Focus on small tortoiseshells

Having covered the more drab speckled wood I decided today I’d research something with a bit more colour: the small tortoiseshell.


These are common garden butterflies, but numbers have taken a bit of a pounding he last few years. One theory explaining why blames a parasitic fly killing the caterpillars. Numbers are lower in the tropical South of England where the parasite does better. Might be grim up North, but better for tortoiseshells. 

The eggs are usually laid in large batches, of 60 to 100 eggs, often on nettles, so leaving a little wilderness for caterpillars will do them a world of good. When the caterpillars emerge from their eggs they form communal webs before spreading over more plants. The nettles form their main food supply.
Interestingly the butterfly can be found almost all year round on the wing if the weather is warm enough. So keep your eyes on the look out all year.

Focus on speckled wood

Over the day I’ve had a lot of butterflies in and out the garden. The showier tortoiseshell is rather pretty, but its the speckled woods that has poised for photos multiple time in different positions. 
The speckled wood is a common butterfly, but apparently only has scattered colonies in the North so I’m lucky to see them regularly. It’s never going to be the poster species for butterfly conservation, not being colourful or rare enough. But it is still a delightful sight settling in the garden. They vary in colour across the country with different shades of brown and orange rather than cream or white spots in the South.


The name gives away their main habitat, but they can be found through gardens and hedgerows. They feed on honeydew at the top of trees. Normally they only come down to flowers later in the year. However you can see mine fancied my flowers with the proboscis (butterfly tongue equivalent) lapping up the flower.

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The caterpillars eat grasses including common couch. They can be found through the year. Numbers are currently good as a result of climate change. The butterfly can be seen April through to October.

The wildlife trust has helped with woodland management. A mixture of coppicing, scrub cutting and nonintervention giving the speckled wood the habitats both the caterpillars and butterflies need. 

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Focus on the Common Blue Damselfly

In my garden I’ve seen a good variety of dragonflies and damselflies. Living near the mere, a large area of water, they are in much larger numbers than my last house in suburban Hull. Now within damselflies there are 9 almost identical blue damselflies in the Collins field guide.

The differences are mainly in the eye colour and the markings on the second section. The Northern Blue for example has a black arrow shaped marking, whereas the common blue has more of an ace of spaces. Having looked carefully at the photos I’ve taken I reckon mine are mainly common blue. They appear to have more of the rounded dot than an arrow.

British dragonflies gives a good ID guide. Apparently one of the most typical British damselfly it is on the wing April to September. The females can be blue or a dull green. They breed forming wheels in the air over water. The eggs are laid just under water on plants. Then the nymphs live in water before climbing out onto plant stems to moult into their eventual form. But then they can be found living in grassland, gardens and woodland.  

So 30 days has again developed my knowledge of another species and looking at the intricacies of a species. Please do write a comment to confirm or correct if my ID is wrong. 

Focus on goldfinches

Yesterday morning I spotted these beauties in and out of the garden. They seem to like the bushes behind the house and the which ivy. I’ve spotted them a few times, but they’ve been too quick for photos.

The goldfinch is quite distinctive with the red face and strip of gold along their backs. They can be found in the UK all year round, although some do migrate as far ad Spain. They are more common in Southern England, so a pleasant sight up North.

Their beaks are long adapted to getting seeds out of thistles and teasles. They will also eat insects. They are traditionally farmland birds, but have been becoming more common in farmland. Nyjer and sunflower seeds have enticed them out of farmland. They have suffered from disease in the last decade. So cleaning feeders can help.

So to entice in leave sunflower seeds and nyjer seeds in Winter especially. Growing teasel can attract goldfinch in. I planted some earlier in the year but they haven’t taken off. I’ve got some more seed as affording to the pack it’s not too late to grow. 

Focus on long tailed tit

Yesterday was the turn of a new visitor, the greenfinch, to be focused on. Today is another new visitor. What I believe is a long tailed tit, although they look more bedraggled than the field guide examples.

