I was always aware that was such a thing as a Wigeon, and I liked the sound of the name. Actually the name reminds me of an old John Smiths advert that I now sing in my head whenever I see or hear mention of a Wigeon, but I digress. That's a male above, which as usual in ducks is more colourful than the female. It's a medium large duck that mostly just overwinters in the UK.

This was part of a small flock of about a dozen that took off from their grassy field shortly afterwards. The in-flight picture below shows a couple of females and also the very bold white and green wing markings of the male.



Following on from my extreme closeups of a large Bumblebee a couple of days ago, we'll tackle a large Hoverfly. This one was about 20mm long, so comparable to a bee and clearly mimicking one. There are a few ways to tell that it's definitely a Hoverfly, but they are fairly subtle and I'll leave this fantastic page to do the hard work. Really it's a fascinating read that gives an insight into a whole unexpected world of interesting details. Suffice to say that you may have to examine the vein pattern on the wings to be sure that what you're looking at really is a Hoverfly.

Below we can see her head on. We can tell it's a she because of the fairly wide gap between the eyes, which would nearly touch at the top in a male.


Finally a profile shot. I've committed the cardinal photographic sin of not having the eyes in focus here, but actually I picked this shot for good reason as it shows the fairly flattened abdomen that in my mind says 'hoverfly' instantly when I see them. Maybe it's just me, and maybe I'm plain wrong, but this is I think the main visual cue that I use. That and the fact that they're behaving like Hoverflies of course.



The results are now in from the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch that took place at the end of January and sadly they confirm some of the theories about how birds cope with the cold weather. 

As we suspected, one of the most notable things from the results is the drop in the numbers of small birds like long-tailed tits, coal tits and goldcrests from what was seen in 2009. There was concern that these smaller-bodied birds may have suffered as in cold weather they need to eat almost continuously to stay alive. 

Another sign of the cold weather was the increase in garden sightings of some birds that are usually considered to be countryside birds. We’ve written here on UKNB about redwings and fieldfares that we spotted during January’s cold weather, but around the country these were joined by bullfinches and yellowhammers as well. The lure of food on our birdtables and in feeders in our gardens probably accounts for this increase in sightings.

Blackcaps provided the biggest surprise in the results according to the RSPB. The number of these in our garden rose in 2010 and it is thought that this is due to them adjusting their feeding habits to make the most of food left out in gardens. With them being a physically small bird it was thought that they may have decreased in number, but instead the change in habit may have helped them survive the winter in better numbers than originally expected.

Full results are available from the RSPB website, including an excel spreadsheet which for each country in the UK shows the average number of each species of bird seen, and the percentage of gardens in which that species were seen. With nearly 530,000 people taking part in the survey this certainly gives us fantastic data by which to understand the current state of bird life here in the UK.


Click the image for a larger look at what was already a very large bee buzzing around in the spring sunshine and briefly alighted on a windowsill. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust has a fantastic introduction to identifying UK bumble bees, from which I learnt a great deal and I hope has helped me accurately identify the example above as a Queen Buff-tailed bumblebee (rather pleasingly named Bombus terrestris in Latin).

Below, courtesy of Sigma's very fine 105mm macro lens, the rear leg from the picture above in extreme close-up (again click for a larger version). You can really see the sharp backward pointing barbs on the very end of the foot that anchor it to the surface. If you've ever had a large insect crawl over your hand this picture helps explain the spiky/prickly feeling you get.


Further up the same rear leg there is a large smooth, shiny flank bordered by hairs that is used for collecting pollen, as shown below. Apparently this distinguishes it from the cuckoo bumble bees, which have evolved to take over existing nests and not bother collecting pollen themselves.


An early heads up on another survey that is running this year that you might want to take part in. 

The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) is running what it is calling the UK"s wildest hide and seek from 21 to 30 May and during this period it is looking for people to spend an hour or two watching wildlife in their garden or local park. The idea is that you should hide yourself so that you can see what wildlife there is, and then look to seek out anything that may be hiding from you. 

The event is taking place as part of the WWT's long term study to investigate the relationship between ponds and wetlands and the wildlife that is using them.

Full details of what they want you to look out for are sketchy at the moment, but keep an eye on this holding page and we'll try and let you know when more details become available.


A nice example of male and female Tufted ducks here, from RSPB Dungeness, showing the differences and similarities between them. The female is the brown one.

I also tried to get a perfect picture of a male in the process of diving, with his head just entering the water, but they're too quick for me and go from serene on the water to underneath it in a split second, so this was the best I could do.


It seems that we shouldn't be all that surprised at having spotted a muntjac deer recently at our local city centre nature reserve. According to this BBC report the number of deer being seen in the UK suburbs is on the increase. Deer themselves, as well as telltale signs that they have been there, are being spotted at numerous open spaces around various towns and cities in the UK. 

Definitely worth keeping your eyes open for; you never know what may be lurking in the bushes!


Rivergirl writes in with some great pictures of Frogs getting jiggy with it now that Spring has sprung. [Actually today it seems to have sprung a leak!]

That’s one of her pictures above, and there are loads more in these two posts on her blog A Walk on the Wild Side, as well as educated commentary on what’s actually going on.

If you have pictures, videos or exciting stories of natural goings on in the UK then do please send them along!


There's no doubt that spring seems to be happening later than usual this year. Traditionally daffodils are given as gifts on Mothers' Day, yet on the 14 March daffodils were still in very short supply here in the UK. There has also been a shortage of those "early spring signs" that often get reported – frogspawn in January for instance.

With the very cold winter that the UK has suffered there is no doubt as to the reason why that has been the case, but what may come as more of a surprise is that a late spring actually means a longer spring. Flora and fauna are appearing over a longer time period and this has already been seen with snowdrops as in some areas they have been in flower now for nearly seven weeks.

The other group that may well appreciate the later start are animals and insects that hibernate. For them the cold winter has provided an even longer period to hibernate in they haven't wasted energy coming out early and trying to find food in weather that's not so warm. Butterflies are slower to appear this year as caterpillars have taken longer to fatten up, and migratory birds are due to arrive any time soon.

It's certainly been a long and hard winter, but it sounds like we have a good spring to look forward to and with the long Easter weekend just around the corner, what better time to get out and about to experience nature?


I'm certain that this is a Meadow pipit, seen on the ground at the RSPB's Dungeness nature reserve. At first there was some confusion over whether it might be a female Linnet or something else, but the fine bill distinguishes it from a Linnet's powerful finch bill. These are apparently quite common in the UK, but I wasn't familiar with them in my particular locality and small brown streaky/mottled things always cause me difficulty in identification.