I was about to do a different subject for today’s blog when along came this female Common Blue Butterfly and started feeding a a Daisy on our uncut lawn! I don’t remember ever seeing a Common Blue in our Sheffield garden so maybe last summer’s heat helped this species locally. Females have variable amounts of blue and brown on their upper wings, while male are all-blue on upper-wings (I include a photo of a male for identification purposes, even though I haven’t seen one here- yet! The photo is from a Sussex garden). Common Blue caterpillars feed mainly on Bird’s Foot Trefoil, and sometimes on white Clover, Restharrow etc. The adults love being in the sun, on grassland, waste ground, road verges etc. They are fairly widespread, living up to their name. Conditions: Cloud giving way to sun. Temperature Max 14 Min 7C.
Blue Tits raising their young today– This is such a hectic time for adult Blue Tits. The female, having laid an egg a day for an average of 8-12 eggs will have plucked feathers from her abdomen to form her bare ‘brood patch’ which increases the eggs exposure to the warmth they need, and then sat, being fed by her mate added to by forays outside herself through the brooding period. After hatching the young Blue Tits need around a hundred caterpillars a day each. No wonder the adults being to look tattered by the time their young fledge. I was watching this bird-box in a Sussex garden yesterday- the young bird can be seen with its ‘gape’ bill, lin
ed with yellow to draw attention to the adult in the dark nest to direct food into its mouth! Conditions: Dull, cloudy, warm Temperature: Max 17 Min 9C.
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
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.
Waking up each morning to the beautiful song of the Willow Warbler again, and having heard both this and the Chiffchaff singing on nearby Parkwood Springs I thought it was time to revisit these beautiful, elusive and similar-looking spring migrants. Chiffchaff arrive mid-March and Willow Warbler, migrating further, arrive in April. This difference in migration journeys also explains one of the visual differences, with Chiffchaffs having shorter wings and Willow Warblers, flying further, having longer primary feathers/wing length. Chiffchaff have dark legs while Willow Warblers have pale pinkish legs and a brighter eye-stripe. Since they are hard to see, the easiest way to tell them apart is by song- Chiffchaff singing a two note eponymous song, and Willow Warblers have a lovely long song ending with a downward trill. The BTO have a great little on-line video on telling them apart. (The photo’s of the Willow Warbler are from our garden, the Chiffchaff from Spurn).
Conditions: Milder with sun and showers. Temperature: Max 13 Min 4C.
Two less common insects, once mainly confined to the south of England, have been showing up in our Sheffield garden this week. The brightly coloured Cinnamon Bug, also called the Black and Red Squash Bug overwinters as an adult and so is around now. It can easily be mistaken for some other red and black bugs, including a similar Shield Bug but the Cinnamon Bug is more burnt-orange and longer in shap than a shield bug (see photo). The other is the Hairy-footed Flower Bee- the photo shows the female which is black all over except for orange hairs on her hind-legs, which are used to gather pollen, making them look very yellow when charged. They love feeding on Pulmonaria. The male is gingery-bodied with a pale tuft on its head (no photo yet!). It patrols flowers looking for a mate. The lovely Flower Bee nests in vertical banks of mud or in the soft mortar of walls where they mine cells, lay an egg in each and top up with pollen for food, before sealing. The young Bee emerges and can be seen flying from March to May. Conditions: Cloudy and still, rain later. Temperature: Max 11 Min 6C.
We are lucky to still have Greenfinches regularly visiting our feeders, because their populations have declined dramatically in the ’70’s, increased in the ’80’s and have declined again since, affected by the parasitic-linked Trichomonosis disease, which hampers their ability to feed and can be caught from feeders that aren’t cleaned well enough. Greenfinches, once woodland birds, have become more regular users of garden bird-feeders, especially favouring black sunflower seeds which they can easily crack with their stocky beaks. Sometimes confused with Goldfinches, because they have a yellow flash on their wings, Greenfinches are bulkier and the males are olive-green. I hope the photo’s which include a Goldfinch, and drawing will help you separate male and the paler-coloured female Greenfinch, and Goldfinch. Conditions: Sunny intervals and showers. Temperature: Max 14 Min 5 c
The Holly Blue Butterfly– this is the most likely of the Blue Butterflies to be seen in our gardens- it is certainly flying its high, fast flitting flight in our garden again now. If you see a small, sky-blue butterfly, almost like a petal being blown in the wind, it will be the Holly Blue, as all other Blues emerge later, and fly lower. It has dark wing-tips and pale undersides, if you manage to get a close view- see the photo’s (which, because it doesn’t settle much are very hard to get!). The Holly Blue lays its eggs, first generation on Holly buds, usually in the sun, and second on Ivy. The population levels fluctuate widely, mostly due to the occurrence of a parasitic wasp, Listrodomus Nycthermerus.
This wasp lays an egg in the Holly Blue Larva, and emerge as adults from the Chrysalis. Conditions: Sun and cloud after mist. Temperature: Max 17 Min 9C.