31st July 2017

Male Sparrowhawk– Yesterday the grey-backed, smaller male Sparrowhawk (the female and juveniles are brown-backed) was heralded in the garden by loud alarm calls from other birds. Sweeping through the garden, too fast to photograph, here it is recently, looking dapper, and an older photo by Lynn, where it is eating a Collared Dove. No one is certain why many raptors exhibit ‘reverse dimorphism’ (meaning the males are smaller than the females) but it it is thought to relate to their need to be very manouevrable in dense woodland, hunting for the incubating female

Male Sparrowhawk

Sparrowhawk- male

Male Sparrowhawk

Sparrowhawk- male eating Collared Dove

, and/or the female’s need to have enough bulk to produce eggs. Conditions: Cloud and sunny intervals and showers Temperature: Max 20- Min 12C.

29th July 2017

Greenfinches have declined so much since the 1990′s that we have felt lucky to have a family of adults and two young, visiting our feeders, enjoying their favourite black sunflower-seeds. Originally woodland birds, they have now been drawn to gardens, but suffer from the parisitic-induced disease ‘trichomonosis’, which affects their ability to feed- the advice is to make sure your feeders are frequently cleaned. Young have the same yellow edge to their wings and tail as adults but have streaky chests, visible here. Greenfinches will also feast on Rose-hips, Haws, and Yew Berries

Young Greenfinch

Adult male Greenfinch

Adult male Greenfinch

Conditions: Cloud and sun, with rain later. Temperature: Max 20- Min 13C.

27th July 2017

Rowan berries provide high energy food for many in the Thrush family, including this female Blackbird stripping our tree. Mountain Ash/ Rowan was thought by the ancient Greeks to represent an eagle battling evil, the leaves recalling the feathered eagle-wings and the red berries, spots of shed blood. In Scotland it was widely planted beside houses to ward off evil and witches. The hard wood has been used for divining rods, spinning wheels and tool handles while pieces of wood were carried as charms against rheumatism. The flowers feed many insects and the

Female Thrush balancing to reach Rowan berries

Female Blackbird packs her bill with Rowan berries

Female Blackbird flies to and fro our Rowan, with bill-fills of Rowan berries

An all-round great plant for wildlife. Conditions: Rain, sun and cloud. Temperature: Max 18- Min 13C.

25th July 2017

At this time of year no plant in our Sheffield city garden feeds more Butterflies and Bees than Marjoram, which spreads easily but is easy to control. Just right for taking part in the Butterfly Conservation 15 minute Butterfly Count– easy to download an app- with an identification guide if you need it. This week it attracted a (tattered) Ringlet, the first one we have seen here, and a favourite Gatekeeper, as well as the Small Skipper. Conditions: Cloudy with sunny spells. Temperature: Max 20- Min 15C.

Small Skipper- easy to identify as it holds its forewings at an angle

Ageing Ringlet

Gatekeeper, in garden- easy to identify by two ‘eye-spots’ on wing

Bees also love Marjoram

24th July 2017

The small, beautiful Holly Blue butterfly,  the only blue we get in our garden and the one you are most likely to see in parks and gardens in England and Wales, flitting low and fast, is back feeding on our flowers. Numbers of Holly Blue fluctuate greatly, thought to be due to the variable numbers of the parasitic wasp which lays its eggs in their caterpillars. The caterpillars feed on holly as the name suggests, but also on dogwood, spindle, snowberry and other common bushes. The female has a dark edge to the wing. Conditions: cloudy after heavy rain. Temperature: Max 19- Min 13 C.

Female Holly Blue

Holly Blue

Female Holly Blue butterfly

22nd July 2017

Purple wild flowers– the jury is out as to whether purple and mauve flowers really attract more pollinating insects, and they see colour so differently to our eyesight, as they extend into the ultra violet spectrum,  but there are certainly many purple wild and garden flowers out at this time of year. Here are some wild flowers to watch out for, some of which we have in the garden, others which are common in towns and the country hedgerows, riversides, and wood edges. They attract so many hoverflies, bees and butterflies, it is a joy to study.

Spear Thistles attract many insects

A beautiful Green-veined White Butterfly on a Spear Thistle

Burdock are really good for Hover and other flies.

Knapweed also attracts insects, like this Red-taiuled Bumblebee visiting the Knapweed in our garden today

We have Teasels, too, which feed many insects over a period of days, as the flowers slowly open up over the Teasel-head

19th July 2017

More ‘sunning’- with so much competition for space in the sunniest part of the garden early in the week, the Wren, Robin and Blackbird were squatting and

Wren sunning on watering can

Robin sunning on bench back

Blackbird sunning on bench

Grey Squirrel sunning on steps of treehouse

sunning anywhere they could find a surface- even joined by one of the Grey Squirrels. (For an explanation of sunning see yesterday’s blog). Conditions: Cloudy, muggy day. Temperature: Max 22-Min 13c.

18th July 2017

‘Sunning; Wren- the bird most frequently ‘sunning’ in our garden, and anywhere, is the Blackbird. Yesterday and today the Dunnock, Blackbirds, Robins and this Wren were sunning- spreading their wings and tail feathers, fluffing up their soft, downy body and head feathers, deliberately positioned to get maximum sun onto them. There are many theories about why birds ‘sun’ but one reason seems to be to control their body temperature, since birds can’t perspire. This Wren was in and out of sun and shade, and was also gaping with its bill to cool itself. Another is thought to be to stimulate the oil from its preen-gland, on the base of a birds’ back- seen in one photo of the Wren- the oil is used to condition and waterproof feathers. Sunning

Wren- ‘sunning’

Wren partially sunning.

Wren ‘sunning’ showing its oil-gland

Wren, beginning sunning

is also thought to activate mites and parasites so they are more easily cleaned off by preening. Conditions: Hot, sunny with a breeze. Temperature: Max 23- Min 14C.

16th July 2017

Banded Demoiselles, featured yesterday, are so highly territorial that I watched these two males for 15 minutes, in an utterly fascinating, extremely speedy and acrobatic aerial battle over a few feet of canal. Very hard to photograph but beautiful to watch, especially with perfect reflections of both as they flew.

Banded Demoiselle

Male Banded Demoiselles

Male Banded Demoiselles 

Male Banded Demoiselles and their reflections

Banded Demoiselle

I had to give up before they resolved the conflict. The male guards the female closely while she lays her eggs and both male and female, so deft and fast in flight, catch insects on the wing. Conditions: Sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 20- Min 12C.

15th July 2017

The Banded Demoiselle– it was such a treat to watch many of this beautiful, petrol blue Damselfly along the Chesterfield Canal. On the wing from May to August this stunning insect lives on still or slow flowing waters, in England and Wales. Unmistakable, this is a large Damselfly, over 4cm long with a wingspan of her 6cm. The bronze and green coloured female lays the eggs on marginal plants under water, breathing by trapping air between its wings, while the male watches on and guards her. As with Dragonflies, the eggs hatch and the larvae live underwater for two years, predating insects, before climbing out onto a leaf or stem and emerging from the larval case, during off and flying off. Condition: Rain and cloud. Temperature: Max 20- Min 17C.

Male Banded Demoiselle

Male Banded Demoiselle

Banded Demoiselle -male

Female Banded Demoiselle