Mallard numbers are increasing and you can see them on almost any stretch of water, in fact they may be becoming a bit too dominant but nevertheless, they are worth watching. I have covered a few birds washing habits this year and non is more enthusiastic in its dunking style than the Mallard. Also, watch out for them ‘asleep’. They can sleep with one eye open, meaning one brain hemisphere is alert while the other sleeps. Not a bad adaptive behaviour! Conditions: More grey, damp days. Temperature: Max 9 Min 2C.
Alder Beetles- if like me, you are seeing Alder leaves full of holes and wondering what’s eating them it is the (unimaginatively but accurately named) Alder Beetle. This tiny, shiny metallic blue beetle which was in plentiful evidence at Potteric Carr nature reserve near Doncaster last week, was thought to be extinct in the UK for sixty years but has recolonised northwards after being recorded in Hampshire in 2004. The Alder Beetle, about 6-7mm long, is most active from April to July but there were many in evidence in the South Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve at the end of August. The caterpillars are also black and feed on Alder too, and the adults overwinter in leaf-litter before emerging to lay their eggs next spring. It sometimes affects Beech as well as Alder but the trees seem to survive the infestations. Conditions: Cool, still, grey.
Temperature: Max 12 Min 10C.
There is a juvenile Grey Heron fishing regularly on Monyash village pond where, incidentally, there are numerous breeding Goldfish, as well as native fish, due to someone in the past unadvisedly dumping their pets, which now thrive several generations on. This is probably a second year juvenile as, though it hasn’t yet got the glossy feathers and black markings of a fully adult bird, it does have the beginnings of a
. Even though not fully mature, its wingspan is huge, as the photos show. Conditions: Sun and cloud. Temperature: Max 15 Min 8C.
Common Darter Dragonfly- as its name indicates, this is the most common Dragonfly in the UK and can be found around almost any sort of body of water, even stagnant pools. Darter’s are a group of Dragonflies which do just that- they hover and then dart forwards to catch their prey mid-flight, before returning to a favourite perch to consume it. If you notice these Dragonflies, look out for their perches, often atop a plant or fence-post, but they can even be on wooden board-walks, heating up in the sun. Darters aren’t as restless flyers as Hawkers. The Common Darter female and juveniles are yellowish-brown bodied but the males are red-bodied. They can be distinguished from the less common Ruddy Darter by the former being smaller and having black legs. The only other thing you might confuse them with in flight is the Large Red Damselfly which has a longer, narrower body and, like all Damselflies, rests with its wings folded, while the Darter typically rests with its wings held forward.
Conditions: Too hot and sunny for words! Temperature: Max 27 Min 13C.
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.
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.