A single male adult Siskin has been visiting our feeders for the past few days. While these lovely, small finches breed in the UK, especially in Scotland and Wales and have done well since the planting of extensive conifer plantations, they seldom come into urban gardens to feed until after New Year’s day. In winter, numbers are swelled from continental Europe. These lively birds with a very forked tail and bright plumage, and which mainly feed on birch, conifer and alder seeds, together with a few insects, sometimes fly in mixed flocks, like this one which comes in with the slightly larger (see photo) Goldfinches. You are more likely to see them in your gardens when there has been a poor crop of Sitka Spruce seeds in the wild, and more likely on wet than dry days. The males, as this is, have stronger colours than the female, and the adults males have a black crown. Look out for them- they are a delight.
Redwing- While waiting for the Waxwings to turn up in Sheffield recently it was a pleasure to watch a small flock of Redwings feeding, at intervals, from the same trees. Redwing, our smallest true Thrush, migrates here in winter from Iceland, Russia and Scandinavia for the same reason as Waxwings- to feed from our winter berries, fruits and worms. Sadly on the Red list nowadays, they can still be seen in gardens, parks, supermarket carparks and streets in Sheffield, and in hedgerows and pastures further afield. Their distinctive ‘Tsee Tsee’ calls can also be heard in evenings as they
flock and communicate with each other. Conditions: Still, grey with some rain. Temperature: Max 4 Min -2C.
Strange but then Butcher’s Broom is itself a strange plant – it has no true leaves, but flattened stems called ‘cladodes’, evolved to function like leaves, along its tough, ridged stems, which give it the appearance of being evergreen. We seem to have fallen out of the tradition of cutting Butcher’s Broom stems and bringing them indoors at this time of year, when the beautiful red berries show bright against the dark ‘leaves’. We favour Holly instead. As you can see from the photos, the flowers and then berries grow from the centre of these ‘leaves’ and as you may guess from the name, they were traditionally cut and tied in bunches, when their stiffness made them a good brush for sweeping off butcher’s blocks. Related to the Asparagus, these low shrubs with their sharp flattened stems are easier to spot in winter. Conditions: Grey, mild days. Temperature: Max 11 Min 4C.
There is nothing more beautiful visiting out garden, year round but resplendent in their new plumage right now, than male Bullfinches. Apparently, we are in the lucky 10% of people who have these normally shy birds coming to our garden feeders. Having declined by 36% since 1967, these stocky finches need all the help they can get and they come, characteristically for Bullfinches, in their loose family flocks, most of the year, to feed on our RSPB feeder-mix. We have three males and two females at present, one, as you can see, still just coming out of it’s moult. They used to be caged and astonishingly, some people played a special flute to them in an attempt to get them copy the tunes. Their soft, low whistle is beautiful enough for me. Conditions: Milder and greyer spell. Still very little rain.Temperature: Max 12 Min 7C.
Hawthorn- there is a bumper crop of Haws, Hawthorn Berries, this year as the photo’s show. These berries have been used as herbal remedies since at least the ancient Greeks, and probably far longer. They are high in anti-oxidants and are still used by some to treat stomach-aches, stress and sleep-problems. Hawthorn has long mythic associations, and our Celtic ancestors believed the trees to be protected and inhabited by Faery Folk, representing
places where time passes differently to our own. Isolated trees were not cut down, for fear of invoking the wrath of the Faery Queen. The site of Westminster Abbey was once called Thorne Island after the stand of sacred Hawthorn trees there. The berries can be made into jellies, and I have just seen a recipe, on Countryfile’s website, for Hawthorn Gin. We might give it a go. Makes a change from Sloe Gin. Conditions: Grey and drizzly. Temperature: Max 10 Min 9C.
Shaggy Ink Caps– lovely to see these easily identified and edible fungi on my walk today up Broomham Lane, Catsfield- you can find them, commonly, in parks, on verges meadows etc. Also called ‘Lawyers Wig’, for obvious reasons, they emerge like white bumps, and grow into cylinders with shaggy skins, but quickly grow up and open into umbrellas, which equally quickly begin to disintegrate, becoming black and liquified (see photo’s). If you want to cook them, and they are tasty sliced and fried gently in
butter, you have to pick them young, when they are white and cigar shaped, before they open, and also get them pretty quickly to the frying pan! People did, and some still do, let them liquify and use the liquid as ink. Conditions: A beautiful sunny day Temperature: Max 18 Min 10 C.
The Red Admiral, known in earlier times as the Red Admirable, has scarcely appeared in our garden this year but was feeding in small numbers on the heavy crops of Blackberries along the Chesterfield Canal this week. While there is a small resident population in the UK, and an increasing number of Red Admirals overwintering as adults, as our climate changes, the majority migrate to our shores in spring, from Eastern Europe, and then breed here. Because numbers are swelled by migration, the numbers in any year fluctuate greatly. This beautiful, unmistakable large, strong-flying Butterfly loves feeding up on fermenting fruit like these imbibing Blackberry juice. Conditions: Cool, wet and then sunny. Temperature: Max 13 Min 7 C.