Dusting behaviour in birds– this Wren was recently displaying typical behaviour for Wrens following wetting it’s feathers in a pond. It took about quarter of an hour to thoroughly dust bath in a hollow. The Wren spread its wings, wriggled, ruffled all its feathers, and even disturbed dust into the air, so that every feather was dusted, preened and dried and the dust reached the skin. This is called ‘maintenance behaviour’, maintaining feather and skin health and cleanliness as well as using dust for its anti-parasitic properties. It also meant it stayed in one place long enough for lots of photos, whereas Wrens are often so quick and secretive in their movements they are a job to photograph! Conditions: Showers. Temperature: Max 13 Min 9c.
It being another wet day, with lightning predicted later, I am returning to a sequence on birds bathing. Nothing enters the water with more energy than the House Sparrow, undeterred by an audience, whether or Blackbird or the
more sedate bather, the Chaffinch. Having very few visits from House Sparrows ourselves in Pitsmoor it is always a delight to watch groups of them when we visit Monyash in the Peak District where there squabbling noise accompanies every day. Conditions: grey and wet down south. Temperature: Max 17 Min 12 c.
The Hairy Curtain Crust fungi is one of hundreds of fungi that grow on live or dead wood (Crusts or resupinates are not easy to distinguish in some instances from bracket fungi). This one is bright orange when young and soon the leathery or gelatinous fruiting bodies merge into horizontal ‘shelves’ as they fuse together and undulate along a fallen tree trunk (often Oak) like this. The Hairy Curtain is one of the more common and easy to identify, especially when young and brightly coloured, before it turns
cream/buff. Conditions: rain and more rain. Temperature: Max 16 Min 12C.
Parasol Mushroom– This very distinctive mushroom, fairly common up until November in well-drained meadows and grassland but less common in the North and Scotland, can grow up to 40 cm high and in diameter. Its scaly top has led to it being called Snakes Hat in parts of Europe, where it is prized for its nutty smell and flavour. This fungus emerges in an egg-shape and becomes flatter as it matures, leaving a fleshy
ring where the base splits from the stalk (see photos). It has a very distinctive ‘umbo’ (a raised knob) in the centre.
It is hard to confuse with any other fungi but always be careful when trying something you aren’t sure of, and leave a piece uncooked so that it can be identified if anything goes wrong!- the flesh sometimes turns pink when cut. Conditions: Breezy with light showers. Temperature: Max 16 Min 10C.
Alder Beetles- if like me, you are seeing Alder leaves full of holes and wondering what’s eating them it is the (unimaginatively but accurately named) Alder Beetle. This tiny, shiny metallic blue beetle which was in plentiful evidence at Potteric Carr nature reserve near Doncaster last week, was thought to be extinct in the UK for sixty years but has recolonised northwards after being recorded in Hampshire in 2004. The Alder Beetle, about 6-7mm long, is most active from April to July but there were many in evidence in the South Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve at the end of August. The caterpillars are also black and feed on Alder too, and the adults overwinter in leaf-litter before emerging to lay their eggs next spring. It sometimes affects Beech as well as Alder but the trees seem to survive the infestations. Conditions: Cool, still, grey.
Temperature: Max 12 Min 10C.
Birds take very different approaches to bathing– this juvenile Robin, just beginning to lose its speckled chest and gain its red breast, meaning it is now old enough to find and defend its own territory which it will have to do, even against its parents, took the energetic and vigorous route! It was lovely to watch. Conditions: A very wet but mild, still day, following recent days of torrential rain. Temperature: Max 11 Min 3C.
Treecreeper- this is usually a solitary and elusive bird, so well camouflaged on the bark of trees and among the leaves that it is hard to get a good look at one. I was really lucky to have this one briefly come down to the edge of a friend’s pond last week. Though its body is no longer than that of a Wren, its long, down-curved, slim bill and its long, stiff tail, which helps it balance while climbing up tree trunks, make it look bigger. The bill has evolved to prise insects, grubs and spiders out of crevices in tree-trunks, where it feeds. This photo shows the very long toes and claws which help it grip as it busily travels, always upwards and often in a spiral, round a tree before flying off to feed elsewhere
. Conditions: Heavy showers and some bright spells. Temperature: Max 16 Min 12C.