Sunday 21 March 2010

First Butterfly - and Bullfinches

At last! Later than usual - thanks to this delayed spring and events conspiring to keep me indoors too much - I have seen my first butterfly of the year. It was, unsurprisingly, a Brimstone, and it delivered that unfailing thrill, never to be repeated until next spring, and that lift of the heart heralding the arrival of another butterfly season, with who knows what in store. Last year's was my best in a long time, with my species count (not that I'm that kind of spotter, not really) getting above 30, virtually all of them seen close to home. Today's glorious Brimstone, flying strongly but meanderingly, was the first of some half dozen. The sun was out, the sky enamel blue with a few bright white clouds, and I was on only my second visit of the year to my favourite piece of ancient oak common (Ashtead Common). The first thing I saw - even before the first Brimstone - was a Kestrel being chased away by a crow, and I kept encountering that same bird throughout my walk, perched on the lookout on the highest trees, hovering and circling, and finally, as I left, swooping onto some small prey in the grass with apparent success, though he took off empty-taloned. I saw nothing very unusual - being there was enough, walking in sun, stopping to absorb the beauty of clear spring light on the trunks of ancient oaks and on branches green and grey with lichen, and enjoying the first subtle colour changes of spring, the faint haziness and shimmer of distant trees in bud... I was enjoyably lost in an area of bracken and thorn and birch when I came across a party of four Bullfinches - two pairs (they're believed to pair for life) - and was inordinately excited, as I've seen very few in recent years. These strikingly beautiful birds used to be a common garden sight in my boyhood, though they were unpopular with gardeners who valued their fruit trees (the Bullfinches delight in stripping the flower buds). Now it is a different story, and across the country populations have plummeted... Readers of Hardy might recall that Mrs D'Urberville kept Bullfinches in the house, and one of Tess's duties was to whistle to them. They were popular pet songbirds, renowned as ready learners, good at picking up any tune around them - Tess was extending their repertoire, while they, for their part, were contributing their mite to the symbolism of Tess of the D'Urbervilles.


  1. Great idea from Mr Hardy - Bullfinches instead of Staffordshire Bull Terriers. By the way, your avian triptych would make a beautiful Japanese style screen.

    Saw the first Bumblebee of the season on Friday - am all abuzzzzzz with the joys of Spring.

  2. Still no butterflies here in the midlands :(

    Regarding your kestrel - i'm totally hopeless when it comes to identifying birds of prey, so far I'm only comfortable with spotting buzzards, red kites and, hypothetically, golden eagles. Not sure I'd know what a kestrel looked like if I had to pick one out in an identity parade...but just bought a new Simon Barnes birdspotting book on saturday, so hoping to get more up to speed on the whole mysterious raptor thing

  3. Ah yes Susan - the bumblebees are out and no mistake - and some kind of fly flew straight into my left ear today - and, happily, straight out again.
    Worm - Kestrels are the ones that hover, that's the easiest way to recognise them - they frequent motorway verges, and pretty much anywhere. Long straight tail, except when they fan it out to hover. Odd - I nearly bought the Simon Barnes myself the other day in a charity shop...

  4. On 7th January, with the garden covered in several inches of snow, my wife suddenly erupted in the kitchen "John, John, quick, we've got a bullfinch !" It was a wonderful sight, that glorious pink/red breast, almost startling against the white of the garden. He came alone, and was attempting to find something of worth on a bedraggled catoneaster. I assume he was desperate. He was soon gone, and was not seen again. A pair arrive in the garden each spring; I look forward to the day.....

  5. Wow it's cery nice guys en Russia a lot of "Bullfinches"
    This bird breeds across Europe and temperate Asia. It is mainly resident, but many northern birds migrate further south in the winter.

    Mixed woodland with some conifers is favoured for breeding, including parkland and gardens. It builds its nest in a bush, (preferably more than 4 metres tall and wide),mature stands of scrub, or tree, laying 4-7 eggs. The food is mainly seeds and buds of fruit trees, which can make it a pest in orchards. If wild bird cover is planted for it, Kale, Quinoa and Millet are preferred, next to tall hedges or woodland.

    This species does not form large flocks outside the breeding season, and is usually seen as a pair or family group.

    The Bullfinch is a bulky bull-headed bird. The upper parts are grey; the flight feathers and short thick bill are black; as are the cap and face in adults (they are greyish-brown in juveniles), and the white rump and wing bars are striking in flight. The adult male has red underparts, but females and young birds have grey-buff underparts. The pleasant song of this unobtrusive bird contains fluted whistles.

    The Azores Bullfinch previously regarded as a subspecies of Eurasian Bullfinch, is today recognized as a distinct species.

    The European Bullfinch is peculiar among Passeriformes for having spermatozoa with a rounded head and a blunt acrosome ...Thank you..

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