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.
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
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.
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.
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.