The natural world in miniature is (probably) thriving in your garden, as in mine, and is often beautiful and always fascinating. As a nature-loving friend of mine reminded me recently, have a hand-lens ( they can be bought cheaply) at hand in your garden or out and about. I am lucky to have a macro lens on my camera and here are some of the insects, a few mm long, that reside in our Sheffield garden. (When I cant identify things like this myself, as with the tiny Figwort Weevil, I post it on I-spot nature and someone in that community always helps me out- well worth signing up to for any wildlife or plants you aren’t sure of, or just to explore to see what others are seeing and identifying. Conditions: cloudy with some showers. Temperature: Max 14 Min 8C.
Bird-baths- if you needed a reminder about why even tiny areas of shadow water in a garden are a draw to birds, these photo’s may help! Birds need to bathe to keep their feathers in good condition and help them deal with mites and parasites which accumulate, especially in warm weather, and of course they always need a source of
water to drink from. Over the last few days I’ve watched this Mistle Thrush and juvenile Robin bathe and numerous birds drink from our ponds. You don’t need anything as big as a pond though, as any shallow dish, old wok etc will do, either sunk in the ground or propped up so it is stable. A few pebbles or stones where they can perch or bathe at different depths helps, and ensures other creatures who might be attracted, including bees, can easily crawl out. If you can see it from your window, it will prove entertaining watching, too. Conditions: Cloud and light showers. Temperature: Max 15 Min 8C.
Frogs: Research this year has shown that our Common Frog, like frog species all over the world, are suffering from the impact of climate change and also from the increase in world-wide travel and trade, which helps spread disease that affect much of our native trees and wildlife, and both issues are set to become more of a problem in the future. The devastating ranavirus, sometimes termed ‘amphibian plague’ is spreading through UK frogs, and there is fear that other killer diseases, like the Bd fungus will spread here, too. We certainly have fewer frogs around this
year and for neighbour had much less Frog Spawn in her pond than usual. Frogs help keep down pests in our gardens as well as being vital parts of our local biodiversity, so these are worrying developments. Conditions: Sun and cloud, dry again. Temperature: Max 19 Min 13C.
I was about to do a different subject for today’s blog when along came this female Common Blue Butterfly and started feeding a a Daisy on our uncut lawn! I don’t remember ever seeing a Common Blue in our Sheffield garden so maybe last summer’s heat helped this species locally. Females have variable amounts of blue and brown on their upper wings, while male are all-blue on upper-wings (I include a photo of a male for identification purposes, even though I haven’t seen one here- yet! The photo is from a Sussex garden). Common Blue caterpillars feed mainly on Bird’s Foot Trefoil, and sometimes on white Clover, Restharrow etc. The adults love being in the sun, on grassland, waste ground, road verges etc. They are fairly widespread, living up to their name. Conditions: Cloud giving way to sun. Temperature Max 14 Min 7C.
Blue Tits raising their young today– This is such a hectic time for adult Blue Tits. The female, having laid an egg a day for an average of 8-12 eggs will have plucked feathers from her abdomen to form her bare ‘brood patch’ which increases the eggs exposure to the warmth they need, and then sat, being fed by her mate added to by forays outside herself through the brooding period. After hatching the young Blue Tits need around a hundred caterpillars a day each. No wonder the adults being to look tattered by the time their young fledge. I was watching this bird-box in a Sussex garden yesterday- the young bird can be seen with its ‘gape’ bill, lin
ed with yellow to draw attention to the adult in the dark nest to direct food into its mouth! Conditions: Dull, cloudy, warm Temperature: Max 17 Min 9C.
Orange-tip Butterfly – as a follow-up to an earlier post on these lovely, and quite common, butterflies here is a drawing I did a while ago about their life-cycle as it is worth looking out for their distinctive chrysalis at this time of year. Orange-tips lay their eggs singly (because the caterpillars are cannibalistic!) on the stems of plants like Ladies Smock, Jack-by-the-hedge (Garlic Mustard) and, in gardens, Honesty, (though
young survive less well on this). The eggs turn orange as they develop and the caterpillars, starting out orange, turn blue-green as they mature (see photo). By the late stage of the chrysalis the orange tips of the male can be seen through the increasingly transparent casing. Conditions: Warm and many dry days. Temperature: Max 17 Min 9C.
