This Seven-spot Ladybird, our most common Ladybird species (numbers being boosted in sumer by migration from Europe), was very busy eating aphids on some Yarrow, in the garden yesterday. You can see it has slight damage to its wing-case (elytra) which means it carries one wing extended and allows us to see the way the wing-cases open and the wings extend when it flies. It didn’t seem to hinder this one feeding avidly on aphids, which, as you can see in the photo’s, try to get out of the way but the Ladybird can move quite fast when it needs to. They can eat 50 Aphids a day so are great pest controllers. They themselves have two protective characteristics- their red case is a warning that they don’t taste very nice, and if handled, they emit an oily yellow substance from their joints. This doesn’t always protect them from predation and in the past people even believed the yellow fluid was a pain-killer that could ease toothache, and ate them! Being common, they have some lovely local names, including ‘Dowdy Cows’ in Yorkshire, and ‘Bishy-Barny-Bees’ in parts of Norfolk. Conditions: Cloudy with some drizzle. Temperature: Max 19 Min 14 C.
Starlings- now they are on the red (endangered) list in the UK, maybe we should take another look at our relationship to Starlings, which aren’t the most popular garden birds. In Scandinavia, they encourage them by putting up nest boxes but, as they need to nest in colonies it would take quite a few boxes to replace their traditional nesting sites of holes in trees and buildings. Starling colonies synchronise their egg-laying, and most have one brood- only occasionally two. On Orkney and more recently in East Yorkshire we saw the sorts of numbers I would see as a kid, but we seldom have them visit our garden in north Sheffield. The decline in insects numbers is a key cause of their decline, especially as, although they will eat almost anything as adults, for about their first twelve days Starling young are fed on insects and invertebrates, and we watched the pale brown young squawking energetically and noisily to be fed as the adults dug pests and worms from the grass. The young moult completely in autumn and then put on the iridescent plumage of the adult (see photo’s). Conditions: Breeze and sun. Temperature: Max 19 Min 11C.
The lovely House Martins, (they were my dad’s favourite), are in decline all over central and northern Europe so it was wonderful to see these on the Moray Firth recently, with the ingredients they so desperately need to breed- muddy puddles! about twenty were collecting mud pellets which they mix with grass to build their cup-shaped nests under eaves. It takes about two weeks to build a nest from scratch, lining it with feathers, but they sometimes recolonise their old nests, which takes less work. Pre-19th century, House Martins nested on cliffs but they have now abandoned these sites for domestic and farm buildings. The other thing then need is an abundant supply of flying insects which are also declining of course. The young can, amazingly, survive a few days without food, going into kind of mini-
hibernation, but the sorts of extreme weather we are having more- both bad conditions and too hot and dry weather, are affecting breeding success. Conditions: Hot, humid with storms around. Temperature: Max 18 Min 12C.
Insects are in demand, and sometimes in short supply but at Coldingham Beach on the Scottish Borders there was a mass of flies which this Pied Wagtail was taking advantage of, returning again and again to catch a bill-full and take them to feed their young somewhere nearby, in a small cup-shaped nest in a crevice or hole nearby. So many young birds need the protein of invertebrates at this stage, which is one of the many reasons the drastic reduction of insects is affecting creatures further up the food-chain. Pied Wagtails often have
a year and both male and female feed the young. This one was catching flies on the ground and in the air, displaying their great agility as well as their energy levels. They manage to keep hold of a bill-full while adding yet more.
Conditions: heavy showers and a little sun. Temperature : Max 14 Min 9.
Frogs: Research this year has shown that our Common Frog, like frog species all over the world, are suffering from the impact of climate change and also from the increase in world-wide travel and trade, which helps spread disease that affect much of our native trees and wildlife, and both issues are set to become more of a problem in the future. The devastating ranavirus, sometimes termed ‘amphibian plague’ is spreading through UK frogs, and there is fear that other killer diseases, like the Bd fungus will spread here, too. We certainly have fewer frogs around this
year and for neighbour had much less Frog Spawn in her pond than usual. Frogs help keep down pests in our gardens as well as being vital parts of our local biodiversity, so these are worrying developments. Conditions: Sun and cloud, dry again. Temperature: Max 19 Min 13C.
Blue Tits raising their young today– This is such a hectic time for adult Blue Tits. The female, having laid an egg a day for an average of 8-12 eggs will have plucked feathers from her abdomen to form her bare ‘brood patch’ which increases the eggs exposure to the warmth they need, and then sat, being fed by her mate added to by forays outside herself through the brooding period. After hatching the young Blue Tits need around a hundred caterpillars a day each. No wonder the adults being to look tattered by the time their young fledge. I was watching this bird-box in a Sussex garden yesterday- the young bird can be seen with its ‘gape’ bill, lin
ed with yellow to draw attention to the adult in the dark nest to direct food into its mouth! Conditions: Dull, cloudy, warm Temperature: Max 17 Min 9C.
Is there any more beautiful flower in early Spring than the Lesser Celandine? Wordsworth didn’t think so, noting their habit of closing in dull weather– “that shrinks, like many more, from cold and rain, And, the first moment that the sun may shine, Bright as the sun himself, ’tis out again”. Also known as ‘Pilewort’ from the ancient “doctrine of signatures”, where, if a part of a plant resembled a disease or condition it was believed to be a cure for that condition: in this case, the nodular roots resembling piles! The 17th century Herbalist, Culpepper claimed it cured his daughter of the so-called “king’s evil” or scrofula within a week. The Celandine is very useful for early insects but the native plant is very invasive so you are better trying the beautiful cultivated varieties like the two I have in my garden photographed here- the bronze-leafed Brazen Hussy and one of the many white-flowered ‘alba’s’ which are easy to grow and split but don’t go too wild. Conditions: Stormy winds and rain for several days. Temperature: Max 11 Min 4C.