Sunday, 12 December 2010

Sign of the times: Autumn #2

More comparisons between the British countryside of today and that from 1959-1961 in the paintings of Charles Tunnicliffe in the Ladybird "What to look for..." series of books.

"Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns."

George Eliot 

(Copyright: Ladybird Books)

Autumn Picture 2

This busy little picture shows a number of species exploiting a fine crop of blackberries growing on bramble briars. Three young starlings at the top of the picture have been joined by two greenfinches below. A number of wasps are also feeding on the berries. I looked at starlings earlier this year, and you can read all about them here. I won’t say any more about starlings now, except that these three birds have plumage that is mid-way between juvenile and adult.

We haven’t looked at the greenfinch before, and this picture presents us with an adult male (on the right) and on of this year’s young. A "stout-billed seed eater" (also taking fruit and berries), the greenfinch (Latin name: Carduelis chloris) is one of my favourite garden birds. My digging efforts in Spring are often accompanied by their twanging "tweeee" calls from twittering flocks in the tops of the trees in our and surrounding gardens, and their bright acid green plumage is a welcome splash of colour after the (usually) long winter. Greenfinches have adapted remarkably well to human settlements and rarely stray far at least from suburban areas. In autumn and winter, they will move out into the countryside to feed on stubble fields(if they can still find them in these days of winter-sown grain crops).

The British Trust for Ornithology reports an interesting population story for greenfinches in Britain. The point of this series of blogs is to look at changes in British wildlife over the 50 years since these books were first published. The BTO says, as illustrated in the graph below: "Greenfinch abundance varied little up to the mid 1990s, and there was little change in either survival or breeding performance during this period". More recent data have indicated "population increases widely across the UK, followed by a sudden sharp fall induced by a widespread and severe outbreak of [a parasitic disease] trichomonosis that began in 2005".  The Royal Society for the Protection of Brids provides useful information here on this outbreak, and how you can help the RSPB to monitor its spread.

(From: British Trust for Ornithology)
 As with the starlings, this series of blog posts has looked previously at wasps, here, and brambles, here. Autumn is the time of year when wasps, drunk on the alcohol from fermenting wild fruits like brambles and garden fruits, become more irritable and rather annoying. Most wasps that we see over the summer are workers and will die over the coming autumn, with the queen wasps hibernating (for example, in my log pile and under the insulation in my loft!), to emerge in Spring, build new nests and form new colonies.

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