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I’ve been seeing a pair coming in to hop about in the thicket of small trees and bushes at the bottom of the garden. Apparently they flock in large numbers of up to 20. I haven’t seen this yet, but I don’t know if that’s connected to breeding.  They are in and out of a large tree a few doors down a lot. I’ve been looking out for a nest. The nest should be ball shaped made of twigs, feathers, spiders webs, moss and lichens. But they normally make them in bushes, so it may just be that their in and out of the tree as it’s a convenient vantage point.

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They feed mainly on insects, larvae and spiders. The bark on my borders is rich in spiders, so they’re hopefully getting a good feast. They can’t handle larger seeds, but can eat peanut fragments. Suet products high in energy are good for them. Winter is particularly harsh on small birds who lose their body heat more quickly than larger birds and animals. They roost in large numbers to conserve heat in Winter, so I’ll need to keep my eye out for more.

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Focus on blackbirds

Having written a Haiku about blackbirds for day 9 they seem like a good choice for today’s focus. Blackbirds are one of the UKs commonest garden birds. In my last garden, in a more urban environment, blackbirds and pigeons were pretty much my only visitors initially. They are the bird I associate most with gardens, although they are happy in all habitats across the UK except the highest peaks.

Turdus merula, one of the few Latin names I remember is badly named really. The majority of blackbirds are not black. For a start females are brown. Then fledglings are also brown with a brown beak. As they reach maturity males turn black and the beak yellow. The change can act as a trigger for more aggressive behaviour towards them from other male blackbirds as they fight over territory.

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Their mellow song is rather beautiful and one of the easier birds songs to recognise. From hearing the song you can often then locate them. As I’ve observed blackbirds I’ve come to recognise several regulars through their white patches. Albinoism is common in blackbirds. They each have their own distinct likeable personalities.

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Blackbirds like a diet of worms, so favour ground feeders, but will eat from hanging feeders. Any time I’ve been digging in the garden the blackbirds will turn up. Population had declined from the 70s, possibly due to loss of hedgerows, but more recently their numbers have risen putting them out of the amber list and back on green. If you want to help blackbirds like open nest boxes. During dry weather worms stay hidden away, so don’t forget to help out and feed the birds.

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Focus on the garden snail

One of the nice things about 30 days wild is that many of the activities encourage you to slow down, to take it easy. In this fast paced world of instant communication, instant gratification, next day delivery, hectic jobs it can be easy to lose track of what matters. But many of the wild acts make you sit back and take a break. So today’s focus is slowing down to look at the common garden snail.

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Originating in the Mediterranean and Europe this common garden visitor has spread across the world. It arrived in many places by accident, whereas South Africa and California it was introduced as a food animal. It is considered a pest for agriculture and is probably top of the hit list for gardeners. It has a wide ranging diet eating many bushes, trees, crops and vegetables. Although it is classed as an omnivore as they will eat worms and crushed snails on occasion. They have mouths of many tiny teeth, the radula

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They are hermaphrodites having both male and female organs. This is true of slugs and many fish as well. They normally reproduce sexually, though occasionally self fertilisation occurs. When they mate they lay around 100 little pearl like eggs. I’ve found them in damp spots in my garden like the log pile.

They move by contracting and releasing their muscular “foot”. Combined with the mucus trail they release to reduce friction they can move up to 1.3 cm per second.

They prefer to come out at night or early morning. Though wet weather will bring them out. When it’s dry they can hide in their shell, the number seal themselves in with a layer of dried mucus to retain moisture.

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If teaching about snails, the book snails trail is a good choice.

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For snail control around your favourite plants crushed egg shells and copper tape can act as a barrier to movement. I planted sacrificial lettuce in the border last year. Then Guinness traps work well. The snails love Guinness, but the black stuff dehydrates them. Apparently throws them over e fence doesn’t help as they have a good homing sense.

I will finish with a very brave, or foolhardy snail, on the bird feeder this morning.

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Focus on worms

The children in F2 are currently worm crazy. They love digging for them and collecting them into one of the planter tyres in the middle of our outdoor area. However I don’t want to encourage cruel behaviour, so we have looked at some more information on worms and why we want them in our soil.

