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.

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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.

22nd January 2019

Redwing- While waiting for the Waxwings to turn up in Sheffield recently it was a pleasure to watch a small flock of Redwings feeding, at intervals, from the same trees. Redwing, our smallest true Thrush, migrates here in winter from Iceland, Russia and Scandinavia for the same reason as Waxwings- to feed from our winter berries, fruits and worms. Sadly on the Red list nowadays, they can still be seen in gardens, parks, supermarket carparks and streets in Sheffield, and in hedgerows and pastures further afield. Their distinctive ‘Tsee Tsee’ calls can also be heard in evenings as they

Redwing

Redwing

Redwing- showing the eponymous red underwing

Redwing

Redwing

flock and communicate with each other. Conditions: Still, grey with some rain. Temperature: Max 4 Min -2C.

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.

1st December 2018

I was delighted recently to be able to photograph Starlings in their winter plumage (bills no longer yellow, pale spots on body, feathers less iridescent) but this is a sad reflection on just how much their populations have plummeted, with 40 million birds lost from the European population since 1980. Even over winter, when our populations are boosted from central Europe, this once common bird has suffered what Michael McCarthy, in his great book “The Moth Snowstorm” terms a ‘great thinning’ suffered by so many of our species. The noisy, social Starling is, shockingly, now on the red (endangered) list and since 2012 the RSPB has been carrying out research to ascertain why. It may be due to loss of invertebrates which it feeds on (especially Crane Fly larvae, known as Leatherjackets), or nesting sites- they don’t yet know. Conditions: Grey, mild and wet weather continues. Temperature: Max 11 Min 9C.

Starling, winter plumage

Starling, winter plumage

Starling

28th November 2018

Listening to the BBC Radio 4 programme last Sunday, ‘Ash to Ash’ (available on catch-up) reminded me how devastating Ash die-back is going to be to the British countryside and ecology. Ash is the third most common tree in Britain, and valuable to at least 1,000 species, many of them specific to Ash trees. Its’ sparser foliage and early leaf-loss also enables light to penetrate woodland, enhancing wild flower species. The tough, shock absorbent wood has been here since the ice-age, with myriad uses, from Roman chariots to tool handles, hockey sticks to furniture construction. Ash can live for 400 years, or longer when coppiced, and yet it is dying over many parts of the country already and the only hope known to date is that some individual trees may

Ash die-back

Ash flowers

Ash bud

be resistant. Open Country suggested we should be planting similarly ecologically-rich trees now, as the disease has so far proved unstoppable. The arrival and speed of Ash die-back is also a reminder that many species are likely to be threatened by the increasing globalisation of plant diseases. Conditions: Grey, drizzly days. Temperature: Max 14 Min 8C.