Loo out for Great and Blue Tits gathering food for their young. The females will have laid an energy-sapping eggs a day, between about 8-12 on average, after expending energy building the nest. She will then pull feathers from her abdomen to create a bald ‘brood patch’, to maximise the heat being transferred to her eggs, which she will turn and move so they get access to her warmth. She will be fed by the male but also need to make forays outside to fed. After about two weeks the eggs should hatch. Then all will depend on the availability of food, which for these Tits is predominantly Oak Tortrix caterpillars (see photos). This is becoming more precarious with climate change. as Oak Trees are coming into leaf earlier. Tits have tried to compensate- since the 1960’s they are laying their eggs on average about 8 days earlier but emergence of caterpillars also depends on temperature and weather which is increasingly variable. If they can find them, each hatched chick will need about 100 caterpillars a day for around twenty days, before they fledge. In the past,
Blue Tit with Oak Tortrix caterpillar for young
Great Tit with Oak Tortrix caterpillar fr young
these Tits mostly nested in Oak or mixed woodland where the preferred food is most available, which explains why the nests there successfully raise more young than those in garden nest-boxes, on average, although nest boxes do help a wider based population, especially woodland and scrub is reduced by development. Conditions: Dry with cloud. Temperature: Max 16 Min 8C.
Ringlet Butterfly- This is one of the Brown butterflies, quite common and could be confused with a male Meadow Brown, with its velvety chocolate brown wings, unless you see it at rest. The eponymous rings distinguish it and although the butterfly fades as it grows older, at this time of year, freshly emerged, with its pale edge
Ringlet (and Honey Bee)
to its wings and its definitive circles of pale with a centre white spot, is a great butterfly to see- wait for it to settle to warmup or feed and it will show its beauty. It loves feeding on meadow flowers like Knapweed and Ragwort. Conditions: Still a nip in the air though less windy and bright with sun. Dry again. Temperature: Max 13 Min 7C.
Green-veined White- I thought it was worth revisiting this beautiful butterfly, especially as it is often mistaken for the similarly-sized Small White. It needs a closer look, partly because the Small White caterpillars are more of a threat to Brassicas than this common Butterfly of damp hedgerows, woodland glades and gardens. The thing to look out for, as the name suggests, is the amazing pattern of ‘green’ veining on the undersides of the wings, most noticeable at rest, obviously, but also when the light shines through the wings. In fact, the ‘green’ veins are an optical illusion, being made of of tiny black and yellow scales. This becomes more apparent as the colours fade. If you see a female with its abdomen bending towards, as in the photo, it is signalling to the male that it has already been successfully fertilised. This butterfly is on the wing now, with the first generation emerged. A second generation will emerge in a few weeks so it should be around most of the summer. Conditions: Breezy with some sun and yet gain, no rain. Temperature: Max 13 Min 2C.
Telling Willow Warblers from Chiffchaff: This may be a good time to remind ourselves of the difference between these very similar-looking Warblers, which will be arriving steadily from now on. By song, it is easy as they start singing to attract a mate and hold a territory- The Chiffchaff’s two tone song, up-down (in contrast to the Great Tit, hard a lot at the moment, down-up). The Willow Warbler has a lovely long trilling call, not dissimilar to the Wren but without the end-trill. It is harder by sight but should you get a close view of these two Warblers, as they flit around at speed, catching insects, the easiest way to separate them is that the Willow Warbler has paler, pinkish legs and the Chiffchaff has dark legs. The BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) site gives a great video separating them but here are photos from our garden to help, too.
Barnacle Geese. In case you ever wonder whether conservation is worth it, there were once only 400 of these beautiful Barnacle Geese left in the wild, and at Caerlaverock and again at Mereshead RSPB site, in Dumfries, we saw more than this in a single fly-over, all thanks to the vision of people like Sir Peter Scott Once more interested in showing wild fowl, he became worried about declining numbers of Barnacle Geese, one of the stimulations to setting up the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, which has since pioneered many similar conservation successes, and is still doing so. These amazing birds fly into some of our north-west coasts from Svalbard, Greenland and Russia, to feed on our grasslands. Numbers worldwide are now estimated at 880,000 birds. Conditions: A little break from Storm Dennis, though the winds are still high- dry for a few hours. Temperature: Max 6 Min
Barnacle Geese from Svalbard
Male Chaffinch, bathing
Chaffinches are one of our most common and widespread birds, often seen feeding on the ground around cafes, boldly picking up crumbs, or in gardens around feeders. Males are more colourful than females or juveniles but the distinguishing feature for all Chaffinches is the white wing bars, visible at rest and when flying. Watching this Male washing in a friend’s pond was lovely. Although quite restrained when bathing, compared to some birds, it revealed the range of colours, including the beautiful olive green lower back which is often not seen when watching the birds feeding, and the white tail bars. Conditions: the first rain for a few days after a spell of gorgeous sun and blue skies. Temperature: Max 18 Min 12C.
Common Frog, with mouth open and tongue extending for its prey
Common Frog in process of swallowing
The Common Frog’s sticky tongue. I was watching a Crane fly (daddy longlegs) skipping along the surface of a friend’s pond the other day, when this Common Frog, previously invisible, popped its head out of the water and, in an instance captured the Crane Fly. When I looked at the photo’s I had caught something I had never seen before in real life- the inside of a frog’s strange mouth and its tongue. The frog has evolved something we human have never been able to invent yet, a substance, the saliva, that can change from being very thin and fluid, for catching the prey, then very viscous and sticky for holding onto it before returning to being thin to relate the prey in its mouth so the frog can swallow it, all in a split second. The tongue is also very soft, allowing it to rapidly change dimensions– from being inside the mouth to extending a third of the length of the frog’s body, the equivalent of ou
Crane Fly, Daddy Longlegs
The frog appears
r tongue reaching our belly button! As you can see from the photo’s, in the process of swallowing the Frogs eyes move up and down, too! An extraordinary creature all round. Conditions: Cool and mostly cloudy. Temperature: Max 14 Min 7C.
‘The female Holly Blue Butterfly has broader patches of dark on her forewings than the Male. As the Holly Blue flies fast, the patterns are hard to see in detail so here are a few close-ups from when it landed on our clematis. The caterpillars of Holly Blues live on Holly leaves, especially the tender tips, but the butterflies are frequent visitors to garden flowers. You will see them as tiny spangles of blue flitting in a mazy way through the plants, flying quite low. Conditions: At last some cooler air lefter the record-breaking temperatures. temperature: Max 25 Min 15C.
Starling adult and young begging for food
Starling and young
Starling adult feeding young
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.
Ravens: These large Corvids can be hard to tell from Crows, especially as they are usually seen from a distance, but there are some tell-tale indicators. They are the largest corvids by far, and have wedge-shaped tails rather than the fan-shaped tails of Crows. They croak rather than caw, and they are very acrobatic, being able to somersault when flying and Even fly upside down as they display during courtship. If you are lucky enough to be near when they fly overhead you can hear the wonderful sound of their wings beating. This one was at St Abbs Head. Like all corvids they are very intelligent and they feature largely in mythological stories, usually associated with death and misfortune. In Genesis, they are described as the first creature to leave the ark after the flood.