Passing an old Ash tree along Broomham Lane, Catsfield (Sussex) today I heard some nestling birds calling for food so I waited and watched this pair of Great Tits carrying insects at frequent intervals into the hole in the trunk (and poo sacs out!.) Both male and female feed the young on protein-rich caterpillars, beetles, aphids and spiders. Later, when they have grown more, they will be able to introduce seeds to their diet as well. Great Tits are the most studied birds in the world, and will use nest-boxes in your garden. May and June are their busiest months, having an
often large clutch of eggs to lay and hatchlings to feed up. The worry for this pair, and for other tree-nesting birds is that most of the mature Ash in these parts, including this one, are succumbing to Ash die-back. Though the tree will last a few years yet, where will future nest sites for Woodpeckers, Nuthatches and Tits come from when these valuable trees fall- unless we all put up more nest boxes, in gardens and woods. Conditions: Blue sky and gentle breeze. Temperature: Max 16 Min 5C.
Waking up each morning to the beautiful song of the Willow Warbler again, and having heard both this and the Chiffchaff singing on nearby Parkwood Springs I thought it was time to revisit these beautiful, elusive and similar-looking spring migrants. Chiffchaff arrive mid-March and Willow Warbler, migrating further, arrive in April. This difference in migration journeys also explains one of the visual differences, with Chiffchaffs having shorter wings and Willow Warblers, flying further, having longer primary feathers/wing length. Chiffchaff have dark legs while Willow Warblers have pale pinkish legs and a brighter eye-stripe. Since they are hard to see, the easiest way to tell them apart is by song- Chiffchaff singing a two note eponymous song, and Willow Warblers have a lovely long song ending with a downward trill. The BTO have a great little on-line video on telling them apart. (The photo’s of the Willow Warbler are from our garden, the Chiffchaff from Spurn).
Conditions: Milder with sun and showers. Temperature: Max 13 Min 4C.
Two less common insects, once mainly confined to the south of England, have been showing up in our Sheffield garden this week. The brightly coloured Cinnamon Bug, also called the Black and Red Squash Bug overwinters as an adult and so is around now. It can easily be mistaken for some other red and black bugs, including a similar Shield Bug but the Cinnamon Bug is more burnt-orange and longer in shap than a shield bug (see photo). The other is the Hairy-footed Flower Bee- the photo shows the female which is black all over except for orange hairs on her hind-legs, which are used to gather pollen, making them look very yellow when charged. They love feeding on Pulmonaria. The male is gingery-bodied with a pale tuft on its head (no photo yet!). It patrols flowers looking for a mate. The lovely Flower Bee nests in vertical banks of mud or in the soft mortar of walls where they mine cells, lay an egg in each and top up with pollen for food, before sealing. The young Bee emerges and can be seen flying from March to May. Conditions: Cloudy and still, rain later. Temperature: Max 11 Min 6C.
Dipper- we have just come back from an early morning walk along the heavily industrialised part of the Don at Neepsend, Sheffield, carrying out a Breeding BIrd Survey for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and among many species seen and heard we had the delight of watching a Dipper on this once heavily polluted area of river. I first saw one on the city centre part if the Don while doing a charity collection at Hillsborough, the Owls ground which stands by the Don. It is lovely to know this species is till in the area- they tend too use the same nest-sites for generations. Characteristically this Dipper was standing on stones, bobbing and watching the water before flying in and walking underwater to feed on small crustaceans and insect larvae. This was probably a male as the female is likely to be sitting on a clutch of eggs by now, being fed by him. (The photo’s are from
the Derwent at Hathersage, not the Don). Conditions: Cool, dry and cloudy. Temperature: Max 11 Min 4 C.