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.

Advertisements

29th December 2018

I was walking along Spratt’s Hollow (East Sussex) just now, thinking about Butcher’s Broom and a few paces further on, there it was, in the hedgerow!

Butcher”s Broom

Butcher’s Broom

Strange but then Butcher’s Broom is itself a strange plant – it has no true leaves, but flattened stems called ‘cladodes’, evolved to function like leaves, along its tough, ridged stems, which give it the appearance of being evergreen. We seem to have fallen out of the tradition of cutting Butcher’s Broom stems and bringing them indoors at this time of year, when the beautiful red berries show bright against the dark ‘leaves’. We favour Holly instead. As you can see from the photos, the flowers  and then berries grow from the centre of these ‘leaves’ and as you may guess from the name, they were traditionally cut and tied in bunches, when their stiffness made them a good brush for sweeping off butcher’s blocks. Related to the Asparagus, these low shrubs with their sharp flattened stems are easier to spot in winter. Conditions: Grey, mild days. Temperature: Max 11 Min 4C.

13th December 2018

All birds need to wash to keep their feathers in good condition and Mute Swans are a dramatic and accessible (being on many lakes in local parks) way to observe just how vigorous and thorough this process needs to be. A family of five Mute Swans were washing recently (alongside some synchronised swimming Mallards, as you will see) and the photo’s show how they separate their feathers so that water gets to every part. Surprisingly little research has been done into this process but when birds are deprived of water, they have been shown to be much clumsier in flight. Regular washing is essential to condition the feathers and helps reduce damage from mites, lice and bacteria. This is why it is worth having even a little bird bath in your garden if you don’t have open water nearby. Conditions: Alternating grey and bright days. Temperature: Max 5 Min 0C.

Juvenile Mute Swan, bathing

Mute Swan, bathing

Juvenile Mute Swan, bathing

Mute Swan, bathing

Juvenile Mute Swan, bathing

8th December 2018

I love watching the Heron skulking in the reeds, or taking off on the unique, lazy, m-shaped flight which you might watch on any wetland, estuary, or on the lake in your town park, transforming from a static shadowy, hunched form, unfolding

Heron

Heron

Heron

Heron

to an elegant, airborne giant in seconds. In Greek mythology Herons were thought of as bringers of bad luck. Heron’s feed in shallow water, and the Greeks realised this meant their presence would reveal, to enemies, the shallow crossing places they could use to invade.                         Herons used to appear on upper-class menus, as this recipe from the 1400’s shows: “Take a heron…serve him…scalding and drawing and kuttyng the bone of the nekke away, and let the skyn be on…roste….his sause is to be mynced with pouder of ginger, vynegre and mustard”. Thankfully, they (and we) are now protected from this practice! Conditions: A bright morning becoming grey and very wet. Temperature: Max 9 Min 7C.

25th October 2018

Teal- if you have difficulty telling different ducks apart, the Teal is a good one to start with. At this time of year the Teal come further South, and West, from their moorland breeding places, and populations get boosted by arrivals from the Baltic and Siberia. These lovely dabbling ducks can therefore be seen, often in large groups, on estuaries and shallow scrapes and bodies of water, noisily sifting for seeds and small invertebrates. Teal are much smaller than Mallard, and even the female has the

Male Teal in winter plumage- colours are brighter in breeding Teal

Teal- a group resting, which they do a lot!

Teal- male and female dabbling for small imvertebrates

Teal- male feeding

stunning green wing patch but the males have very distinctive head markings and a triangle of cream at the back of their small bodies. Conditions: The mild, sunny spell continues, with colder times forecast over the weekend, so we will be getting our tender plants in. Temperature: Max 14 Min 8C.

21st September 2018

The Red Admiral, known in earlier times as the Red Admirable, has scarcely appeared in our garden this year but was feeding in small numbers on the heavy crops of Blackberries along the Chesterfield Canal this week. While there is a small resident population in the UK, and an increasing number of Red Admirals overwintering as adults, as our climate changes, the majority migrate to our shores in spring, from Eastern Europe, and then breed here. Because numbers are swelled by migration, the numbers in any year fluctuate greatly. This beautiful, unmistakable large, strong-flying Butterfly loves feeding up on fermenting fruit like these imbibing Blackberry juice. Conditions: Cool, wet and then sunny. Temperature: Max 13 Min 7 C.

Red Admiral

Red Admiral feeding on fermenting Blackberries

Surprisingly heavy crop of Blackberries given the dry season

8th September 2018

Emperor Dragonflies, one of the largest and fastest Dragonflies in Europe, able to fly at 24mph, prefer medium to large ponds, or canals, with plenty of vegetation, which is why I could watch them at the stunning Bodnant Gardens, North Wales, this week. Reaching a length of 78mm (3.1 inches) they are highly territorial and males will fight to the death. Hard to photograph on the wing, because of their speed and sudden changes of direction,   they swoop to catch insect prey, including Butterflies, which they consume on the wing. They hardly ever perch.  This female (they have a greenish abdomen, while the male’s is bluer) did hover and land, looking for a site to lay its eggs. I

Female Emperor Dragonfly

Female Emperor Dragonfly, looking for an egg-laying site

Female Emperor Dragonfly

Female Emperor Dragonfly

Mating Emperor Dragonflies, mid-air.

also managed to get a shot, about six metres above ground, as two mated, flying past at high speed! Apart from their size, they can be identified by the way they often hold their abdomens bent downwards. Conditions: Grey cloud and occasional light rain. Temperature: Max 16 Min 13 C.