Posted in nature

Many Bird to See

It’s hard to believe that it’s May already, the months are certainly rolling on quickly. I feel like I have only just left winter behind. The weather continues to be mixed with many heavy rain showers combined with thunder passing through. Temperatures have increased though with warmer sunny days reaching 18 degrees celsius, encouraging Tree (Bombus hypnorum) and Buff-tailed bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) to buzz about. I also noticed three Peacock (Aglais io) butterflies dancing around a couple of weeks ago; perhaps two males trying to attract a female? Plus I saw the first Holly blue (Celastrina argiolus) butterfly of the season as well.

Cherry blossom is blooming at the moment and Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) are out in force too; it’s the height of their season which is quite a contrast from the beginning of the month when a few were slowly unfurling.

Birds are prominent at the moment as the dawn chorus is reaching its crescendo. Birdsong can be heard clearly throughout the day as I work in gardens. I have seen several House martins (Delichon urbicum) swoop past me. These summer visitors from Africa return to the same nests (made of mud) under ledges such as the eaves of houses or cliffs. I am very privileged to have seen so many lately as they are categorised red under the Birds of Conservation Concern 5: the Red List for Birds (2021) and therefore protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. They eat flying insects so living in a rural area no doubt helps. House martins can be distinguished from similar birds using the Wildlife Trusts information here. There is a call to help reverse the decline of House martins; advice on ways to help them can be found on the RSPB website.

Another bird I came across recently which I haven’t observed before is the Rook (Corvus frugilegu). Not as common as some other Corvids their UK conservation status is amber. Similar to Carrion crows (Corvus corone) they are identifiable by their off white beaks. Their diet varies from fruit, nuts and grain to invertebrates and worms. Rooks are sociable birds. Unlike Crows which are seen by themselves or in pairs, Rooks are often seen in groups, just like Jackdaws (Corvus monedula). Infact groups of Rooks and Jackdaws can be seen together; this is how I saw the Rooks, alongside Jackdaws in a busy carpark where humans often dropped scraps of food.

Several Robin (Erithacus rubecula) couples and even one bold male Blackbird (Turdus merula) have come inches away from me to feed and collect food for their young as I work in gardens over the past few weeks. I like to think of their broods back in the nests as I see them fly away with the unearthed bounty towards hedges and trees nearby.

On the 28th March I got to see an amazing spectacle. Two Buzzards (Buteo buteo) were being faught off by a couple of Red kites (Milvus milvus). The thermals aided one Buzzard to appear to briefly hover over some fir trees. I was working in an area with a woodland where Red kites nest. The buzzards (which I often see at the other end of the wood) had ventured over the the Kite territory. Maybe the Red kites were protecting some young or eggs? This I was unable to determin, however the kites were clearly concerned about having the Buzzards near their territory. It was unusual to witness the Red kites attack another bird usually they are the ones being warned away. I frequently see birds attacking kites when they venture too near a nest (even though they don’t predate young but scavange for food). It was lovely to hear the Buzzards calling to one another, an example of which can be heard on the RSPB website along with a picture for identification.

Buzzards are now the most common birds of prey in the UK, and widespread across the land inhabiting woodland, moorland and farmland areas (after a comeback from years of persecution). They are brown in colour and they are 51-57cm in length with a wingspan between 113-128cm. Along with being predators they will also scavenge; their diet consists of birds as well as small mammals and invertebrates. Hardly surprising then that the Red Kites didn’t want them in their territory if they had a brood.

Since then, I have seen other Buzzards in a few areas near roads along with a male Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) by the road side (near to where I had already witnessed a female (see previous post- Daffodils in Snow).

These are not the only large birds that feature prominently in my life at the moment. I have also been keeping an eye on the Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) nest at St Albans abbey. So far Alban and Boudica have three eggs yet to hatch. Incubation usually takes about a month (29-32 days) for each egg, so they are due to hatch beginning of May and fledge by the start of July. This is the pairs second breeding season. Peregrines pair for life and return to the same nest site each year. Alban mostly hunts (birds or rodents) but does incubate the eggs too, enabling boudica to hunt occasionally. The live cam to watch them is here.

