17th May 2019

Orange-tip Butterfly – as a follow-up to an earlier post on these lovely, and quite common, butterflies here is a drawing I did a while ago about their life-cycle as it is worth looking out for their distinctive chrysalis at this time of year. Orange-tips lay their eggs singly (because the caterpillars are cannibalistic!) on the stems of plants like Ladies Smock, Jack-by-the-hedge (Garlic Mustard) and, in gardens, Honesty, (though

Orange Tip Caterpillar on Jack By the Hedge

Orange-tip life-cycle

Annotation of Orange-tip life cycle

young survive less well on this). The eggs turn orange as they develop and the caterpillars, starting out orange, turn blue-green as they mature (see photo). By the late stage of the chrysalis the orange tips of the male can be seen through the increasingly transparent casing. Conditions: Warm and many dry days. Temperature: Max 17 Min 9C.

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15th May 2019

Passing an old Ash tree along Broomham Lane, Catsfield (Sussex) today I heard some nestling birds calling for food so I waited and watched this pair of Great Tits carrying insects at frequent intervals into the hole in the trunk (and poo sacs out!.) Both male and female feed the young on protein-rich caterpillars, beetles, aphids and spiders. Later, when they have grown more, they will be able to introduce seeds to their diet as well. Great Tits are the most studied birds in the world, and will use nest-boxes in your garden. May and June are their busiest months, having an

Pair of Great Tits, one leaving and one approaching their tree-hole nest full of noisy babies.

Great Tit calling its mate from the nest

Great Tit leaving nest with faecal sac

Great Tit leaving tree-hole nest

Great Tit male with insect-food for young

often large clutch of eggs to lay and hatchlings to feed up. The worry for this pair, and for other tree-nesting birds is that most of the mature Ash in these parts, including this one, are succumbing to Ash die-back. Though the tree will last a few years yet, where will future nest sites for Woodpeckers, Nuthatches and Tits come from when these valuable trees fall- unless we all put up more nest boxes, in gardens and woods. Conditions: Blue sky and gentle breeze. Temperature: Max 16 Min 5C.

28th April

Lapwing are the UK birds with the most local names. We grew up with them as Peewits from their call, but maybe my favourite is Peasiewheep! I covered their flight display yesterday so today something about their behaviour on the ground. Being ground-nesting birds, their eggs and young are very vulnerable to predation by Gulls, Corvids, Foxes etc. They lay their highly camouflaged eggs on a slight rise so that the adults get the best view across the landscape, and they fly at any predators and mob them as soon as they come within range. They also feign injury, by lowering one wing so it appears broken, moving away from the nest to lure predators away and they even try to mislead human observers by making visits to false nest-sights. This behaviour led them to be called “full of trecherye” by Chaucer and, in the misogynistic language of the 17th century, ‘Plover’ was used as a word for ‘deceitful’ women. Their eggs were heavily harvested in the past and astonishingly, given the Lapwing is on the Red (Endangered) List, a licence can still be attained for egg-collection, though this

Lapwing crest

Lapwing

Lpwing

Lapwing

Lapwing pair

happens rarely. It is a shame more farmers don’t restore habitat for them as they eat many insect-pests. I love their punky crests and petrol-coloured backs. Conditions: Dry and cloudy. Temperature: Max 14 Min 6C. 

27th April 2019

Displaying Lapwing: We had the special joy of watching the dramatic flight displays of several pairs of Lapwing at Frampton Marsh RSPB reserve this week, and you may be able to catch this on moorland, farmland or wetland, though Lapwing numbers have reduced so much it is on the Red List for endangered species. The pairing display involves vertiginous climbs, dances on high so close the pair almost touch, and precipitous, tumbling  falls back to earth, stalling just before they touch and swoop back up. This is accompanied by the female tilting her body, and the male making what has been described as a creaking-gate call. Because in these displays the primary wing feathers are outstretched (see photo’s) you can also hear a wonderful ‘whumping’ of the wing-beats- altogether spectacular. More about Lapwing in a couple of days. Conditions: Blustery showers. Temperature: Max 9 Min 6C.

Lapwings displaying

Lapwing pair display-flight

Lapwing pair display-flight

Lapwing upside down in vertiginous display-flight

Downward stoop of Lapwing display-flight

16th April 2019

Orange-tip Butterfly: it is so lovely to see these beautiful butterflies back in the garden. Having some damp patches in our garden, we have planted Ladies Smock, as it is one of the main food plants for their caterpillars, as is Jack By The Hedge which grows wild in many hedgerows (see photo’s) but Alys Fowler wrote recently about how the much more common garden plant, Honesty, is also a great caterpillar food source so that is an easier way to encourage them into our gardens. Conditions: warming up for the next few days. Still mainly dry. Temperature: Max 13 Min 5 c.

Male Orange Tip Butterfly feeding on wild Jack By The Hedge

Female Orange Tip Butterfly feeding in the garden on perennial wallflower

Close-up of female Orange-Tip Butterfly, both Male and female have this amazing camouflage marking when wings are folded

Ladies Smock flowering in our garden, a good plant food source for caterpillars of Orange-tip

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.