Chris Packham has been writing passionately today of the “apocalypse in our countryside”, where we see only a wealth of wildlife in our nature reserves and not in the countryside as a whole, where there is a dearth of insects, flowers, birds etc. We noticed the contrast on our recent two weeks in Ireland, where the wild flowers and insects were so like the density we grew up with in England, but no longer generally see. “Where’s the pink of Ragged Robin, the yellow of Flag Iris?” he asks. Here are samples of both from the beautiful masses in the west of Ireland last week. Conditions: Thunder, short showers and sunshine. Temperature: Max 21 Min 12C.
Buff-tailed Bumblebees are pretty widespread and common and one of the first Queen Bees (only Queen Bumblebees survive winter) to be out, foraging and searching for new nests. Here in Wales they are feeding on Bilberry flowers, and Heather. The photo’s on Heather show Queen Buff-tailed Bumblebees carrying many mites. Although Verroa mites damage Honey Bees, the mites on Bumblebees rarely cause any harm or spread disease, and they often hitch a ride on Queen Bees as they search for new nest-sites, after feeding over winter on old wax in last years nest. Conditions: Deep mist all day in Harlech. Temperature: Max 9 Min 6C.
Yesterday, the Winter Solstice, is officially our shortest day, on average in the UK lasting 7 hours, 49 minutes 41 seconds! However the shortest day varies throughout the UK and not just by latitude. And it keeps getting darker in the mornings until early in the New Year, while our earliest sunset was about a week ago. Nor does daylight increase at an even rate through until the longest day, Summer Solstice, on 21st June. Daylight begins getting longer very slowly and it is all immensely complicated! Also, only about 4 solar days a year last 24 hours, and none in December– but our watches would be in chaos if we didn’t assume our days were 24 hours long. Here’s a sunrise and sunset, to ease our aching brains! Temperature : Max 10- Min 9C.
Our Siskin population is boosted by migrants during the winter months. The migrants, and the native populations can be seen feeding on their favourite conifer, Alder and Birch seeds but are increasingly taking to peanuts and seeds from feeders in gardens, like these in Pitsmoor today. Siskins are predominantly olive green and citrus yellow, and are smaller, and more streakily marked than the two finches you could, at first glance, confuse them with – Greenfinch and Goldfinch. Conditions: Icy and blue-skied following the coldest night of the year so far. Temperature: Max 2- Min tonight, 1C.
My first Redwing sighting in the garden this year, shows these small, beautiful winter migrants from the Thrush family must be arriving from Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, in numbers. Named from the smudge of rusty-red feathers beside the wings, they travel in small flocks. You can see this one calling to others nearby, in one photo- note its yellow tongue. Look out in hedgerows, supermarket carparks and anywhere where berries survive, and you may see Redwing, sometimes in mixed flocks with Fieldfare and native Thrushes. Conditions: After a glorious, sunny day, a windy, cloudy one, like much of the year which has seen very mixed weather. Temperature: Max 14- Min 8C.
Bee Count time: Lupins, where I am staying, are proving a great source of pollen for Buff-tailed Bumblebees- just look at the colour and size of those pollen-baskets. An average pollen basket can contain around a million grains of pollen! Throughout June, Friends of the Earth want people to record Bees in their garden. There is an easy app for a smart-phone, with identification guide -a good way to really look at the variety of bees visiting your garden. Conditions: Sun and cloud with a
breeze. Temperature: Max 20- Min 10 C.
Greater Celandine -in my occasional series on wild flowers, here is a very widespread plant. Related to the poppy but not to the common Lesser Celandine of early spring, Greater Celandine is often overlooked. Its common name of Swallowwort relates to the way it flowers as Swallows arrive. Recorded in the U.K. since at least Roman times, the definitive identification is its bright orange sap. Greater Celandine often occurs along paths. All parts of the plant can be poisonous if ingested, but it has been used to treat warts and other ailments for many centuries. Conditions: Warm and bright. Temperature: Max 18- Min 11 c.