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.
I seldom get the chance to feature Weasels, because photo’s are hard to get and, while not clear, these give me the opportunity. Weasels are very speedy and active, hunting day or night as they have to eat every 24 hours or starve. They catch rodents, small birds and their eggs, and even tackle Rabbits. However this one, on the cliff-top at Borth Y Gest, North Wales, decided not to tackle the oblivious sunbather it came up against! Slightly smaller than the related Stoat, and without the Stoat’s black tail tip or the Stoat’s ability to change its coat to white in winter, it only lives an average of 3 years, compared to the Stoat’s 10. Therefore, it has to breed faster, having two litters a year rather than one. The young, ‘Kits’, are able to hunt and fend for themselves within a staggering 5 weeks of being born. They live almost anywhere, including grassland, woodland, mountains and sand-dunes, like this one, but you are lucky to see one- they run off quickly.
is a good spot near Sheffield. Conditions: Mild, sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 18 Min 12 C.
Coppice with standards– I’ve talked before about the value of coppiced woodland for wildlife and diversity of flowers, insects and birds and the favoured form of coppicing in Sussex was ‘coppice with standards’. As can be seen in the photo’s, the coppiced Chestnut or Hornbeam, cut in rotation every 12 -15 years for maximum sustainable wood-crops, would also always include ‘standard’ oaks, which were have been spaced through the coppice, and of varying ages. Occasionally a mature Oak would then be felled for timber, and another sapling left to grow on and eventually replace it. This management of woodland produced a wide variety of sustainable wood over
centuries. Sadly, much woodland is now left to grow too dense for light to filter in and the variety of species to flourish. New Oaks are seldom planted to replace the old. Conditions: Rain overnight in Sheffield. Temperature: Max 20 Min 10 C.
These wild Honeysuckles, as well as those you grow in the garden, are brilliant for wild-life, including ten species of insects which feed exclusively on them. The wonderful scent, strongest in the evening for attracting their pollinator Moths, can be detected a quarter of a mile away by the Hummingbird Hawkmoth. The caterpillar of the increasingly rare White Admiral depends on the leaves. Dormice use the bark for nest material for their young, and get nutrients from eating the nectar rich flowers. Thrushes nest in them, and eat their bright red autumn berries, as do Warblers and Bullfinches. Clearly, if you haven’t already got some in your garden, it is worth considering. Conditions: Cloudy and humid. Temperature: Max 23 Min 13 C.