Dipper- we have just come back from an early morning walk along the heavily industrialised part of the Don at Neepsend, Sheffield, carrying out a Breeding BIrd Survey for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and among many species seen and heard we had the delight of watching a Dipper on this once heavily polluted area of river. I first saw one on the city centre part if the Don while doing a charity collection at Hillsborough, the Owls ground which stands by the Don. It is lovely to know this species is till in the area- they tend too use the same nest-sites for generations. Characteristically this Dipper was standing on stones, bobbing and watching the water before flying in and walking underwater to feed on small crustaceans and insect larvae. This was probably a male as the female is likely to be sitting on a clutch of eggs by now, being fed by him. (The photo’s are from
the Derwent at Hathersage, not the Don). Conditions: Cool, dry and cloudy. Temperature: Max 11 Min 4 C.
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.
Marsh Marigold- the flowers are larger in the south than north
Marsh Marigold, or ‘King-cup’
Marsh Marigolds of stream- and pond-banks, and wetland
Listening to the BBC Radio 4 programme last Sunday, ‘Ash to Ash’ (available on catch-up) reminded me how devastating Ash die-back is going to be to the British countryside and ecology. Ash is the third most common tree in Britain, and valuable to at least 1,000 species, many of them specific to Ash trees. Its’ sparser foliage and early leaf-loss also enables light to penetrate woodland, enhancing wild flower species. The tough, shock absorbent wood has been here since the ice-age, with myriad uses, from Roman chariots to tool handles, hockey sticks to furniture construction. Ash can live for 400 years, or longer when coppiced, and yet it is dying over many parts of the country already and the only hope known to date is that some individual trees may
be resistant. Open Country suggested we should be planting similarly ecologically-rich trees now, as the disease has so far proved unstoppable. The arrival and speed of Ash die-back is also a reminder that many species are likely to be threatened by the increasing globalisation of plant diseases. Conditions: Grey, drizzly days. Temperature: Max 14 Min 8C.
You can watch the wonderful flights of the Banded Demoiselle above slow-moving streams, south of the Humber, as they emerge from their two-year larval existence beneath the water, to their couple of weeks life as flying adults. The males, with dark
Banded Damselfly, mating
Banded Damselfly, mating
Male Banded Damselfly
Male Banded Demoiselles battling for territory
petrol blue bodies and bands across their wings, emerge and fight other males for territories, (beautiful to watch) before mating with the bronze-green coloured females. They do a dancing mating flight, before clasping the female behind her head and flying to a leaf with her ‘in tandem’ (see photos), where she will coil her body round to the ‘wheel’ position for mating. After a few minutes they separate and the female flies off to find a plant just below the water’s surface on which to lay. The male defends her until she has safely deposited their eggs. Conditions: Cloudier and a little cooler but still dry. Temperature: Max 22 Min 13C.
The Yellow Water-lily is one of our native species, but less common than the white. The Yellow has considerably larger leaves, and the flower stands well out of the water, while its flask-shaped seed-pod, which gives it its common name ‘Brandy Flask’ or in past times ‘Can Dock’ (‘can’ in those days meaning a pottery vessel to hold liquids), contains air-bladders, allowing it to float off to colonise new waterways, before the air-pockets collapse and the seeds sink to germinate in the mud- bottome. In medieval France doctors warned patients that it was ‘the destroyer of pleasure and the poison of love’! Conditions: windy and cloudy, following showers. Temperature: Max 16 Min 14c.
Our Bat populations have increased by 9% over the past few years, according to surveys for British Waterways, helped by increased protection and conservation measures. Cold winter’s also help, as Bats need consistently low temperatures to hibernate effectively. When they hibernate, their heart rate slows to a few beats a minute, meaning they burn less energy and survive better without seriously depleting their stored body weight. British Waterways compare our rivers and canals to supermarket aisles for insect-eating Bats. Here are a couple of our most commonly seen Bat: the small Pipistrelle. Conditions: a lovely blue-skied January day. Temperature: Max 7- Min 3C.
Pipistrelle Bat, Deepdale
Red Bartsia- this unassuming little plant that you can find growing low, often scarcely visible, on grassland, margins of tracks and waste ground illustrates the extraordinary intricacies of evolution, as well as the vulnerabilities of interdependent species. Declining through pasture improvement and loss of unkempt spaces, it is semi-parasitic, partly feeding off grass roots, but one small bee has evolved to feed off it- the Red Bartsia Bee. Red Bartsia’s use in the past to treat toothache gave rise to its Latin Name: Odontites Verna. Now I know about the bee I will look out for it! Conditions: Occasional showers. Temperature: Max 18- Min 11C.