Preening feathers- most birds preen their feathers several times a day, vital to clear dirt and parasites, and to optimally align every feather for best flight, something vital to a Swallow like this, newly arrive from Africa. I was lucky to watch it preen every wing feather individually, as one photo shows. Preening also serves to spread oil from the preening gland (uropygial gland) in order to keep the feathers waterproof and from becoming brittle. I watched this Swallow. Conditions: sunny and warm as I leave Sussex! Temperature: Max 15- Min 7c.
Swallows are the most acrobatic hirundines- and there’s nowhere more impressive to watch them than feeding, skimming over water. Fe
males are most attracted to males with the longest and most symmetrical ‘streamers’ – long tail feathers. They catch hundreds of insects, mostly flies, and also drink from the water surface, as you can see from the photo’s I took recently. Best times to see them are early or dusk, or when the skies are overcast and insects flying low over land or water. Conditions: sun and cloud, but no rain due. Temperature: Max 13- Min 4 c.
Yellow Pimpernel- I prefer this pretty ground-hugging wild flower, of damp woodland edges and open ground, in the garden, to its’ garden cousin Creeping Jenny, which can be so invasive. One of the Lysimachia family, Yellow Pimpernel was named after the Macedonian general Lysimachus, (3rd century BC) who reputedly fed it to his oxen to calm them down! Its common name, Wood Loosestrife also references this quality, of leaving strife behind.It was also used to relieve pain. Conditions: Another cool, cloudy, rainless day. April was the driest on record for ten years. Temperature: Max 13- Min 6 c.
Orange Tip Butterfly- as yesterday’s blog of Jack by the Hedge is one of this butterfly’s key caterpillar food-plants, along with Ladies Smock (Milkmaids), here is the beautiful butterfly you should be seeing in your gardens, damp hedgerows and flying higgledy-piggledy anywhere in England and Wales right now. The camouflage on both male and female’s underwing is lovely (see photo’s). Males, which have the bright orange wing-tip, hatch first. Females, lacking the orange tip, are more hidden- eggs are very hard to spot and caterpillars are cannibalistic so only one egg is laid per plant. I’ve included an illustration of the whole life-cycle I did a while ago. Conditions: Heavy cloud. Temperature: Max 15-
Min 6 c.
Garlic Mustard or Jack by the Hedge, is the other garlic plant out at the moment. Seen along hedgerows and woodland edges in many places. Its introduction to the USA by settlers shows how nutritious a plant this was held to be by our ancestors- used for food, medication ( believed to heal wounds, for example) and one of the first recorded European spices regularly used in cooking. The roots also taste like Horseradish. You can snack on the seeds when out for a walk. The other reason to value it is that it is one of the main host plants for the wonderful Orangetip Butterfly, out and about in our garden and local areas now. Conditions: Bright and breezy. Temperature: Max 16- Min 8 c.
Ramsons or Wild Garlic. There are two common forms of edible garlic in the UK. Today, the one increasingly turning up in recipes and restaurants, is Ramson’s, probably named from an Old Scandinavian word for “rank”, and the smell is strong. An indicator species of ancient woodland, it loves damp woodland, flowering at this time of year before the leafy canopy shuts out light. Hover flies, Butterflies and Longhorn Beetles all feed on
and pollinate them. They were used medicinally for a range of ailments, including rheumatism. It’s Latin name, and some of its common names (e.g. Bear’s leek) either refers to the fact that brown bears love eating them, or that it is locally common, much as dog is used for wild flowers that are common e.g. ‘Dog rose’. TKe your pick! Conditions: Cloudy and cool for time of year (in Sussex anyway). Temperature: Max 11- Min 8 c.
Following with another member of the Crow family, the Rook is highly social and mates for life. They will share food with their partner, putting food in their bills. Rooks are about the size of Choughs and Crows but have shaggy legs, bare, by ny cheeks and look less ‘tidy’. I loved watching this one delicately picking up tiny seeds with its large bill. Conditions: Cool, cloudy. Temperature: Max 11- Min 8 C.
Chough– as we prepare to leave lovely Pembrokeshire, here is the iconic species of these western cliffs (especially for Sian!). On the amber list due to reduction in grazed turf, and cow-pats, which provide insects to feed these unusual members of the crow family, we’ve been lucky to see a few individuals and pairs. With red legs, curved red bills and wonderful glossy black feathers, they are a brilliant sight. Conditions: long spells of rain
clearing to blue skies. Temperature: Max 12- min 7 c.