Pink Footed Geese do not breed in the UK but we host almost all their population over winter and the numbers are increasing, probably due to better protection of roosting sites. These medium-sized, dark bodied Geese with Pink bills, legs and feet (as their name rather illustrates), fly in from Iceland, Spitsbergen and Greenland, a migration of over 2,000 miles for some, and if you hear the wonderful sound of geese overhead, as we did recently, you may be able to see a stunning skein of them flying in v-formation, the lead constantly changing to rest those taking on the headwinds. They are the geese you will hear and see flying over Sheffield and many other parts of the UK, from now on, to feed at estuaries and farmland, on grain, cereals, potatoes and grass. Many years ago I had the wonderful experience of staying at the lake-edge, with friends who worked at
Pink Footed Geese
Pink Footed Geese
and hearing and seeing huge flocks at dawn and dusk, coming in to roost and feed on potatoes collected from local Lancashire farms. Unforgettable. Conditions: Grey and cool with some drizzle. Temperature: Max 7 Min 2C.
“Busking Swans”- This weekend, at North Cave RSPB Reserve, near Goole, I watched the dramatic sight and sounds of a pair of Swans defending their lake-habitat against an encroaching adult. Many swans died the summer from avian botulism, brought on by the excessive heat- over 30 on Lakeside, Doncaster, for example- so I was glad to see these powerful creatures ‘busking’- hissing and swimming fast with their necks curved right back and their wings half open- an aggressive pose, or running on the water at great speed like skimming stones. Territorial
A pair of Swans busking towards an intruder
Swans mostly use their wings to attack intruders
behaviour is more common when defending really young cygnets, or their nest, but the cygnets with this pair were well-grown. Anyway, this is a great sight you might get to witness on any stretch of water near you. Conditions: Balmy, sunny autumn weather continues. Temperature: Max 12- Min 8C.
Grass Snake– this very healthy looking adult Grass Snake, our largest native snake species and the only one to lay eggs, was doing what they tend to do in June- hunting newts in ponds, while newts are active at this time of year. Later they will hunt more in the damp grasslands they favour, searching for Frogs, Toads, mice etc. I was lucky to watch this one in Sussex this week, hunting Great Crested Newts- stealthily swimming through the pondweed, checking for scents with its forked tongue. Conditions: Sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 21 Min 15C.
Grass Snake hunting
Adult Grass Snake
The Yellow Water-lily is one of our native species, but less common than the white. The Yellow has considerably larger leaves, and the flower stands well out of the water, while its flask-shaped seed-pod, which gives it its common name ‘Brandy Flask’ or in past times ‘Can Dock’ (‘can’ in those days meaning a pottery vessel to hold liquids), contains air-bladders, allowing it to float off to colonise new waterways, before the air-pockets collapse and the seeds sink to germinate in the mud- bottome. In medieval France doctors warned patients that it was ‘the destroyer of pleasure and the poison of love’! Conditions: windy and cloudy, following showers. Temperature: Max 16 Min 14c.
Wood Sorrel- the first of the season for me, a favourite plant of damp woods, like Coed Lletywalter where we walked this morning. Its bright green trefoil leaves open in bright light and the white flowers have beautiful mauve veins. Out from around Easter, giving it its common name ‘Alleluia’,( among other common names, including Laverocks) the bruised, fresh leaves were once applied to cuts and bruises but I always loved, as a child, eating them as I played in our local woods. The oxalic acid, tasting like lemon juice, quenched my thirst. I read that Native Americans used it the same way! Conditions: Sun before high cloud. Temperature: Max 11 Min 7C.
Background to the spangled Celandines and starry Wood Anemones of Catsfield hedgerows right now is the Dog’s Mercury, with fresh green stalks and leaves and green female and male spikes of flowers. Culpepper,the 17th century herbalist, described this innocent looking plant thus: “There is not a more fatal plant, native of our country, than this”. The foetid smell attracts midges which pollinate this highly poisonous plant which is avoided by wild animals and can kill slowly over weeks. ‘Dog’ is used to mean ‘worthless’ but I like to see its fresh backdrop of leaves in the woods and hedgerows in early spring. Conditions: Bitterly cold breeze amongst sun and cloud.
Temperatures: Max 8 Min 5C.
Goldeneye are beautiful, diving ducks that overwinter in the UK. You may see them at Old Moor; we recently watched them on the Northumberland sea and at Druridge Bay, a bit distant so I have drawn a male to add to the photo’s
. Males have iridescent heads- studies suggest iridescence is related to testosterone levels, which may explain why heads look blacker in winter. The white cheek patch helps identification. Goldeneye first nested in Scotland in 1970– nest-boxes in trees near lakes has increased the small number of breeding to 200 pairs. Conditions: Cold with some sun. Temperature: Max 4 Min -2C.