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.
Drinking and bathing – I know it is hard to keep water free of ice in these arctic conditions but here are some more examples of why it matters so much to birds– whether a Collared Dove, Finch, Tit or House Sparrow, birds need to bath and drink to keep in good condition in these icy times. Conditions: Snow still laying in Derbyshire. Temperature: Max 2 Min -4C.
Monyash, Derbyshire: Despite it sounding as though it is named after the hundreds of Ash trees in the parish, the name is actually derived from the Anglo Saxon ‘mani’ and Celtic ‘easc or eas’, and means ‘many waters’, the area being renowned for its many springs and pools, which also led to woods being cleared in the iron and bronze ages for agriculture. The farming here is still largely sympathetic to nature, including a National Trust farm which has wonderful, rich meadows in summer. However, here are some of the many Ash Trees, from whips to giants which are thankfully still free of Ash die-back. Unless some trees prove resistance, when this eventually reaches the Peak District another huge change will occur to this whole
area. Conditions: Ice and snow and sun breaking through mist. Temperature: From an overnight low of -4, today is set to rise to 0 C!
As the ice and snow hits the Peak district
, and many parts of the UK, birds will be needing extra fat to keep them going, especially small birds and especially through the cold nights. Because birds we feed in our gardens get good regular food, they do not need to carry as much extra fat, in a layer under their skin, as birds where food is scarce. That makes them more vulnerable when the freezing weather comes which is why these small birds were busy feeding on fat today, in the snow. Small birds are also more vulnerable to cold weather, having more surface area per size than larger birds, and therefore losing heat more easily. Conditions: Heavy snow showers. Temperature: Max 2 Min -3 C