30th March 2019

Seven spot native Ladybird

Mating seven spot ladybirds

Native Seven Spot Ladybird

Harlequin Ladybird, showing brown rather than black legs

The last couple of warm, bright days have brought many insects to the garden so I am spoiled for choice today but it has been encouraging to see several 7-spot Ladybirds, in fact a “loveliness” of them, the collective noun for ladybirds. For the last few years we have seen very few native-species ladybirds here, and the larger, more aggressive and non-native Harlequins, which only came to the UK in 2004, have dominated. Harlequins are a threat because they eat native species and also out-compete for food, although they eat many aphid and other pests just like out native species do. The last time we had a big influx of Ladybirds in this country was in the very hot summer of 1976 so maybe last years long, hot summer has boosted native numbers. If you can’t remember how to tell native species from Harlequins, native have black legs and Harlequins, which as their name implies come in many different colour and spot patterns, have brown legs (see photo’s). Conditions: Warm dry spell continues. Temperature: Max 13 Min 6C.

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28th March 2019

The Dark-Edged Bee Fly has reappeared in the garden today. This bee-mimic, with its very fluffy body, long legs and very long proboscis has evolved in an extraordinarily refined way- it has incredible ability to hover, which it does as it sups nectar from the base of the tiny pistil tubes of, here,  Forget-me-nots and Primroses etc. This attractive fly does us absolutely no harm but the females use their flying and hovering skills to extraordinary ends- they hover over the ground, searching for the ground-nests sites of solitary bees, before swooping down and flicking the eggs into the bee’s tiny nest-holes. Not only this, the female has already picked up sand or dust and covered each egg, both in order to camouflage the egg for its arrival in the bee’s nest, but probably also to add weight so it travels through the air more accurately! Once the infiltrator egg hatches, the larvae feeds on the larvae of the bee. This arrangement doesn’t seem to reduce the solitary bee

Dark-edged Bee Fly

Dark-edged Bee Fly

Dark-edged Bee Fly

Dark-edged Bee Fly

population significantly. If you see a Bee Fly in your area you can record it on the Bee Fly Watch survey- just put it in your search engine. Conditions: Sun and cloud. Temperature: Max 14 Min 4 C.

24th March 2019

Female Blackbird “sunning”- this is the earliest I have seen a bird sunning. When sunning, birds fluff up their feathers and stretch wings and tail to maximise the heat getting to their skin and deep into their plumage. It is thought this is to make mites and parasites active and bring them to the surface and this one immediately followed the sunning with preening and removing ‘bugs’ that presumably have built up over the last few months. Usually sunning happens in much hotter weather, and the birds stretch out on a hot

Female Blackbird, sunning

Female Blackbird, sunning

Female blackbird preening after sunning

surface, not a wobbly one like the top of our privet hedge in mid-March! Interesting to watch this behaviour though.  Conditions: The ,lovely sunny periods and dry days continue. Temperature: Max 9 Min 3C

22nd March 2019

This week the Peacock butterfly has been flying in the garden, feasting on our early flowers, like Primrose and Dandelion. Only a few Butterfly species traditionally overwinter as adults in this country- the Peacock, Brimstone and Comma being the most common, which is why these are the species we see flying early if the temperatures are above 10C. However, with climate change there are more species surviving over winter as adults, including Red Admiral, Clouded Yellow and Small Tortoiseshell. If you see any Butterflies in these early months you can record them in

Peacock Butterfly

Peacock feeding on Dandelion

Primrose and Peacock

Nature’s Calendar. This valuable citizen science site is helping to record changes in the emergence of buds on trees, insects, migrant birds etc, which all helps monitor climate change. If you find a Butterfly in your house or shed take it outside, carefully, on a mild day so they can find natural food, and an outdoor site to shelter if the weather gets cold. Conditions: Mild dry spell. Temperature: Max 13 Min 5C.

17th March 2019

Another beautiful, bright gold spring flower with deep green, glossy leaves is the damp-loving Marsh Marigold. Many small insects crawl over these big, shiny blossoms, gathering pollen and incidentally and valuably pollinating the flowers. Marsh Marigold, in flower now and for several weeks, are commonly named ‘King-cup’, derived from the Old English “cop” meaning a button or stud, as once worn by King’s. Farmer’s would hang a bunch of King Cups in their cow-byres on the first of May as a protection against the evil spells of fairies and witches and they may be the flowers Shakespeare wrote of in Cymbeline: “winking Mary-buds begin to ope their golden eyes”. Their flowers are smaller in the north.

Marsh Marigold

Marsh Marigold- the flowers are larger in the south than north

Marsh Marigold, or ‘King-cup’

Marsh Marigolds of stream- and pond-banks, and wetland

14th March 2019

Is there any more beautiful flower in early Spring than the Lesser Celandine? Wordsworth didn’t think so, noting their habit of closing in dull weather– “that shrinks, like many more, from cold and rain, And, the first moment that the sun may shine, Bright as the sun himself, ’tis out again”. Also known as ‘Pilewort’ from the ancient “doctrine of signatures”, where, if a part of a plant resembled a disease or condition it was believed to be a cure for that condition: in this case, the nodular roots resembling piles! The 17th century Herbalist, Culpepper claimed it cured his daughter of the so-called “king’s evil” or scrofula within a week. The Celandine is very useful for early insects but the native plant is very invasive so you are better trying the beautiful cultivated varieties like the two I have in my garden photographed here- the bronze-leafed Brazen Hussy and one of the many white-flowered ‘alba’s’ which are easy to grow and split but don’t go too wild. Conditions: Stormy winds and rain for several days. Temperature: Max 11 Min 4C.

Two garden varieties of Celandine

Celandines

Celandines

7th March 2019

Ring-necked Parakeet: I still find it astonishing to look up from working as I did today, here in Pitsmoor, to see such this bird a few feet away from the window. They are getting bolder and their numbers in Sheffield are increasing, as in many places. Stories of how they became established as breeding pairs in the UK are numerous– did they escape from the Ealing Film Studio’s in the 1950’s, during the filming of The African Queen, or were they deliberately set free by Jimmy Hendrix in the 1960’s? Did they escape from an aviary during the Hurricane of 1987? Whatever the truth, the milder winters have led to an estimated number in the wild in 2012 of 32,000, greater now. Because they start pair-bonding and occupying nest sites in autumn, earlier than our native tree-hole nesting species like Woodpeckers and Starlings, they may prove a threat to native populations, (not to mention to a good night’s sleep)

Ring-necked Parakeet

Male Ring-necked Parakeet in bright breeding plumage

so the jury is out as to whether they will be culled in future. Conditions: rainy and grey. Temperature: Max 7 Min 1C.