The summer solstice was a couple of weeks ago, the weather is warm and sunny and the evenings are light until after 10pm. For the last week I’ve been heading out across the fields in all hours of daylight and the wildlife has changed significantly. Until a few weeks ago there was alot of bird activity around the nests and I could watch whitethroat and blackcap in the same place for several weeks before that.
Common whitethroat about to head for the nest
The birds are still around but they have dispersed and a tad more legwork is required to see the same species I was seeing 2-3 weeks ago. But now, the first broods of the next generation have all fledged and while my garden has played host to families of starling, great tit, and goldfinch – the fledglings easily distinguished from the adults by their lack of a crimson face – further afield, the hedgerows are thronged with linnet, whitethroat, reed bunting, corn bunting and yellowhammer.
An adult goldfinch and two fledglings on the niger seed feeder in my garden. The speckled brown and lack of a red face makes the youngsters easy to identify.
Another finch of which there are many adults and fledglings in the countryside are linnet. Linnet are one of my favourite birds for several reasons: they are delightful to look at with their cerise breast patches, they have a lovely song as they fly overhead and as long as I don’t do anything daft they will often sit tight and let me get really close to photograph them.
A cock linnet, underlit by the late evening sun, showing several diagnostic freatures including the cerise breast, grey head and pale grey grey cheekspot and the crimson spot on the forehead
Rather interestingly the taxonomic nomenclature is Carduelis cannabina, which approximately translates from the Latin as the ‘cannabis finch’! The linnets diet consists of small seeds so I imagine the name derives from the days when hemp was grown to make rope and they were seen in numbers feeding on the seeds.
There is a field of oil seed rape on the edge of Histon which I had always imagined to be devoid of wildlife but in the last few weeks families of linnet, reed bunting, greenfinch and whitethroat are regularly perched on top of the rape plants.
Greenfinch male in the middle of the rape field
The rape seed pods are full of small black seeds and if you squeeze one seed between your fingers there’s enough oil in it to make the ends of your thumb and forefinger really greasy, so it’s easy to see why rape is a lucrative crop and why it is a good energy source for songbirds.
Female linnet perched on top of a hawthorn tree at the edge of the rape field, she doesn’t have the cerise breast patches of the male, but lovely colours none the less
Linnet are migrant and resident breeders and passage and winter visitors. In the winter they can be seen in flocks of several hundred over farmland and often mingle with other finches. There conservation status is red due to population decline over the last forty years even though the European population numbers between 10 and 30 million pairs! Despite the overall numbers, along with a multitude of other bird species they are the victims of habitat destruction and the systemic use of herbicides which kill off their food supplies.
Cock linnet perched on top of an apple tree also on the edge of the rape field…
… and another one sitting on power lines. Look at the colour of that breast – they’re beautiful birds!
So if you can’t think of anything else to do this weekend and you feel like some gentle excercise and peace and quiet take a walk in the countryside and keep your eyes open for all the songbirds.
Many species of butterfly including large and small white, red admiral, small tortoiseshell, ringlet and small skippers were flapping lazily around the hedges on Guns Lane this morning, basking in the warm sunshine and I saw the first gatekeepers of the year today too:
A gatekeeper probing for nectar in ragwort flowers
All in all, it’s well worth a trip to the countryside armed with a pair of binoculars!