30th November 2019

Kestrels: Once our most numerous bird of prey, Kestrels have declined and Buzzards have increased and are now number one! Yesterday when, taking our van out for a run, it broke down (sorted by rescue). We were therefore delighted when this one flew in near the lane we parked up on. Kestrels use high perches to hunt from, especially in winter when they need to preserve energy, as their characteristic hovering uses far more energy. This one didn’t stay long, so we occupied ourselves waiting for roadside rescue by playing scrabble we had in the van, but it was lovely to watch this one, probably looking out for a small rodent, like a vole, by far their most frequent food source, though they will eat earthworms, large insects, even sparrows in cities. Kestrels were

Kestrel

Beady eyed Kestrel

Kestrel

reserved for the lower status Knaves in medieval falconry, larger hawks being reserved for Knights. Hieararchies have been around for a very long time! Conditions: Another frosty, bright, dray day. Temperature: Max 2 Min 0C.

25th October 2019

This wet weather is benefitting the fungi, if not much else. Fly Agaric, surely the one toadstool that everyone recognises, if not from nature, then from children’s books, was always described to us as kids as highly dangerous. Though there are few records of it being fatal, it is probably best to view it as toxic. It was used for centuries in different cultures, especially in the East, as an hallucinogenic drug, by shamans and

Fly Agaric

Fly Agaric

Fly Agaric, showing its gills and ring (it had been knocked over by an animal, not me!)

others- whether ‘Fly’ comes from that or, as most people think, from its use in the past as an insecticide, a piece left in a saucer of milk, it is best to enjoy looking at its beauty than to meddle with its dangers. It is at least unmistakable, unlike many fungi. Conditions: Rain arriving, heavier to come. Temperature: Max 14 Min 8C.

28th September 2019

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

Tree Creeper

Tree Creeper

. Conditions: Heavy showers and some bright spells. Temperature: Max 16 Min 12C.

13th September 2019

Chiffchaff- these birds are very similar in appearance to their close cousins, the Willow Warbler. Both migrate here from Africa and both are small, olive-green warblers with a yellow eye-stripe. In spring and early summer they are easy to tell apart by their calls- the Willow Warbler has a lovely long trill while the Chiffchaff is named after its two-note call. At this time of year, as they feed-up on insects, spiders and some berries, ready for their long migration back to Africa, you have to get a good view. It has taken me years to get a photo of Chiffchaffs but this pair were flitting up in a tree yesterday, and on a Cotoneaster bush, and you can see their distinguishing dark legs (The Willow Warbler has pale pink

Chiffchaff

Chiffchaff

Chiffchaff

Chiffchaff

ish legs). Conditions: Sun, cloud and a cool breeze. Temperature: Max 16 Min 7C.

5th April 2019

House Sparrows– The (mixed) results from the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch are in and ,sadly, small birds have had a bad season, probably due to the exceptionally cold spell in winter. Some would also say sadly, Wood Pigeon numbers are growing in gardens and we are certainly part of that trend. House Sparrows, however, are at last making a bit of a come-back after a big slump in numbers nationwide. We only get them

House Sparrow

House Sparrow

House Sparrow, showing striated back

occasionally in our garden, but many places in Sheffield and the Peak District have good numbers, as you will see from these recent photo’s from a local friend’s garden. I always remember the House Sparrow identification by the male’s grey head being the colour of a slate roof (artistic licence there!) Conditions: Drier and milder. Temperature: Max 12 Min 4C.

2nd April 2019

Common Green Shield Bugs usually emerge in May, having hibernated over winter in grassy tussocks and undergrowth but these were in the garden a couple of days ago, when the weather was unseasonable mild. This particular Shield Bug (there are several species, named, obviously for their flat, shield-like shape) has, due to climate change,  been spreading North from its habitat in southern England, and feeds on a variety of plants so can be seen in many environments. Also called the Stink Bug, for the noxious fluid it releases from glands if handled or disturbed, the Common Green Shield Bug does no noticeable damage to plants. I’ll be looking out for the eggs they lay on the underside of leaves, and the rounded larvae,

Common Green Shield Bug

Common Green Shield Bug

Common Green Shield Bug

Common Green Shield Bug

as I have never noticed them before. Conditions: Some gentle rain at last. Temperature: Max 8 Min 1C.

5th February 2019

Fieldfares- these beautiful, winter visitors are about the size of Mistle Thrushes and smaller than the other winter visiting Thrush, the Redwing (see my drawing for comparison) though they often appear in mixed flocks together.  While Fieldfares prefer to eat grubs and worms in open, hedged farmland they come into gardens and parks as these did the other day, when the ground is frozen or covered in snow, and then will feed on windfall apples, or other fruit like  Hawthorn berries. When conditions are particularly severe in their breeding grounds of Asia, Scandinavia and

Fieldfare (larger) compared to Redwing

Fieldfare

Fieldfare

Fieldfare

Northern Europe, as many as a million Fieldfare may come to feed on our fruit and invertebrates. Conditions: Milder, quiet weather now. Temperature: Max 8 Min 5 C.