Posted in nature

Daffodils in Snow

Daffodils (Narcissus) began to bloom at the beginning of March, in time for St David’s day, together with Hellebores.  Since then wildflowers including Red dead nettle (Lamium purpureum), Speedwell (Veronica), Celandine (Ficaria verna), Dandelions (Taraxacum), Primroses, Cowslips (Primula veris), Daisies (Bellis perennis), Dog violets (Viola riviniana) and Winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) have joined them. It’s lovely to see all the colour developing, taking over from the Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) and early flowering Crocuses that have started to whither. I have even noticed Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) leaves showing now too, it wont be long before they flower.

Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), the first trees of the year to bloom are putting on a show, their blossom resembling white clouds lining the roads. Willow (Salix) aren’t far behind, their buds ready to burst open. Even Magnolias, Camelias and Forsythia (in gardens) are beginning to flower as well. The male catkins on Poplar trees are noticeable now too.

Red male Poplar catkins on a twig fallen in the strong winds.

I have also witnessed the first queen Buff-tailed (Bombus terrestris) bumblebees venturing out on the few warmer sunnier days that we have had. Seeking energy sources as the venture out from hibernation. I also noticed a Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) butterfly flutter passed me last week while the previous Friday a Peacock (Aglais io) butterfly flew passed as I worked. It was also lovely to see lots of Smooth newt (Lissotriton vulgaris) in a garden pond last Wednesday. The newts were almost full sized and looked fully developed already.

Although 20th of March was the Spring equinox we experienced a cold northerly blast of weather a few weeks ago. The wintery showers that arrived brought snow. During this transitional time, March weather can be very mixed. Although spring has sprung, winters grasp still holds on; It was strange to see Daffodils poking above snow for a day.

During a few of the snowy days, I witnessed a wonderful sight of a female Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) perched on top of a tree and later in flight as it swooped towards a smaller bird in a more wooded area of town. Presumably the weather had forced it out into the open to search for food. It’s size, together with its dark brown head back, tail and wings together with a pale breast made it clear to identify. Males are a bluey grey colouring with pale breasts and orange highlights. Males are about 25% smaller than the females, the size of a Collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto).

These birds are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 because they are Amber Under the Red List, Birds of Conservation Concern 5: (2021).

Often found in woodlands or open ground nearby, as well as gardens in urban settings, Sparrowhawks are the most commonly seen bird of prey in the UK. They can be seen throughout the year eating smaller birds, rodents and also rabbits when their regular food is scarce. In fact many years ago I witnessed a male Sparrowhawk take down a city pigeon (Columba livia). Although similar in size, and although the feral pigeon was doing its best to escape the Sparrowhawks clutches it didn’t win the fight.

Sparrowhawk breeding will occur between May and the end of July, laying 4-5 eggs.

Although mostly silent, these birds do have a call which can be heard on the RSPB website here.

Posted in nature


There have been really cold moments this January, with temperatures barely reaching positive numbers here in the UK and some areas experiencing more snow; however nature has started to emerge once again.

On a walk a few weeks ago, I noticed Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) buds ready to burst open and the tiny red female Hazel (Corylus avellana) flowers open alongside male catkins.

Blackthorn buds
Hazel flower and catkins

Cyclamen and Snowdrops (Galanthus) are also blooming now and even Daffodils (Narcissus) and Crocus are beginning to push through the now defrosted ground.

Last weekend was the annual RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch. My results this year were;
3 Wood pigeon (Columba palumbus)
5 Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris)
2 Blackbirds (Turdus merula)- 1 female and 1 male
2 Great tits (Parus major)
1 Magpie (Pica pica)
1 Robin (Erithacus rubecula)
3 Bluetits (Cyanistes caeruleus)
2 House sparrows (Passer domesticus)- 1 male and 1 female
2 Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) along with
2 Carrion crows (Corvus corone)

It’s hard to believe it’s now February. As usual during January I slowed and hunkered down, reflecting nature at this time. Yet the wild flowers are beginning to stir and birds pairing up. It isn’t long before spring arrives and I am already starting to plan what I shall grow on the allotment this year.

