Hawfinch– if, like me, you have never seen our rarest finch (hence the need to draw it- no photo’s) then this winter may be your best chance. Our small, native population has been boosted by 1,000’s rather than the usual 100’s of winter migrants from their main over-wintering areas of Romania and Germany, which have a bad harvest of their favoured fruits and seeds, while we have an unusually high harvest this year. Shy birds, they particularly favour Hornbeam and Yew but you may even see them in your garden. Conditions: Forecast snow beginning to fall- I’ve just put some water out for the birds- crucial during icy spells. Temperature: Max 1 Min -2C.
The Oak Marble Gall, produced by one of 30 UK Oak Gall Wasp species, arrived here from the Middle East in the 1800’s. Still be seen on Oaks now, they have a small hole where the gall wasp has emerged in autumn. Rich in Tannic Acid, ink made from the Oak Marble Gall has been used since the middle ages, on many ancient documents- traces have been found on the Dead Sea Scrolls. The first recipe was given by the Roman, Pliny the Elder. The ink has long been superseded as it fades and can damage the page.
Now most leaves have dropped, and the weather is getting colder, the Goldcrest reappears, or at least gets more visible, in our garden. The UK’s smallest bird, weighing the same as a 20 pence piece, this insect-eater will struggle to find enough food in daylight hours for the next few months, but that means it will sometimes come to a birdtable for fat, or search your plants for tiny insects, so keep your eyes peeled- it is the easiest time to spot them. Conditions: Cloudy with some rain. Temperature: Max 13- Min 11C.
As colder times rapidly reduce the availability of insects and invertebrates for food, many birds turn to seeds, nuts and berries to stay alive. Many plants have developed a strong interdependence with birds. Juniper seeds, an endangered wild plant in the UK, actually germinate better after passing through a bird’s gut. Jays gather and hide as many as 5,000 acorns a year per bird, to retrieve later when food s scarce. They can carry 9 in their crop in one sortie! The fact that they do not retrieve them all means Oak trees are able to germinate away from the parent Oak. Conditions: low cloud and drizzle down south. Temperature: Max 10, Min 6C
Ash die-back is getting closer– in Tresswell Wood, North Nottinghamshire, a wood dominated by Ash at present, ash die-back is really affecting the ecology. This is only 30 miles from Sheffield, and the Peak District where many of the large trees in the landscape are Ash. The Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust notes how woods change over time– Elms were lost, and thousands of hazel rods were stripped out and used as handles for fire buckets during World War Two. Woods have a ‘high diversity index’ and can cope with some change but this feels troubling. Conditions: Mild and cloudy Temperature: Max 16- Min 12C.
Autumn fruits and nuts- it’s that time of year again, and the gale-force winds may have brought Conkers, Acorns, Chestnuts, Hazel Nuts down yesterday/today so here’s a reminder of the things you may get a close-up view of- and if it includes Sweet Chestnuts, you may even get a feast to take home and bake, roast or make into great soup with lentils. Conditions: Calming down in Sheffield after a wild night of tail-of-the-hurricane winds. Temperature: Max 14- Min 9C.
Moth night tonight. Organised by Butterfly Conservation, once a year, it is held at different times of the year and this is a late season one. The weather is warm and set fair and they’d like people to go out with a bright torch over the weekend and see which moths are feeding on Ivy flowers, such a great source of autumn food for many insects. Even if you can’t identify them, you can look and enjoy the huge variety of moths we have in the UK. Conditions: unseasonably mild, sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 19-Min 13C.