22nd August 2018

All plants in the Goosefoot family (which includes Quinoa) have edible seeds and the seeds of our most common Goosefoot- Fat Hen- have been found at every prehistoric site excavated throughout Europe. Fat Hen seeds formed part of the last meal of Tollund Man, the 2,000 year-old victim of hanging, and possibly of ritual sacrifice, found in a Jutland peat-bog. The young leaves of Fat Hen can be used like spinach and the seeds used in soups or dried and ground as flour for flat-breads. Known as ‘Melde’ in old English, this common plant was long

Fat Hen

Fat Hen, Goosefoot family

Fat Hen seeds, Goosefoot family, with Marmalade Hoverfly

a staple in place of ‘greens’. Conditions: Cloud and sun. Temperature: Max 20 Min 13 C.

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6th August 2018

Fleabane, a flower of damp areas and ditches, (in short supply this dry, hot summer) was attracting many feeding insects yesterday, none more beautiful than the tiny, fast moving Small Copper butterfly. Fleabane, as its name suggests, was dried and burned to deter fleas, in the days when people strewed rushes and herbs on the floors of their homes. Its Latin name, Pulicaria (Pulex =Flea) Dysenterica, also points to its early use as a medicine against dysentry. Although Culpepper called it an “ill-looking weed”, the Romans valued it more highly, using it to make wreaths. Conditions: Continuing extremely hot and dry. Temperature: Max 27

Small Copper on Fleabane

Small Copper

Common Blue on Fleabane

Min14 C 

28th February 2018

Fieldfares, named from the Anglo-Saxon ‘fieldware’ or ‘traveller of the fields’ may come in from the fields and woods in this weather, as 13 did today, sweeping into our garden during a blizzard (hence the indistinct photo’s!). Breeding in Scandinavia, Fieldfares, about the size of Mistle Thrushes, migrate to the UK to overwinter. They are sometimes in mixed flocks with our other over-wintering Thrush, the smaller Redwing- the Fieldfare is the larger bird in this drawing, to scale alongside the Redwing, which we get more frequently in our winter garden. Condition: Heavy snow showers, driving breezes and sunny intervals. Temperature: Max -4 Min -5 C.

Fieldfare (larger) and Redwing

Fieldfare

Fieldfare

14th February 2018

Great Spotted Woodpeckers are turning up on our feeders as usual but males can also be heard drumming on the tree trunks to establish their territories, which they will do until April. (Male have a red patch at the back of their head, females don’t – see photo’s). One of the success stories, their increasing numbers and spread mean you can hear them in most of the UK- we even heard one at Kelsey Park, Beckenham, at the weekend! They find the loudest drumming-posts, including telegraph poles. (Green Woodpeckers, while they excavate nesting holes in tree-trunks, do not drum). Conditions: Frosty and showery. Temperature: Max 5- Min 4C.

Great Spotted Woodpecker- female

Great Spotted Woodpecker- female  

 

 

Great Spotted Woodpecker- male

Great Spotted Woodpecker- male

2nd February 2018

Kestrels are another of our birds in worrying decline, on the Amber list. We were lucky to see this one at Tree Sparrow Farm at Old Moor RSPB centre near Barnsley this week. Time was, you saw them on any long distance drive in England, but not now. The RSPB are carrying out research into their decline- preliminary findings point to the increased use of rat poison and changes in agriculture as responsible. Still trying for a good photo, but in the meantime…. Conditions: bright and dry. Temperature: Max 7- Min 2.

17th October 2017

Autumn fruits and nuts- it’s that time of year again, and the gale-force winds may have brought Conkers, Acorns, Chestnuts, Hazel Nuts down yesterday/today so here’s a reminder of the things you may get a close-up view of- and if it includes Sweet Chestnuts, you may even get a feast to take home and bake, roast or make into great soup with lentils. Conditions: Calming down in Sheffield after a wild night of tail-of-the-hurricane winds. Temperature: Max 14- Min 9C.

12th September 2017

Medlar: Before the availability of sugar,  Medlars were a favoured winter fruit for the early Greeks, Romans and widespread in medieval England. Its importance can be seen from the number of times it is mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays, as well as by Chaucer, (The Reeves Tale) and, due to its shape,  said to be like a dog’s bottom, many of the quotes are vulgar! Its characteristic of being very hard until ‘bletted’ by frost, when it quickly rots, meant it was also used as an insult, as in The Honest Whore, by Dekker, who writes, about a woman, ‘no sooner ripe than rotten’ and Shakespeare, in Measure for Measure, “they would else have married me to the rotten medlar” (these are the least offensive!) That is no reason not to grow this beautiful small tree, with a large, single white flower, attractive to insects, or to use the fruit to make ‘cheese’ and jelly. Conditions: cloud and sun, with rain later. Temperature: Max 16- Min 10c.