29th March 2020

Primroses – I have covered this in previous years but then, I know people love them, and forget some details as well as there being some new people to the blog. Primroses are really making a come-back along lanes and roads, probably thanks to less road-verge cutting as well as my (grandma among many others no longer digging up plants and putting them in their gardens!) Primroses have evolved a clever way to encourage cross-pollination rather than self-pollination, which makes them more resilient. If you look at the centre of the flowers, some are ‘pin-eyed’ with the female part or stigma  prominent and the other, the ‘thrum-eyed’ have the male pollen-bearing anthers prominent (see photos). But further down the flower-tube hides the opposite part of the reproductive organs. This arrangement means that, when an insect visits each flower, they  don’t pollinate that flower but one of the opposite arrangement. You can carefully pull the petals of a flower to reveal either the anthers or stigma below whichever is uppermost. Primroses are brilliant for early butterflies, bees and smaller insects. Really worth having in your garden (easy to buy native

Buff-tailed Bumblebee on Primrose

Primrose

 

Primrose, pin-eye

Thrum-eyed native Primrose

plants online)- you can split them into several plants, every couple of years and pass on to others, Conditions: Cooler but mainly dry spell of weather. Temperature: Max 8 Min 4 C.

27th March 2020

Bee Fly- we have just started having visits from this extraordinary little fly again, which disguises itself as a Bee in order to parasitise the larvae of ground-nesting Bumblebees. Numbers seem to be in a good balance though so you don’t need to be too worried about their unusual  life-style. At present you will see these little balls of fluff, with their semi-transparent wings and brilliant ability to hover, feeding up on things like Forget-me-nots and Pulmonaria. Then they will start hovering a few feet above the ground, watching for ground nesting bee nests. Next, they gather small particles of sand, cover each of their eggs with it, to give the weight and disguise, and fly down past he nest opening, flicking eggs into the nest. The eggs will rest

Bee Fly

Bee Fly

Bee Fly

Bee Fly

their until the bee eggs hatch and then feed on the young. An amazing evolutionary pattern acted out in your local patch of flowers or weeds. Conditions: A sunny, warm spell. Temperature: Max 12 Min 3 C. 

22nd March 2020

Buff-tailed Bumblebee- it is that time of year again when Queen Bumblebees start to buzz around the garden. Yesterday this very healthy-looking Queen Bumblebee spent ages on a daffodil stem, hardly moving and trying to warm her body up so she had the energy to feed. Today, a few degrees warmer and no stiff breeze and there were several speeding from Plum blossom to a real favourite of early bees, the common Pulmonaria (Lungwort). All the bumblebees you see at this time of year are Queen’s, as they are the only bumblebees to overwinter- hibernating in undergrowth or a sheltered spot. They need to feed-up to replace lost energy and start losing for nesting-sites. Buff-tailed Bumblebees are one of the most common and have two amber bands plus a lighter tail. Only the Queen’s tail end is buff-coloured so the is the time to learn to identify them, as later workers and males have whiter tails and can easily be confused with other species.

Buff-tailed Bumblebee Queen

Buff-tailed Bumblebee Queen, feeding

Buff-tailed Bumblebee Queen

Buff-tailed Bumblebee Queen

14th March 2020

Long-tailed Tits are nest-building– I love this time of year in the garden- Primroses, Celandines, Wood Anemones,  Daffodils, Crocuses, Pulmonaria all flowering well, and birds beginning to display and pair-up, while the beautiful Long-tailed Tits flit through and pick up any stray, downy feathers they can use in their mammoth engineering feat of building their stunning nests, somewhere in Roe Woods. The light was bad today so apologies for the photos but this Long-tailed Tit gathered one feather of the extraordinary 2,000-2,500 a pair will need to build  their dome-

Long-tailed Tit gathering feathers for its nest

Long-tailed Tit with feather for nest-building

Long-tailed Tit nest

nests. The nests are well hidden and therefore hard to find so I did a drawing some years ago, which I include again today. If you can put any small, downy feathers out for them please do- not only to help them but to watch them gathering the feathers in their tiny bills, often several a a time. Conditions: Cloudy and still day. Temperature: Max 11 – 9C.

5th March 2020

Ring-necked Parakeets are now getting a bit worrrying in our garden in Sheffield centre- a flock of 9 flew into our Oak a couple of days ago, so the flock-numbers are already building locally. These acrobatic, strikingly beautiful and noisy Parakeets are already building high numbers in parts of London, but up until now we have only had a handful. Not only do they eat a lot of the food needed by other species but, naturalising and breeding more, they will also be taking up many of the nesting-sites such as holes in trees that other birds have been using. So, will they settle at a sustainable level or out-compete native species? The jury is out at present but they are clearly successful as far north as Sheffield already. Conditions: A very wet day again. Rivers high and some flooding. Temperature: Max 7 Min 3 c. 

29th February 2020

Goldfinches– We have up to 20 visiting our feeders and trees by the house at the moment, which is a delight. Like many birds, Goldfinches gather together in flocks in winter (called Charms when it comes to Goldfinches, as most will know). Birds have to work hard to keep warm and fed during such terrible, stormy and wet weather and working together helps them by increasing the chance of finding food sources, and watching for predators- yesterday a female Sparrowhawk sped up to the feeders, a few feet from the window, and did mid-air avian version of a hand-brake turn in a vain attempt to catch one for its lunch (too fast for a photo!). Even though it is almost constantly wet at present, they still need to bathe, to maintain the condition of their feathers and keep mites and parasites at bay so it is lovey watching groups of them washing energetically on the back pond. The one feeding on the Teasel must be a

Male Goldfinch on Teasels in the garden

Goldfinches on our feeders today

Goldfinch charm winter-bathing!

Goldfinch charm winer bathing

male as only male Goldfinches have long enough bills to reach Teasel seeds.Apologies for rather distant photos!. Conditions: Hail showers and strong winds. Temperature: Max 6 Min 3C.

26th January 2020

Birds like Blue Tits will have been trying to pair up for a few weeks now and in this mild winter  they are very active round the garden this week, exploring possible nesting sites, like one of our nest-boxes, chasing off rival males and flicking their wings and tails in display-mode. They particularly like displaying around the Privet hedge, which is in the shade all day and so makes photographs hard on these dull days. Males will sometimes peck at the wood on the bird-box and their fast actions and pecking are thought to be a way to show their health and  fitness to a potential mate. Conditions: Sunny interval followed by rain. Temperature: Max 8 Min 2C.