Chaffinches are one of our most common and widespread birds, often seen feeding on the ground around cafes, boldly picking up crumbs, or in gardens around feeders. Males are more colourful than females or juveniles but the distinguishing feature for all Chaffinches is the white wing bars, visible at rest and when flying. Watching this Male washing in a friend’s pond was lovely. Although quite restrained when bathing, compared to some birds, it revealed the range of colours, including the beautiful olive green lower back which is often not seen when watching the birds feeding, and the white tail bars. Conditions: the first rain for a few days after a spell of gorgeous sun and blue skies. Temperature: Max 18 Min 12C.
The Common Frog’s sticky tongue. I was watching a Crane fly (daddy longlegs) skipping along the surface of a friend’s pond the other day, when this Common Frog, previously invisible, popped its head out of the water and, in an instance captured the Crane Fly. When I looked at the photo’s I had caught something I had never seen before in real life- the inside of a frog’s strange mouth and its tongue. The frog has evolved something we human have never been able to invent yet, a substance, the saliva, that can change from being very thin and fluid, for catching the prey, then very viscous and sticky for holding onto it before returning to being thin to relate the prey in its mouth so the frog can swallow it, all in a split second. The tongue is also very soft, allowing it to rapidly change dimensions– from being inside the mouth to extending a third of the length of the frog’s body, the equivalent of ou
r tongue reaching our belly button! As you can see from the photo’s, in the process of swallowing the Frogs eyes move up and down, too! An extraordinary creature all round. Conditions: Cool and mostly cloudy. Temperature: Max 14 Min 7C.
Juvenile Goldfinch- Like many juvenile birds, the young Goldfinch can be confusing and hard to identify. Male and female adult Goldfinch have very similar plumage- the male has a slightly longer bill but this is hard to distinguish, unless you spot one eating teal seeds- only male bills are long enough to extract them! Juvenile birds often have less bright colouring than the adults and the Goldfinch is no exception. This is probably an evolutionary factor to ensure the young birds are more camouflaged, being more vulnerable until they are self-sufficient in feeding and more able at flying. After their first
moult, they begin to get their adult bright feathers but even then the gold wing flashes and black and white wing ‘ladders’ show first, before the red and black caps develop. We have both feeding at present, so you can see the difference between juvenile and adult. Conditions: Cloud and rain. Temperature: Max 13 Min 9C.
Great Spotted Woodpecker: I was photographing one of our favourite garden visitors yesterday (this is a female– no red patch on the back of its neck like the male) and noticed the tip of its tongue protruding from its bill as it tried to deal with a particularly sticky beakful of fat (spot in one of these photos). The Great Spotted Woodpecker has an extraordinarily long tongue- up to 40mm can protrude beyond its bill. It is so long it has to wrap it round inside its head when not in use. The tongue is also sticky- all this is so it can reach into deep cracks in the tree-trunks and rotting branches where it reaches for, and extracts its favourite insects and larvae. So this is a very limited view of the tongue that is in there somewhere! Conditions: Cloudy. Temperature: Max 16 Min 7C
How do bees know when it is worth visiting a flower for nectar? Bees and other insects have co-evolved with flowers for millennia. If you have ever closely watched Bees working a patch or a head of flowers, you will have seen them hovering around individual flowers before deciding which flower to land on and feed from. Some very clever research (involving artificial flowers and electrical charges) has shown that they
respond to an electrical charge as they circulate and explore. The bees are picking up on an electrical charge that is emitted by the flowers, a charge which gets higher when their nectar chambers are empty and lessen as they re-fill. So, a Bee can distinguish a flower that has enough nectar to make a visit worthwhile, as well as when the chambers are filled again, hence, as you watch, you will see them revisit a rejected flower a little later! Conditions: Cool and sunny. Temperature: Max 16 Min 11C.
We don’t get many Honey Bees in our garden, but there have been a few around the Knapweed lately. A honey bee may fly 5 miles for food, but on average they fly less than a mile. Still, in a strong colony, this means the females, the bees which gather nectar and pollen, fly the equivalent distance to the moon and back every day! They navigate largely by the sun and, being sensitive to polarised light, they can ‘see’ the sun through dense cloud. Their compound eyes see colour three times faster than the human eye. These Honey Bees may have come from hives I know are kept by a local bee-keeper, and discovered our wild flower patch as one of their sources of food. More on how bees detect their food, soon. Conditions: Mild with a strong breeze. Temperature: Max 20 Min 14 C
Small White Butterfly- by the crinkled, crumpled nature of this Small White’s wings, I think it must have been fairly newly emerged from the chrysalis, and nectaring on Scabious. One of the ‘Cabbage Whites’ this one does not create as much damage to brassicas as its cousin the Large White but its largely yellow-green caterpillars with pale yellow dots along its side, (lacking the black markings of the Large) do damage crops
, especially as they are so ubiquitous in their range, and have two broods per summer. An ill-informed introduction of this species to Melbourne in 1939 and its subsequent spread led lepidopterists to work out that an adult Small White can travel 100 miles its short lifetime, compared to most butterflies which travel only a mile or two. (This makes the 100 miles a day of the Painted Lady, which I looked at recently, even more astonishing). Conditions: Breezy and cloudy. Temperature: Max 21 Min 13C.