31st January 2019

Monyash, Derbyshire: Despite it sounding as though it is named after the hundreds of Ash trees in the parish, the name is actually derived from the Anglo Saxon ‘mani’ and Celtic ‘easc or eas’, and means ‘many waters’, the area being renowned for its many springs and pools, which also led to woods being cleared in the iron and bronze ages for agriculture. The farming here is still largely sympathetic to nature, including a National Trust farm which has wonderful, rich meadows in summer. However, here are some of the many Ash Trees, from whips to giants which are thankfully still free of Ash die-back. Unless some trees prove resistance, when this eventually reaches the Peak District another huge change will occur to this whole

Ash- young whips grow in many parts of the Peak District

Mature Ash, Monyash, Derbyshire

One of the many mature Ash trees of Monash

area. Conditions: Ice and snow and sun breaking through mist. Temperature: From an overnight low of -4, today is set to rise to 0 C!

29th January 2019

As the ice and snow hits the Peak district

Coal Tit in the snow

Coal Tit on the fat

, and many parts of the UK, birds will be needing extra fat to keep them going, especially small birds and especially through the cold nights. Because birds we feed in our gardens get good regular food, they do not need to carry as much extra fat, in a layer under their skin, as birds where food is scarce. That makes them more vulnerable when the freezing weather comes which is why these small birds were busy feeding on fat today, in the snow. Small birds are also more vulnerable to cold weather, having more surface area per size than larger birds, and therefore losing heat more easily. Conditions: Heavy snow showers. Temperature: Max 2 Min -3 C

Robin feeding in the snow

25th January 2019

The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch is on us– we have had to do ours today but please try to do your hour, either in your garden, park or local wildlife area over the weekend. Wherever you do it, there is a simple guide on the RSPB site, with bird guides and easy to enter forms. Whatever you see- however much or little, it is worth recording. Early morning and late afternoon are often best, as birds replenish after the night or build up before dusk. This, one of the biggest ‘citizen science’ projects in the UK, helps discover trends in bird populations over the country, and they are particularly interested this year to


Male Great Spotted Woodpecker


Blue Tits

Here are a few we saw. Conditions: Grey and still. Temperature: Max 11 Min 4 C.

22nd January 2019

Redwing- While waiting for the Waxwings to turn up in Sheffield recently it was a pleasure to watch a small flock of Redwings feeding, at intervals, from the same trees. Redwing, our smallest true Thrush, migrates here in winter from Iceland, Russia and Scandinavia for the same reason as Waxwings- to feed from our winter berries, fruits and worms. Sadly on the Red list nowadays, they can still be seen in gardens, parks, supermarket carparks and streets in Sheffield, and in hedgerows and pastures further afield. Their distinctive ‘Tsee Tsee’ calls can also be heard in evenings as they



Redwing- showing the eponymous red underwing



flock and communicate with each other. Conditions: Still, grey with some rain. Temperature: Max 4 Min -2C.

19th January 2019

Waxwings– on Wednesday afternoon, after standing in the freezing but sunny conditions on Cemetery Avenue, Sheffield, just before the light went, and after the Sparrowhawk that had scared them away just before I arrived flew away to hunt elsewhere, a flock of about 30 Waxwings started to come to the tree which still had berries. Named from the markings which resemble drops of wax on their wing feathers (see photo), the males have slightly broader tails and larger, darker throat markings. Always such a treat, this starling-sized and silky, beautifully marked, crested migrant from Scandinavia and Russia comes over in varying numbers, often to our amenity-planted urban trees, to feed from late berries. Good berry-yields in their native lands one year produces high numbers of Waxwings and are often followed by poor berry-yielding years, when we may get an “irruption” of many thousands of these great birds to feed on


Waxwing, hoarding berries in its throat




Waxwing- these bright marks on its wing give it its name.

our rowan, hawthorn, cotoneaster and decorative trees. So far this year they are over in fairly small numbers but this may change. Conditions: Grey and calm after a snow flurry late last night. Temperature: Max 3 Min 1C

17th January 2019

Shoveller Duck: it is a fairly quiet time for garden wildlife (though Waxwings are being spotted around Sheffield, so that is exciting) so I am doing an occasional series on duck identification, as it can be tricky for some, beyond the ubiquitous and well-known Mallard. The Shoveller (one l or two seems fine) is another easy one to identify. It is quite a large duck and, even though the female is much less colourful than the male, is distinctive in both sexes because of its eponymous and unique bill. The large, flattened bill is called ‘spatulate’ and it has a comb-like edge which enables it to sieve out food, so you will see it swimming around surface feeding. Being omnivorous (weeds, seeds, small animals, molluscs and plankton) also probably helps it survive and for years the population was increasing but lately it has been decreasing again, hence it being placed

Shoveller- female

Shoveller- male and female

Shoveller- male in eclispe plumage

Shoveller- male

on the amber list. Our numbers, a few hundred breeding pairs in summer, are swelled to around 16,000 birds in winter so this is the best time to see it. Conditions: A bright, cold day following a very heavy frost. Temperature: Max 4 Min -1C.

10th January 2019

Wave Breakers at Pett Levels- a recent visit back to this unusual scene on Pett Level beach, Sussex, led me to a research paper that showed the dense wooden posts are the remains of an attempt to deal with what will become an increasing problem of rising sea levels along our coasts. Behind Pett beach is low-lying pasture, reclaimed since medieval times but now well below sea-level, and breached by ingress of the sea in 1930. A dense network of ‘Wave Breakers’, wooden posts sometimes inter-woven with faggots of brush, were an attempt to reinforce and raise the shingle beach and protect the land. This approach has since been abandoned, as it was found to be incapable of holding back the rising sea. A sea wall has been built, leaving this dramatic, sculptural pattern of eroding posts on the beach.  It is clearly not

Wave breaker remains, Pett Levels

Wave Breaker remains, Pett Levels

Wave Breaker remains, Pett Levels

only me who finds it fascinating- the beach was used as part of David Bowie’s video fro his 1980 hit ‘Ashes to Ashes’!. Conditions: Still, dry spell of weather. Temperature: Max 10 Min 5C.

3rd January 2019

Dunlin: New Year’s Day was brilliant, bright weather down south and we walked Pett Levels beach, being treated to a close view of Dunlin, a small sandpiper that overwinters on our shores. Dunlin’s winter plumage is much paler than when breeding, so here is a chance to get familiar with it: about the size of a starling, Dunlin have a dark, slightly down-curved bill, and in winter, pale grey back with white belly and a little grey on the side of the breast. ( in breeding plumage they develop stronger colours and a dark belly). They may be confused with the larger, stockier Knot at this time of year. The BTO do a great video to help you spot the differences.In flight, Dunlin have a silvery-white appearance- see the photo’s. Best seen feeding  just as the tide goes out or comes in over sand. Conditions: Bright, colder spell. Temperature: Max 5 Min -1

Dunlin, Pett Levels

Dunlin, Pett Levels

Dunlin, Pett Levels