Posted in nature

Frosts, Fog and Snow Arrived

Cold weather from the north arrived over the past few weeks. Initially hard frosts covered the earth along with foggy mornings; then snow arrived overnight on the 11th December. Due to the below average temperatures it lasted for a week but once the warmer southern weather and rain arrived (last Sunday) the snow disappeared as quickly as it arrived; It was beautiful while it lasted.

Also I finally caught Covid (after avoiding it until now). Thankfully, apart from leaving me with a cough I am much better, however for a while my world was reduced to watching birds from my flat. The Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) outside has been stripped of all berries, no doubt the snow last week was a factor as birds had less places to forage and migratory birds arrived. A group of Redwings (Turdus iliacus) visited the tree along with Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) and also a Song thrush (Turdus philomelos). Further information on Redwings can be found via the RSPB website.

A Song thrush visiting a snowy Rowan tree while berries still hung from it.

It was also nice to see my resident Blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) and a Robin (Erithacus rubecula) appear too.

I can’t believe it’s the Winter Solstice already. I am looking forward to taking a few weeks off; I will take the time to relax, reflect and look to the year ahead.

Posted in nature

Fungi and Cacti

The shift in seasons is definitely noticeable now. This November is warmer than usual, so we still haven’t had a frost here in southern England; however autumn colours, shorter days, wet weather and fungi have arrived over the past month.

On a recent trip to Kew gardens several fungi including some Horse mushrooms (Agaricus arvensis),

and Parasol mushrooms (Macrolepiota procera)

were dotted around the lawns as well as a group of Glistening inkcap (Coprinellus micaceus) on a decaying tree stump.

I think the weather had put many people off visiting which meant the gardens were fairly quiet. Although the odd heavy rain shower arrived while we were there, most of the day was dry and eventually the sun shone before we left, highlighting the vibrant leaves against a grey sky.

This year, I finally got to see a couple of Fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) fungi for the first time if my life (outside of books).

Fly agaric

I’d hoped to see these iconic fairytale fungi for a long time. Known for being hallucinogenic these incredibly toxic fungi are usually found in Birch (Betula), Pine (Pinus) and Spruce (Picea) woodlands; however I found them in a garden near a single Birch tree. Fly agaric supply nutrients to nearby trees along the underground mycorrhizal network therefore they have a close association with trees. A traditional use for this poisonous fungus is as an insecticide for house flies due to the Ibotenic acid contained within them (hence the common name for this fungi). Added so a saucer of milk, once a fly drinks the substance it becomes drousy and drowns.

These mushrooms weren’t the only exciting thing I got to observe in recent weeks. My Fishbone cactus (Epiphyllum anguliger) which has lived in my bathroom for many years flowerered for the first time. An epiphytic cacti, originally from Mexican rainforests, this plant develops aerial roots in order to attach itself to host trees. It likes humid indirect light and requires more watering than desert cacti. Clearly the conditions in my bathroom are ideal. The unusual looking flowers (which are produced once the plant is mature) were highy scented, similar to TCP but more floral. They take weeks to develop and once opened only last for a few days before dying off.

The first bud and aerial roots.
Posted in nature

Autumn is Finally Settling in.

Since the Equinox on the 23rd September, there have been a few misty mornings and the leaves are beginning to loose their green colouring. Autumn cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium) and Crocuses (Colchicum autumnale) have been blooming for a few weeks now and even mushrooms are beginning to emerge. A few I have found recently include;

Ruby Bolete
(Hortiboletus rubellus). Found amongst Lambs-ear (Stachys byzantina) in a garden near a Beech (Fagus sylvatica) hedge.
Possibly a group of Fairy inkcap
(Coprinellus disseminatus)? Found at the base of a tree.

Evenings are noticebly drawing in earlier these days. Saturn is still visible with the naked eye at this time, as is Jupiter. The latter can be seen very clearly, in fact only the moon is brighter in the night sky at the moment. I managed to capture an image on the 10th September which can be seen below.

