Another beautiful, bright gold spring flower with deep green, glossy leaves is the damp-loving Marsh Marigold. Many small insects crawl over these big, shiny blossoms, gathering pollen and incidentally and valuably pollinating the flowers. Marsh Marigold, in flower now and for several weeks, are commonly named ‘King-cup’, derived from the Old English “cop” meaning a button or stud, as once worn by King’s. Farmer’s would hang a bunch of King Cups in their cow-byres on the first of May as a protection against the evil spells of fairies and witches and they may be the flowers Shakespeare wrote of in Cymbeline: “winking Mary-buds begin to ope their golden eyes”. Their flowers are smaller in the north.
All birds need to wash to keep their feathers in good condition and Mute Swans are a dramatic and accessible (being on many lakes in local parks) way to observe just how vigorous and thorough this process needs to be. A family of five Mute Swans were washing recently (alongside some synchronised swimming Mallards, as you will see) and the photo’s show how they separate their feathers so that water gets to every part. Surprisingly little research has been done into this process but when birds are deprived of water, they have been shown to be much clumsier in flight. Regular washing is essential to condition the feathers and helps reduce damage from mites, lice and bacteria. This is why it is worth having even a little bird bath in your garden if you don’t have open water nearby. Conditions: Alternating grey and bright days. Temperature: Max 5 Min 0C.
I love watching the Heron skulking in the reeds, or taking off on the unique, lazy, m-shaped flight which you might watch on any wetland, estuary, or on the lake in your town park, transforming from a static shadowy, hunched form, unfolding
to an elegant, airborne giant in seconds. In Greek mythology Herons were thought of as bringers of bad luck. Heron’s feed in shallow water, and the Greeks realised this meant their presence would reveal, to enemies, the shallow crossing places they could use to invade. Herons used to appear on upper-class menus, as this recipe from the 1400’s shows: “Take a heron…serve him…scalding and drawing and kuttyng the bone of the nekke away, and let the skyn be on…roste….his sause is to be mynced with pouder of ginger, vynegre and mustard”. Thankfully, they (and we) are now protected from this practice! Conditions: A bright morning becoming grey and very wet. Temperature: Max 9 Min 7C.
Teal- if you have difficulty telling different ducks apart, the Teal is a good one to start with. At this time of year the Teal come further South, and West, from their moorland breeding places, and populations get boosted by arrivals from the Baltic and Siberia. These lovely dabbling ducks can therefore be seen, often in large groups, on estuaries and shallow scrapes and bodies of water, noisily sifting for seeds and small invertebrates. Teal are much smaller than Mallard, and even the female has the
stunning green wing patch but the males have very distinctive head markings and a triangle of cream at the back of their small bodies. Conditions: The mild, sunny spell continues, with colder times forecast over the weekend, so we will be getting our tender plants in. Temperature: Max 14 Min 8C.
“Busking Swans”- This weekend, at North Cave RSPB Reserve, near Goole, I watched the dramatic sight and sounds of a pair of Swans defending their lake-habitat against an encroaching adult. Many swans died the summer from avian botulism, brought on by the excessive heat- over 30 on Lakeside, Doncaster, for example- so I was glad to see these powerful creatures ‘busking’- hissing and swimming fast with their necks curved right back and their wings half open- an aggressive pose, or running on the water at great speed like skimming stones. Territorial
behaviour is more common when defending really young cygnets, or their nest, but the cygnets with this pair were well-grown. Anyway, this is a great sight you might get to witness on any stretch of water near you. Conditions: Balmy, sunny autumn weather continues. Temperature: Max 12- Min 8C.
Emperor Dragonflies, one of the largest and fastest Dragonflies in Europe, able to fly at 24mph, prefer medium to large ponds, or canals, with plenty of vegetation, which is why I could watch them at the stunning Bodnant Gardens, North Wales, this week. Reaching a length of 78mm (3.1 inches) they are highly territorial and males will fight to the death. Hard to photograph on the wing, because of their speed and sudden changes of direction, they swoop to catch insect prey, including Butterflies, which they consume on the wing. They hardly ever perch. This female (they have a greenish abdomen, while the male’s is bluer) did hover and land, looking for a site to lay its eggs. I
also managed to get a shot, about six metres above ground, as two mated, flying past at high speed! Apart from their size, they can be identified by the way they often hold their abdomens bent downwards. Conditions: Grey cloud and occasional light rain. Temperature: Max 16 Min 13 C.
Grass Snake– this very healthy looking adult Grass Snake, our largest native snake species and the only one to lay eggs, was doing what they tend to do in June- hunting newts in ponds, while newts are active at this time of year. Later they will hunt more in the damp grasslands they favour, searching for Frogs, Toads, mice etc. I was lucky to watch this one in Sussex this week, hunting Great Crested Newts- stealthily swimming through the pondweed, checking for scents with its forked tongue. Conditions: Sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 21 Min 15C.