Country Diary: Joy of being outdoors in late spring

Goldfinch
Goldfinch

Have you spotted it? The two-spot ladybird? Michael and myself each found a single specimen this week, well over a mile apart. They were 2mm-3mm in size, and usually though red with two black spots, these were black with two red spots – a variation found especially in northern areas. The legs are always black, and they feed on aphids.

Several orange tip butterflies were readily identified, as only males are so coloured. The females are small and white.

Martin handed us a dead speckled wood butterfly found on his garden path. It’s quite an inconspicuous, brown butterfly inhabiting woodland rides and clearings, and less frequented country lanes. Its flight is slow, and it often settles on low branches, and even on the ground. It is widely distributed, and in the Alps ascends to altitudes of about 1,500m. The wings have some interesting spots and markings which are yellowish in specimens from central Europe. The one in hand bore orange markings on the wings – a form that lives in southern Europe.

In between household chores, gardening has presented a wide variety of enjoyable tasks, taking advantage of dry days. Spraying and mowing the lawn, up-rooting a conifer, planting borders, watering plant pots and seedlings, painting fencing, cutting hedges, and oiling garden seats add to the joy of being outdoors.

Visiting Lebberston and Gristhorpe villages, and a more remote lane of the latter, we were amazed by the density of hawthorn blossom and Queen Anne’s lace this spring.

A favourite drive through Suffield, Silpho, and the inspiring scenery of the Vale of Hackness, was truly relaxing. Sitting near Silpho’s little pond, we observed no swallows or house martins. All was silent apart from the twittering and cheeping of house sparrows.

From city centres to rural communities, these opportunists have been associated with man and his disposal of rubbish and waste food. Although mainly seed eaters, they’ve learnt to feed from peanut containers too. Just a glance reveals the rather drab female, whilst the male is quite a smart, attractive fellow.

His warn brown nape and black bib contrast with his almost white underparts.

Normally house sparrows breed between May and July, but there has been a trend towards year-round nesting! Certainly a successful species.

Dominating roadside verges and embankments of the A165 between Scarborough and Filey are dog daisies, or ox-eyed daisies. Feeding on what appeared to be dandelion ‘clocks’ were goldfinches.

They have a preference for eating the seeds of thistles, and also favour teasels and hawkweeds.

A goldfinch’s plumage is striking. The black feathering of the wings contrasts with the band of brilliant golden-yellow. The head has black, white and red patterning. A charm of goldfinches helps you appreciate why they were once trapped and kept as cage birds – alas.