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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yellowhammer- these beautiful members of the bunting family, like many birds that rely heavily on farmland seeds and stubble-fields, are declining so much they are now on the red (for danger) list. Farmers who leave hedges to fruit and seed, and some field margins with seeding wild flowers, can help. Yellowhammers nest near or on the ground, in dense vegetation, and need singing posts like trees or bushes from which to call their ‘little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese’ refrain. We watched these males near the Chesterfield canal- wonderfully bright. Conditions: Sunny intervals turning stormy. Temperature: Max 18- Min 12C.
Common Blue Butterfly– I have been watching this, our most widespread but still declining blue butterfly, while down South but it can be seen on grasslands, in urban cemeteries, on dunes, and as far north as Orkney, though it avoids mountain terrain. The female has mostly brown upper sides, with a varying amount of blue, while males are completely blue on their upper wings- see photo’s. The jewel-like patterning of the underwings are beautiful but make them hard to spot- stand in a grassy area, when it is sunny, and just watch to see if any fly around- t
he best way to spot them. Conditions: Sunny intervals and showers. Temperature: Max 18- Min 14C.