The tiny dot of Jupiter (left) in the early evening alongside the full ‘Hunters’ moon before being obscured by cloud.

Also in September my partner and I went on a break for a few days to the north east of England. We stayed in a lovely vintage caravan near Durham. On the first day we spent the morning exploring the city, after which we walked alongside the River Wear; there was lots of Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) in flower (both along the river bank as well as beside the pathway). We walked to Durham University’s Botanic Garden to have lunch. While we were there we witnessed a Stoat
(Mustela erminea) under aerial attack from a Magpie (Pica pica) as we sat in the North American Arboretum (no photo evidence unfortunately). This was our first encounter with a Stoat. Similar to Weasels (Mustela nivalis) Stoats can be easily distinguished from them due to the black tip on their longer tail. The Woodland trust has an article about how to differentiate them on their website.

Then in the afternoon we went to Seaham beach to search for seaglass. A well known area for seaglass searchers, Seaham beaches are noted on maps as being glass beaches due to the huge amount of glass pebbles (of various colours) that can be found there. The glass was discarded into the sea from the Seaham Bottle Works which used to be in the area (between 1853 and 1921. It is known that 20,000,000 hand-blown bottles a year were produced at the height of manufacturing at the factory). It was a quiet sunny day when we visited the area and the sound of the waves crashing against the beach was mesmerising.

We found lots of seaglass including some rare red pieces as well as some that were made up of two colours.

While we stopped for a coffee at the local cafe, we saw a Purple sandpiper (Calidris maritima) with a large group of Gulls (Larinae). Similar in appearance to Gulls, the Sandpiper was larger, speckled and greyer as shown in the following image (taken from the visitor notice board next to the cafe).

This wading bird is a winter visitor in the north east of England. It’s numbers are at a vulnerable level, therefore it is red on the UK conservation status list. They will eat Winkles (Littorina littorea), insects, spiders, crustaceans and also plants.

On the Wednesday, we drove up to Northumberland to visit Lindisfarne. As we drove to the village we got to see the location of Vera’s house (from the ITV detective series Vera). This dwelling is privately owned but it’s possible to park nearby and view it from a distance.

The Snook Tower and stable (left) next to Snook House (right) is Grade ll listed and thought to have been a windmill or watchtower. Both buildings date from the early to mid 1800s.

There was lots of wildlife to see on the journey towards and around the village too. On the way across the causeway, we noticed a Curlew (Numenius arquata) amongst other wading birds. As with the Sandpiper, the Curlew is also red on the UK conservation status list. Approximately 30% of Western Europe’s flocks will overwinter in the UK, unfortunately there was a sign warning of Bird (Avian) flu on the island. Bird flu has been rampant in the UK this year which doesn’t bode well for lots of birds but it is particularly foreboding for many waders and seabird populations. The Curlew’s down curved bill was the give away to its identification. They search for worms, shellfish and shrimps in the nature reserve along the causeway. The RSPB gives a description of Curlew’s here.

It was amazing to witness lots of European grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) as we wondered down by the islands beaches, searching for more seaglass. It is possible to witness them swimming nearby, next to the sandbanks and nature reserve beaches which they inhabit. It is also possible to hear them, unfortunately I was unable to obtain a great video of this; however I found a recording online here, of Grey Seals Singing on the Mewstone in South Devon which gives you an idea of what they sounded like on our visit to Lindisfarne.

The three markings in the sea (top) are actually the best image (on full zoom) of the Seals I could obtain. However you could visibly identify their bobbing heads looking from side to side as well as them diving and resurfacing.

Pups start to be born in September so perhaps we could hear the young with the females, or maybe the adults were singing to one another. Whatever the reason for their beautiful vocalisations, it was absolutely amazing to listen to the haunting sound.

As well as these creatures, we got to see some flora as we investigated the island too. There was;

Sea thrift (Armeria maritima)
Sea campion (Silene uniflora)
Wallflower (Erysimon cheiri), not in flower
Sea mayweed (Tripleurospermum maritimu) and
Sea spleenwort (Asplenium marinum) alongside some Common orange lichen (Xanthoria parietina).

