The Red-tailed Bumblebee flew in and starting feeding on crocuses in the garden today. Another very easy to identify Bumblebee, like the Tree Bumblebee the other day, and another of the “big seven” widely distributed Bumbles. As with al Bumblebees, it will only be the larger Queens that are alive and about now- when they appear, the workers have the same distinctive colouring but are much smaller, while the males have the same tail colour but have some yellow facial markings, so it is worth tuning into this species while it is at its easiest! As well as feeding, the Queens will be looking for rodent holes and other underground nest sites– their colonies will eventually number between
Worker Red-tailed Bumblebee from last summer
Red-tailed Bumblebee from last summer
Conditions: Another beautiful but disturbingly warm, sunny day. Temperature: Max 18 Min 5 C.
In this unseasonably warm and still February spell, with male Great Spotted Woodpeckers hammering, Nuthatch calling and birds beginning to sing, I watched several Queen bumblebees feeding from our Snowdrops, Crocuses and Winter Aconite this morning. This is not surprising as the Queens, the only Bumblebees to overwinter, emerge at temperatures over 10C to feed up on nectar and pollen. Here is one that is easy to identify- the Tree Bumblebee which is already widespread, even in Scotland, having first arrived in the UK from Europe only in 2001. As well as feeding-up, the Queens will be searching for nest sites– for the Tree Bumblebee this can be nest-
boxes as well as holes in trees. With its ginger thorax, black abdomen and white tail it is a good one to learn as the large Queens appear early. Conditions: Mist burning off to warm sun. Temperature: Max 14 Min 6 C
The BTO survey of House Sparrows, was undertaken because these once ubiquitous, noisy and social birds are now very patchy in their distribution, the population having declined by 71% between 1977 and the turn of the century. We now only get them very occasionally in our garden. Changes in farming practice is known to have affected the rural population, so the survey focussed on urban and suburban populations. House Sparrows were found to be more prevalent where there were older buildings with gaps between the roof tiles, for nesting sites, as well as near to open spaces like parks and school grounds providing feeding grounds. House Sparrows are maintaining their populations better in urban and suburban areas because food is still more available all year round than in our depleted farmlands. Being social, they need nesting sites for several pairs close together- so if you want to help them, either don’t make your buildings too tidy or put up several bird boxes in near proximity –
Male House Sparrow
House Sparrow, showing bold streaked back-markings
look online for the best way to provide these. Conditions: High pressure and unseasonably mild conditions. Temperature: Max 12 Min 7C.
The Chaffinch in winter– Chaffinches, which were on the rise, suffered set-backs in 2006, due to the prevalence of Finch trichomonosis, but they are still a widespread bird, with backs patterned to help their camouflage as they feed, mainly hopping along on the ground. In winter our numbers are swelled by migration, but Chaffinches are on of the species which practice “differential migration”, the females and juveniles travelling further south, probably showing males fare better in harsher conditions, and meaning you are likely to see either more males or more females in your patch in winter. The head markings on the males, as you can see, are dull grey-brown in winter, and though you might assume they get their blue, breeding colouring by moulting, they don’t- the feather-tips gradually wear away to reveal the bright caps. Conditions: A dry spell with gentle breezes and sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 11 Min 7 C.
Male Chaffinch in winter
Male Chaffinch shooing dull head-feathers
Male Chaffinch showing green back
A single male adult Siskin has been visiting our feeders for the past few days. While these lovely, small finches breed in the UK, especially in Scotland and Wales and have done well since the planting of extensive conifer plantations, they seldom come into urban gardens to feed until after New Year’s day. In winter, numbers are swelled from continental Europe. These lively birds with a very forked tail and bright plumage, and which mainly feed on birch, conifer and alder seeds, together with a few insects, sometimes fly in mixed flocks, like this one which comes in with the slightly larger (see photo) Goldfinches. You are more likely to see them in your gardens when there has been a poor crop of Sitka Spruce seeds in the wild, and more likely on wet than dry days. The males, as this is, have stronger colours than the female, and the adults males have a black crown. Look out for them- they are a delight.
Male adult Siskin
Male adult Siskin
Male adult Siskin
Male adult Siskin and Goldfinch
Fieldfares- these beautiful, winter visitors are about the size of Mistle Thrushes and smaller than the other winter visiting Thrush, the Redwing (see my drawing for comparison) though they often appear in mixed flocks together. While Fieldfares prefer to eat grubs and worms in open, hedged farmland they come into gardens and parks as these did the other day, when the ground is frozen or covered in snow, and then will feed on windfall apples, or other fruit like Hawthorn berries. When conditions are particularly severe in their breeding grounds of Asia, Scandinavia and
Fieldfare (larger) compared to Redwing
Northern Europe, as many as a million Fieldfare may come to feed on our fruit and invertebrates. Conditions: Milder, quiet weather now. Temperature: Max 8 Min 5 C.
Drinking and bathing – I know it is hard to keep water free of ice in these arctic conditions but here are some more examples of why it matters so much to birds– whether a Collared Dove, Finch, Tit or House Sparrow, birds need to bath and drink to keep in good condition in these icy times. Conditions: Snow still laying in Derbyshire. Temperature: Max 2 Min -4C.
Collared Dove drinking
Blue Tit bathing
House Sparrows, bathing
Chaffinch and Blue Tit bathing