11th January 2020

Goldeneye Duck– Though the light was poor and so the beautiful amber eyes of this pair of Goldeneye didn’t shine through, and they were rather far away, it was a delight to watch them at Old Moor yesterday. Apart from a very small number nesting in the Highlands, Goldeneye come here to overwinter on our lakes and reservoirs in winter, from Northern Europe. Goldeneye are tree-nesting birds, medium-sized, with large heads. The female is smaller than the male and has a chocolate-coloured head but the similaritly bright amber-gold eyes. The male is a gorgeous black and white with a greenish-black head. They feed in a very characteristic way, fanning their tails and raising the front of their bodies from the water-surface, before diving in shallow water for small fish and invertebrates. (Old Moor is going through a lot of changes at present, adding more scrapes and wetlands, and more features for children to explore nature).  Conditions: Mild, cloud and wind gathering for rain. Temperature: Max 11 Min 8C.

5th January 2020

Grey Heron- On a still, grey New Year’s Day at Rye Nature Reserve we watched this statuesque mature Heron stalking the shallow waters, among diminutive Redshank. Last autumn I featured an immature Heron and the colouring, size and length of crest and chest feathers are all more striking in adults like this. They have an ancient appearance and sure enough, 7 million year-old fossils bearing a close resemblance to today’s Heron’s have been excavated. They also have an aloof bearing which may account for the ancient Romans believing Heron’s to be birds of divination.  They

Mature Grey Heron

were also prized as food in the past. When George Neville became Archbishop of York in 1465 400 Heron’s were served up to guests! Conditions: Dry with some sun. Temperature: Max 9 Min 5C.

28th November 2019

Mallard numbers are increasing and you can see them on almost any stretch of water, in fact they may be becoming a bit too dominant but nevertheless, they are worth watching. I have covered a few birds washing habits this year and non is more enthusiastic in its dunking style than the Mallard. Also, watch out for them ‘asleep’. They can sleep with one eye open, meaning one brain hemisphere is alert while the other sleeps. Not a bad adaptive behaviour! Conditions: More grey, damp days. Temperature: Max 9 Min 2C.

Mallard washing on the Don, Sheffield

Mallard washing, Sheffield Centre

Male Mallard, drying out on the Don

Female Mallard washing

7th November 2019

We are out on the extreme East coast, at Spurn Point Nature Reserve and it is wild, windy and wet, so here are some Dark-bellied Brent Geese that we have been watching and listening to over the last few days, days which have see-sawed between wild and wet, and calm and bright. These beautiful, small geese (a little larger than Mallard) have migrated here, in family groups, from the boggy arctic tundra of Russia, where they breed. 91,000 Dark-bellied Brent geese migrate to marshes and coastal farmland along our East and South coasts before making their way back, via the Baltic coasts, to the arctic by June, as the ice begins to thaw. Whether this pattern will be sustained as  global warming changes the nature of the tundra and the shapes of our coasts is in question-walking the land-edge yesterday there were many places where the low ‘cliff’ had been recently eroded by several metres, and Spurn Point itself now gets partially underwater at high tide. It is also an irony that The Brent Goose ‘gave’ its name to the vast ‘Brent System’ oilfield that extracts

Dark-bellied Brent Goose

Dark-bellied Brent Geese

Dark-bellied Brent Geese

oil from the North Sea and pipes it ashore in Shetland. Conditions: Torrential rain, and high NE winds. Temperature: Max 9 Min 7C.

3rd October 2019

Alder Beetles- if like me, you are seeing Alder leaves full of holes and wondering what’s eating them it is the (unimaginatively but accurately named) Alder Beetle. This tiny, shiny metallic blue beetle which was in plentiful evidence at Potteric Carr nature reserve near Doncaster last week, was thought to be extinct in the UK for sixty years but has recolonised northwards after being recorded in Hampshire in 2004. The Alder Beetle, about 6-7mm long, is most active from April to July but there were many in evidence in the South Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve at the end of August. The caterpillars are also black and feed on Alder too, and the adults overwinter in leaf-litter before emerging to lay their eggs next spring. It sometimes affects Beech as well as Alder but the trees seem to survive the infestations. Conditions: Cool, still, grey.

Alder leaf eaten by Alder Beetle

Alder Beetle on Alder leaf

Temperature: Max 12 Min 10C.

26th August 2019

Common Darter Dragonfly- as its name indicates, this is the most common Dragonfly in the UK and can be found around almost any sort of body of water, even stagnant pools. Darter’s are a group of Dragonflies which do just that- they hover and then dart forwards to catch their prey mid-flight, before returning to a favourite perch to consume it. If you notice these Dragonflies, look out for their perches, often atop a plant or fence-post, but they can even be on wooden board-walks, heating up in the sun. Darters aren’t as restless flyers as Hawkers. The Common Darter female and juveniles are yellowish-brown bodied but the males are red-bodied. They can be distinguished from the less common Ruddy Darter by the former being smaller and having black legs. The only other thing you might confuse them with in flight is the Large Red Damselfly which has a longer, narrower body and, like all Damselflies, rests with its wings folded, while the Darter typically rests with its wings held forward.

Male Common Darter

Male Common Darter

Female Common Darter

Male Common Darter

Conditions: Too hot and sunny for words! Temperature: Max 27 Min 13C.

2nd August 2019

Mating Damselflies are always fascinating to watch. On the Chesterfield canal we watched Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies in their tandem flying mode, as well as in the ‘wheel formation’ when they are actually mating. The male Damselflies, typically more brightly coloured than the females, use their claspers, at the end of the abdomen, to clasp a special ‘shield’ on the females thorax, and the connection is strong enough for them to fly in this formation, as well as to land, rest and mate. Some species mate quickly and separate, while others remain linked for several hours to deter another Male from mating with the female. In fact, some males dig out the sperm of a previous Male In order to replace it with their own. You can watch this tandem flight and wheel along many slow-flowing streams and canals or pools. Conditions: A more normal summer day, with sun and cloud. Temperature: Max 23 Min 13 C.

Common Blue Damselflies in tandem flight

Blue-tailed Damselflies in mating wheel

Blue-tailed Damselflies in tandem at rest