined White- a favourite and very wide-spread butterfly, flying in our garden, grasslands, woodland rides (this morning this one in the wonderful bluebell Woolley Woods,) and parks. May is the peak time to see this butterfly– the veins are really a combination of black and yellow scales. The female, here, has wing-spots and this one has probably mated, as its abdomen is pointed up, showing males it is not receptive. Conditions : sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 17- Min 10c.
May flowers- If, like me, you love the sight but not the smell of May flowers, so floriferous on our Hawthorn tree and hedge right now, you are in a long tradition. Country people would never bring it indoors, associating it with illness, death and the Great Plague. Interestingly, the scent has now been analysed and contains the chemical, trimethylamine, that occurs in decaying tissue! Hawthorn is brilliant for wildlife though- 300 insects use it, including the caterpillars of many moths, with intriguing names like Lappet, Orchard Ermine, Fruitlet Mining Tortrex and Small
Eggar. The Haw berries, rich in anti-oxidants, are eaten by many birds and the thick, dense, thickets shelter many bird-nests. Conditions: Cloud, light rain. Temperature: Max16- Min 11C.