It was lovely to get away for a couple of days while witnessing wildlife that I had never seen before. Relaxing by the sea, especially on Lindisfarne was so rejuvenating. Obviously two full days with travelling time either side wasn’t long enough, but there’s always next years adventure.

Posted in nature

False Autumn

It might be the start of meteorological autumn but it’s still too early for leaves to start falling from trees; yet over the past few weeks this has been occurring. Referred to as false autumn, this leaf (and acorn) drop is occurring as a result of the extreme temperatures and drought we’ve experienced this year. It is a sign of stress as trees attempt to conserve water and energy. Current lower morning temperatures have also lead to an autumnal feeling. Thankfully we are now experiencing rainfall so perhaps this will prevent trees from showing further signs of stress even though it doesn’t stop us being in drought. Hopefully autumnal colour won’t be affected too much and we will still witness the spectacular seasonal colours this year.

A couple of weeks ago my partner and I went for a walk to spot Saturn ascending in the sky at dusk; we visited the local woodland park. At nine o’clock, on one of the hottest days of the year, the temperature was quite pleasant. As we walked through the woodland to an open area, where we could view the planet, we got to experience bats flying close by (the following videos is of some footage I managed to obtain).

Without a Bat detector, I have no way of correctly identifying the species out of the 18 that roost in the UK. According to the information I found on the Hertfordshire and Middlesex Bat Group website, the ones we most likely encountered in the area are either the Common Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) or Soprano Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pygmaeus). Regardless of the species, just experiencing the creatures flying nearby to capture insects was amazing. I haven’t witnessed bats in fight since I was a child.

It’s still possible to see some butterflies and bees at this time of year so late year flowering plants are essential.

A Common carder bee visiting a group of Aster flowers.

White tailed bumblebees (Bombus lucorum), Buff tailed bumblebees (Bombus terrestris), Red tailed bumblebees (Bombus lapidarius), Common carder bees (Bombus pascuorum) and even some Honey bees (Apis mellifera) still forage in September. The Butterfly Conservation charity produced a photo (see below) of common butterflies and moths to see at this time of year.

During the previous week I was still noticing several Hummingbird hawk moths (Macroglossum stellatarum) too. These moths have been quite prevalent this year.

On one occasion I managed to get a video of a Hummingbird hawk moth visiting a Buddleia.
Posted in Allotment, nature

Very Very Hot Summer Days

Within the past month the temperature has reached the highest on record in the UK at 40.2 Celsius. Here in the south, rain still evades us leading to hosepipe bans in some counties. Plus as I write this blog another heatwave begins. While the parched grass will recover once rain eventually falls, and some insects may benefit from these conditions, this drought is not good for nature in general (including humans due to amber and red heat warnings for health issues and fires). We need to use resources more thoughtfully and manage the land better so that nature (to me humans are part of nature not separate from it) isn’t placed under unnecessary pressure due to extreme weather conditions anymore.

Most wildlife isn’t adapted to this current weather and certainly has no chance against wild fires, especially Badgers (Meles meles) and Hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus– whose numbers have been in decline for many years for other reasons too). Even birds with second broods will be finding these times difficult; that is why it’s so important to place water sources at both ground level and higher up for birds and Hedgehogs at this time. Plus insects like Butterflies and Bees suffer when flowers start to whither early due to water shortage. Nature can recover from the odd hot dry year but unfortunately this is a trend, year on year, due to climate change so we need to be concerned and act now. Stephen Moss has written a wonderful article regarding this issue recently, it can be read here.

Given the information from the article mentioned above, it will be interesting to see how this prolonged drought will affect the results of the Big Butterfly Count this year (which took place from the 15th July to the 7th August) and consequently next years results too.

