This week the Peacock butterfly has been flying in the garden, feasting on our early flowers, like Primrose and Dandelion. Only a few Butterfly species traditionally overwinter as adults in this country- the Peacock, Brimstone and Comma being the most common, which is why these are the species we see flying early if the temperatures are above 10C. However, with climate change there are more species surviving over winter as adults, including Red Admiral, Clouded Yellow and Small Tortoiseshell. If you see any Butterflies in these early months you can record them in
Peacock feeding on Dandelion
Primrose and Peacock
Nature’s Calendar. This valuable citizen science site is helping to record changes in the emergence of buds on trees, insects, migrant birds etc, which all helps monitor climate change. If you find a Butterfly in your house or shed take it outside, carefully, on a mild day so they can find natural food, and an outdoor site to shelter if the weather gets cold. Conditions: Mild dry spell. Temperature: Max 13 Min 5C.
The Red-tailed Bumblebee flew in and starting feeding on crocuses in the garden today. Another very easy to identify Bumblebee, like the Tree Bumblebee the other day, and another of the “big seven” widely distributed Bumbles. As with al Bumblebees, it will only be the larger Queens that are alive and about now- when they appear, the workers have the same distinctive colouring but are much smaller, while the males have the same tail colour but have some yellow facial markings, so it is worth tuning into this species while it is at its easiest! As well as feeding, the Queens will be looking for rodent holes and other underground nest sites– their colonies will eventually number between
Worker Red-tailed Bumblebee from last summer
Red-tailed Bumblebee from last summer
Conditions: Another beautiful but disturbingly warm, sunny day. Temperature: Max 18 Min 5 C.
In this unseasonably warm and still February spell, with male Great Spotted Woodpeckers hammering, Nuthatch calling and birds beginning to sing, I watched several Queen bumblebees feeding from our Snowdrops, Crocuses and Winter Aconite this morning. This is not surprising as the Queens, the only Bumblebees to overwinter, emerge at temperatures over 10C to feed up on nectar and pollen. Here is one that is easy to identify- the Tree Bumblebee which is already widespread, even in Scotland, having first arrived in the UK from Europe only in 2001. As well as feeding-up, the Queens will be searching for nest sites– for the Tree Bumblebee this can be nest-
boxes as well as holes in trees. With its ginger thorax, black abdomen and white tail it is a good one to learn as the large Queens appear early. Conditions: Mist burning off to warm sun. Temperature: Max 14 Min 6 C
The BTO survey of House Sparrows, was undertaken because these once ubiquitous, noisy and social birds are now very patchy in their distribution, the population having declined by 71% between 1977 and the turn of the century. We now only get them very occasionally in our garden. Changes in farming practice is known to have affected the rural population, so the survey focussed on urban and suburban populations. House Sparrows were found to be more prevalent where there were older buildings with gaps between the roof tiles, for nesting sites, as well as near to open spaces like parks and school grounds providing feeding grounds. House Sparrows are maintaining their populations better in urban and suburban areas because food is still more available all year round than in our depleted farmlands. Being social, they need nesting sites for several pairs close together- so if you want to help them, either don’t make your buildings too tidy or put up several bird boxes in near proximity –
Male House Sparrow
House Sparrow, showing bold streaked back-markings
look online for the best way to provide these. Conditions: High pressure and unseasonably mild conditions. Temperature: Max 12 Min 7C.
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
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.
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- showing the eponymous red underwing
flock and communicate with each other. Conditions: Still, grey with some rain. Temperature: Max 4 Min -2C.
Waxwings– on Wednesday afternoon, after standing in the freezing but sunny conditions on Cemetery Avenue, Sheffield, just before the light went, and after the Sparrowhawk that had scared them away just before I arrived flew away to hunt elsewhere, a flock of about 30 Waxwings started to come to the tree which still had berries. Named from the markings which resemble drops of wax on their wing feathers (see photo), the males have slightly broader tails and larger, darker throat markings. Always such a treat, this starling-sized and silky, beautifully marked, crested migrant from Scandinavia and Russia comes over in varying numbers, often to our amenity-planted urban trees, to feed from late berries. Good berry-yields in their native lands one year produces high numbers of Waxwings and are often followed by poor berry-yielding years, when we may get an “irruption” of many thousands of these great birds to feed on
Waxwing, hoarding berries in its throat
Waxwing- these bright marks on its wing give it its name.
our rowan, hawthorn, cotoneaster and decorative trees. So far this year they are over in fairly small numbers but this may change. Conditions: Grey and calm after a snow flurry late last night. Temperature: Max 3 Min 1C