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So interesting fact number one; worms digest their food by eating small pieces of grit. These help grind their food down. These stones are known as gastroloiths. Many birds, who also like the worms, lack teeth grind their food this way. There is evidence many dinosaurs used this method to aid digestion as well.

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Under an ornament uncovered a slug, woodlice and worms.

Fact number two; much of the nutrients in the soil plants can’t access directly. Worms eat plant matter and soil, then eject it in a form the plants can then use. The tunnels the worms dig also aerate the soil, allowing drainage and roots to grow more easily.

Fact three; earthworms don’t have lungs. They breath through their skin. The oxygen and carbon dioxide diffuse through the skin. But for this exchange to take place the skin must be moist. So during dry weather worms dig deep into cooler wetter soil, but during rain they come up. Imitating rain can bring worms up to the surface. The activity of worm charming is now quite well known. Popular methods include dancing or pouring water over the soil.

If teaching about worms, either in school or to your own children. I’d recommend the book yucky worms. It discusses worms in language that can be understood by children down to four years old and has additional facts around the story for older children.

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If you want to uncover worms without digging or risking children forking them moving pots to the side often uncovers worms. On my patio any time I move pots there are always a handful of worms.

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I hope you enjoyed reading this foray under the soil to explore worms! Please leave comments and should you wish follow on twitter.

Focus on jackdaws

Today I started the day catching up with yesterday’s springwatch episode. It started with a jackdaw attacking a house Martin nest to take away the chicks. This was considered to be unusual behaviour for jackdaws. We saw lots of jackdaws up close at Bempton and they are a daily garden feeder visitor. So they seem like a good choice for today’s focus.

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The jackdaws (Corvus monedula) on my feeder can dominate. Between the pigeons and seagulls a lot of the smaller birds don’t get a look in on the back garden feeder. Luckily I’m fond of them. Easy to muddle at a distance with the carrion crow and rook. But once you get a clear look at the head you can see the striking grey hood. They are the smallest member of the crow family. They have distinctive white irises, however the young have different plumage and different coloured eyes.

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Jackdaws have been shown to be highly intelligent, capable of being trained to do simple tasks. Jackdaws are sociable creatures. They roost and live in colonies. They’ve also been known to find food then show other jackdaws where to eat. As mates they are loyal to their partners, often sticking with partners even after unsuccessful years.

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They can be found across the UK and have adapted well to urban environments. They mainly eat insects and plant material making the behaviour on springwatch today unusual. Unlike a lot of corvids jackdaws have a slightly more positive public perception in folk believes. While many corvids are seen as heralds of death; jackdaws are seen as signs of fortune on a wedding day in the Fens. In Wales jackdaws on the church steeple was a sign the devil shunned that location.

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While I do like these birds I would like to see the return of he finches. The internet advises squirrel proof feeders. The little birds can get through, but not the pigeons and jackdaws that have dominated. Another suggestion was using small hanging baskets as feeders. I may have to put a variety of different sized feeders to bring back the variety.

Focus on coal tits

Each year Springwatch makes a big fuss over the blue tits, who with their bright colours and large brood numbers are usually very adorable. They make for good television. The great tits and long tailed tits are showy enough to excite people. Today though I’m going to focus on one of the forgotten tits, the coal tit. Only a recent addition to the visitors to my bird feeders, but one I’m coming to look forward to seeing.

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With delightful Latin name Periparus ater it is a year round UK resident. Smaller than it’s relatives the great and blue tits it is the runt of the tit family. It is common across the U.K. with only a few areas missing them. They like woodland, but can be found in gardens. Their smaller size gives them the ability to move through conifer trees with greater agility than their cousin tits.

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In winter they will flock with other tits. Otherwise I tend to see mine on its own. They dart in for food then take it back to their nests to store. If I blink I can often miss their visits. Mine seem to favour the sunflower seeds. They generally nest low down: holes in trees, rabbit or mice burrows or hidden in stone walls.

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Unlike the sparrows I reported on the other day I am happy to see these little beauties are on green status. Their numbers are doing well. Harsh winters are bad for small birds, so while the trend for milder winters is worrying, the mild winters are helping our coal tits. I hope to enjoy sighting these little birds for many years to come.

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