I have undertaken a few counts this year. The first time I looked out for Butterflies was on a warm afternoon, in a garden containing a Buddleia along with some Lavender (Lavandula) and Mint (Mentha) that was flowering. During that time, I identified;
5 Red admirals (Vanessa atalanta)
5 Commas (Polygonia c-album)
2 Peacock (Aglais io)
5 Gate keepers (Pyronia tithonus)
1 Meadow brown (Maniola jurtina)
2 Small tortoishell (Aglais urticae)
together with 1 Hummingbird Hawkmoth (Macroglossum stellatarum). The Hummingbird Hawkmoth is fascinating. I have observed two individuals visiting Buddleia this year in different gardens that I work at. It is so amazing to watch it collect nectar as it hovers next to flowers.

On separate occasions (at the previously mentioned garden) I also noticed a Large skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus) and a Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus) too. That garden also has an allotment attached to it where I got to observe the full lifecycle of a ladybird on one bean plant (thanks to the Blackfly being present). On this occasion it was the Harlequin (Harmonia axyridis) ladybird.

Larvae (on the right, looking for Blackfly to munch on) and on the left a pupae (from which the adult emerges).
An adult Harlequin ladybird.

My second Butterfly Count was during a morning as I picked Blackberries (Rubus) at the local woodland park, where I saw
5 Gatekeepers, 1 Speckled wood (Pararge aegeria) and 1 Small copper (Lycaena phlaeas).

Speckled wood
Small copper

The Small copper is one I had never seen before. It is a small butterfly with a wingspan of 32-35mm. The caterpillars feed on Common Sorrel (Rumex acetosa), Sheep’s Sorrel (R. acetosella) and sometimes the Broad-leaved Dock (R. obtusifolius). They can be found in heath, moor and grassland together with woodland clearings or on waste ground.

At my allotment I have seen lots of Cabbage whites, along with the odd Peacock and Small tortoishell as well as a small blue Butterfly (that never settled so I was unable to identify it properly but was most likely a Holly blue- Celastrina argiolus). Thankfully I have also noticed plenty of bees during my butterfly observations, including honey, bumblebees and solitary bees.

Lughnasadh (also known as Lammas) a time when harvests begin to be ready for picking, occurred at the beginning of August. During this time I love to wander through natural environments, spending time observing the changes of the seasons. On my walk the previous weekend I observed Sloes (from Blackthorn- Prunus spinosa) and Elderberries (from Elder- Sambucus) already ripening alongside the Blackberries.

I must confess that I often struggle to enjoy the hottest days of summer. To me extremely hot temperatures are often overwhelming and I would love nothing better than to hibernate underground during the hottest times. I find the days exhausting and uncomfortable (due to the constant itchiness and sore skin). At these moments I rely on my mental strength to keep in mind that ‘this too shall pass’. I also try to remind myself that I love the changing seasons, including summer, and all they bring with them. Gratitude helps as each day I look for the little things that bring me joy such as the shining sun, the amazingly beautiful wildlife around me and the cooler night time temperatures. So until the heat reduces significantly I will keep taking things slowly, keep hydrated, take plenty of rest and be kind to myself. I am under no pressure to get things done at this time which is why this post took so long to complete.

Posted in Allotment, nature

The Long Wait

I have been watching a wild flower grow, in the small garden that I look after in front of my flat. Initially unable to identify it (as I didn’t recognise the foliage) I patiently waited throughout autumn and winter to see what emerged. Then in late spring it developed stalks and flowerheads enabling me to see it was a Field scabious- (Knautia arvensis).

This perennial is blooming now. Bees are loving the flowers.

Field scabious is usually found in places such as grassland, meadows, grassy verges and hedgerows. This self set is obviously enjoying similar conditions in my little plot; thriving in an area against a brick wall with dry, partially shady conditions. It is wonderful to see it attract so many beneficial insects so am happy for it to remain where it is.

The allotment is coming on leaps and bounds. The strawberries (which rarely make it home) were a sweet reward as I watered daily through the recent heatwave and continue to ripen. The Blackflies on the Broad beans were eventually joined by seven spot (Coccinella septempunctata) and Harlequin (Harmonia axyridis) ladybirds, together with lots of their larvae; proof that if you leave pests, predators will appear to deal with them; nature really is wonderful.

