Tuesday, March 21, 2023

A slow start to spring

 It has been a hesitant spring here in County Durham, in the North Pennines, but a few wild flowers are beginning to bloom. Here are some from the first half of March.

Colt'sfoot, in Teesdale and beside the river Tyne in Hexham

Butterbur, beside the river Tyne in Hexham yesterday
Elm flowering on the edge of woodland near Wolsingham, Weardale
Yellow star of Bethlehem, locally rare, just coming into bloom during the first week of March, beside the river Wear near Wolsingham, Weardale. I've known this small population for over 40 years and it is increasing very slowly.

Opposite-leaved golden saxifrage, in Teesdale and at Hexham in Tynedale

Hairy bittercress, infesting my garden and already producing seed pods
Primroses in the snow in my garden

Wood anemones in woodland beside the river Tees at Egglestone

Barren strawberry growing in an old wall in Teesdale
Some early blackthorn blossom, from the beginning of the month
Cherry-plum at Willington in the Wear valley. The earliest blossom was damaged by freezing temperatures and snow

Male flowers of dog's mercury, in a woodland in Teesdale

Stinking hellebore flowering near Hawthorn Dene on the Durham coast, at the beginning of the month

Winter aconites flowered at the end of February and had run to seed by early March. These are in the churchyard at Wolsingham in Weardale.

Dog violets, flowering in my garden today

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Magpies in a sudden fall of snow

Earlier this week we had what I hope will be the last fall of snow before spring gets into its stride. It only lasted for a few hours, but for a while it created scenes of great beauty, transforming the bare crowns of the little oak wood at the end of the garden into a lacy tracery of white twigs. 


Snow provides a wonderful foil for the pied plumage of magpies. The pair below are attempting to nest again (see earlier post) but are being constantly harassed by crows that want to build in the same tree.

For a few hours the snowfall was a reminder of the stark beauty of the winter landscape.

The thaw set in overnight and now the magpies are back in the garden, collecting twigs for nest building.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Yellowhammers in the garden

 The recent freezing weather brought yellowhammers into the garden. Tree sparrows dominate the pecking order on the bird seed feeders but they are messy eaters and the yellowhammers loiter on the ground underneath, feeding on fallen seeds. 

In late winter the birds haven't developed the full sulphur-yellow breeding plumage but as spring progresses their colour intensifies. We have quite a healthy population of yellowhammers locally, much of it on land that was opencast for coal until about twenty years ago then restored to agriculture, with a mixture of new and old hedges and some broad verges along old lanes that provide some good feeding opportunities. All the photographs below have been taken during the last three years and show the birds singing their 'little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese' song, collecting nest material and, in the last two, performing a courtship display. 

I've only witnessed the courtship display once. The cock bird danced around on the ground with its wings drooping and vibrating, with its head feathers raised in a crest.