Reed Bunting- These lovely long-tailed, sparrow-sized birds traditionally nest in damp areas and reed beds but lately have spread to drier habitats, probably due to the loss of wetlands, and are becoming pretty successful nesting in the shelter of Oil Seed Rape fields, although these are usually cut before they can get a second brood in. The strikingly bold patterned male finds a suitable nest site and the more muted female builds the nest. This female was finding plenty of insects, which the young and adults eat in spring, before adding seeds to their diet in summer. She was dropping down into the nest in the bottom of the grasses, but if a predator is around, as with some other birds, including the Lapwing, the Reed Bunting will feign injury and move away from the nest to draw the danger away.
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.
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
Lackey Moth Caterpillars and nests– I remember seeing these some years in the Hawthorn hedges on my walk to Primary School, and also one year with mum in Devon, in an area of scrubland on the coast, both favourite habitats for this moth, unremarkable when adult but easily spotted when in larval form, like this. The eggs are laid in bands round Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Apple, Willow and some other trees and bushes, overwintering before hatching in spring. The larvae spin these dense, silky webs and live en masse, emerging and growing rapidly before dispersing and pupating. More common in the south and on coasts, we saw these, (with their orange and blue markings and hairy bodies) this weekend at Frampton Marsh RSPB reserve in Lincolnshire, emerging from their ‘tent’ silk nests. (Not to be confused with the potentially dangerous Processional Moth that can cause serious allergic reactions). Conditions: Cooler with some showers. Temperature: Max 14 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
flock and communicate with each other. Conditions: Still, grey with some rain. Temperature: Max 4 Min -2C.
The Painted Lady Butterfly is one of our largest species, and its capacity for strong flight is truly extraordinary. They migrate every year from their native home in North Africa. Some individuals arriving here from late May may have flown all the way, while others will have bred in Europe and it is the second or third generation which we see. This amazing Butterfly can breed several generations while here, and can fly as far as Shetland and to our highest mountains. The Painted Lady is the only Butterfly that reaches Iceland. However, it cannot survive our winters, and while a few may fly back to Europe, most die here by autumn. These, seen this week, are fading from their bright colour when they first emerge. Feeding here on Buddleia, their favourite food plant is Thistle. I have seen very few this year- it is thought that they migrate north when a critical level of density in their population in North Africa is reached, and sometimes this is in their thousands. Conditions: Still and grey. Temperature: Max 17 Min 15 C.
All plants in the Goosefoot family (which includes Quinoa) have edible seeds and the seeds of our most common Goosefoot- Fat Hen- have been found at every prehistoric site excavated throughout Europe. Fat Hen seeds formed part of the last meal of Tollund Man, the 2,000 year-old victim of hanging, and possibly of ritual sacrifice, found in a Jutland peat-bog. The young leaves of Fat Hen can be used like spinach and the seeds used in soups or dried and ground as flour for flat-breads. Known as ‘Melde’ in old English, this common plant was long
a staple in place of ‘greens’. Conditions: Cloud and sun. Temperature: Max 20 Min 13 C.