The recent higher temperatures have encouraged butterflies to fly around. Lately I have seen Small tortoishells (Aglais urticae), Peacocks (Aglais io), Marbled whites (Melanargia galathea) and Speckled woods (Pararge aegeria).

Also on one sunny day last week, while eating lunch outside, I heard a bird song that I didn’t recognise. I recorded it on the Chirp-o-matic app (the name makes me think of Wallace and Gromit) to discover that it was a Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella). The rhythm and length of notes makes it sound like they’re saying ‘a little bit of bread and no cheese’. In fact this phrase is used by birders to identify it by the song alone and can be heard on the RSPB website.

Unfortunately I couldn’t see the bird which was a shame as I would have loved to see its yellow plumage. Part of the bunting family, both males and females have yellow colouring mixed with some brown (the males can be distinguished as they are more vibrant). These birds are currently on the red list for UK conservation status and therefore
Protected by The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Found on farmland, they
eat seeds, insects, worms, caterpillars, spiders and snails and weigh in at about 25-36g weight (a similar size to a sparrow).

To encourage yellowhammer numbers, the RSPB has produced information for farmers so they can take action to help these birds; However the actions can be applied by anyone living near farmland, and can be found here.

Posted in nature

Deer in Bluebell Woods

It was lovely to have a week off a few weeks ago. On one day I spent time walking around a Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) wood with my partner. The sun shone through the deciduous trees giving a beautiful dappled light; perfect conditions for both Bluebells and Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) which bloom at the same time (sometimes together) in deciduous woods during May. However on our walk we only saw bluebells. I have come across Wild garlic before though. It is important not to confuse Wild garlic with Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) before these plants bloom, as they have similar foliage and while Wild garlic is edible, Lily-of-the-valley is poisonous.

Blooms of Wild garlic are like all from the Alium family; completely different to the tiny bell shaped flowers of Lily-of-the-valley.

Once in bloom, Wild garlic is clearly identifiable (as shown above), plus it has a clear garlicky aroma when it is disturbed. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked (blanched and eaten on their own like spinach or used as an ingredient). The flowers (wonderful for pollinators) are also edible and can be used in salads. An example of a recipe found on the Woodland trust website can be found here (together with information on responsible foraging). Wild garlic is one plant used to identify ancient woodland, with damp chalky soil, as it takes a long time to establish itself in great quantity.

Also along the walk, a male Tawny (Strix aluco) owl could be heard in the distance. Plus, on one Oak (Quercus) tree a Great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) was seen moments before it hid on the far side of the trunk. As we watched closely, we noticed a couple of Tree creepers (Certhia familiaris) too. These birds were climbing as well as flying to and from a hole left from where a branch had snapped away from the trunk. Presumably they had a nest there and were finding spiders and insects to feed their young. I was engrossed as I watched them for some time. Unfortunately the Woodpecker never returned into view but I thanked it for showing us the Tree creepers.

Around the edges of the woodland (near some fields) lots of ferns were unfurling. It was lovely to notice a Click beetle (Athous haemorrhoidalis) resting on a frond.

About 15mm in length, these beetles can be found in May through to August, amongst headgerows and in meadows. Their young larvae eat roots which means this insect can become a pest on root crops in this country. They received their common name due to the noise they make as they flick themselves into the air to upright themselves if they ever land on their backs (unfortunately we didn’t witness this).

As we were leaving, we eventually saw two Fallow deer (Dama dama). Even though deer are difficult to spot due to their cautious nature, I was hoping to see some on our walk (they are common in the area we visited). It was so amazing to have witnessed them eating, completely unaware of our presence. Fallow deer eat trees, grass, flowers, shrubs and brambles.

Another deer I have seen, in woodlands attached to gardens where I work, are Muntjac (Muntiacus reevesi). Both Fallows and Muntjacs were introduced into the UK from Asia and thrive in the UK. Deer can be seen as a nuisance if they enter gardens, however information on wildlife friendly ways to keep them away, the height of fencing required as well as deer resistant plants can be found on the RHS website, along with the British Deer Society .