This week’s nature roundup.

It seems that the warm weather has really started things moving this week.  And, the more you look, the more you find.

For a starter, many of the trees and plants are bursting into flower.  Cowslips (primula veris) are springing up everywhere – the one posing in this picture was taken next to the car park at work.  These are fairly common on open ground around the UK and have uses in traditional medicine for the treatment of headaches, although some people are allergic to them.  Also noticeable is the preponderance of dandelions decorating roadsides (and dare I say gardens) at the moment, providing a useful nectar source for the increasing number of bees.

Speaking of bees, there do seem to be a lot about at the moment.  Most noticeable are the massive red-tailed and buff-tailed bumble bee queens flying about, but, if you look closely, you may see other types of bee that you hadn’t noticed before.  One of these, again spotted as I was leaving work, was a tawny mining bee (adrena fulva).  I don’t remember seeing these before, but they are bright orange and, although fairly small and constantly on the move, they are not easy to miss.  These are solitary bees that often make their home in lawns, digging a hole to lay their eggs in and to provide a safe place for the young bees for which they collect pollen.  The picture that I took was the best I could get as they seem quite jumpy and do not settle for long even when sunning themselves.

Also of note this week are the increasing number of house martins that can be heard, if not seen, in the skies above Daventry, the first bluebells starting to open and a few more butterflies on the wing.

In the garden, the courgette seeds that I planted last weekend are coming up, although my beans, which are outside, whilst presumably enjoying the sunny days are not appreciating the frosty nights and are refusing to put in an appearance.  Tulips are in full bloom and the blackcurrant and blackberry are coming back to life.  I am also contemplating pulling my first rhubarb of the season.


Those of you who know me realise that I have developed a bit of an obsession with photographing bees.  This is mainly because they are there, but I am also developing a bit of an interest in them.

My macro photography improved tremendously last year as I photographed any insect I could find in the garden (it also had the advantage that I didn’t have to travel more than a few metres).  However, Winter came long with the absence of insects.  Now, the sun is shining and the bees are back and after my enforced hiatus I spent a happy few hours last weekend trying to capture bees on my digital camera.

It is only when you start looking that you see the diversity that is around you.  Whilst watching the bees my attention was caught by this little chap – a funny shape for  a bee if ever I saw one.  I thought I would look on the Open University’s I-Spot website.  This is a fantastic resource where you can upload photos or write descriptions of nature which you need help identifying or which you would just like a second opinion about.

Fortunately there was another picture of my insect on the front page, and, it is not a bee, it is a bee-fly, Bombylius Major being the largest and most common, and corresponding to my friend.   It is, as noted, much chunkier than a bee with spindly legs, but is as furry as a bee, and hovers around flowers in a similar way to hoverflies (primoses being one of its favourites) with its proboscis out probing for nectar.

The larvae of a bee-fly are not at all nice though, they live in the nests of solitary bees living off the food stores and grubs of the bees.  Although they are quite common at this time of year, this is the first I have ever seen.

New for this week – coming to the Natural World near you.

So, what has happened in the last 7 days or so?  It would appear to be quite a lot, other than a rather exciting ash cloud that has managed to reduce the carbon output of Europe and leave all those planes on the ground.

Firstly, or rather lastly, on Saturday I first heard, and then saw, my first housemartin of the year.  They were fairly high up and did not stick around for long, so I think they may have been on their way to elsewhere rather than birds returning to hang about in Dav.

I saw the housemartin whilst sitting in the garden watching bees.  You may have noticed that there is a lot of blossom about at the moment, not only is the blackthorn still flowering, but there are cherry blossoms on almost every housing estate, and, along with the blossom there are the associated bees.  The main attraction in our garden at the moment as far as bees are concerned is the blue Pulmonaria Trevi Fountain as evidenced by cette photo la, with rather lovely bumblebee attached.  Also out in numbers this week have been the native two and seven spot ladybirds, as yet though, there are no harlequins that I have seen.

In terms of wild flowers that are out at the moment, one of my favourites is the forget-me-not.  James calls these devil flowers, because they self seed everywhere.  Indeed the one in the picture found its own way into the front garden.  Has anyone ever planted a forget-me-not, or do they ‘just appear’?

On the garden front, I am pleased to report that the gooseberry has loads of flower buds on.  I am hoping that the sawfly don’t find where we’ve hidden it and that our huge rosemary will help disguise it – fingers crossed!  I have also planted my courgette seeds and french bean seeds, ready for planting out in a couple of months.

Springing out this week.

OK, so the weather is warmer, the hint of Blackthorn flower to be glimpsed last week has erupted into a frothy, white mass and the Chiffchaffs can be heard regularly – Spring is definitely here.  So, what else has been happening out and about this week?

To start with, in my garden the Clematis Armandii is flowering away on the bottom fence, and, every now and again giving a hint of scent.  The Primroses and Hellebores are still looking great, and, the Pulmonaria is in full flower and attracting bumblebees.  The early tulips have now gone over, but the others are starting to show flower buds.Trees are now starting to show hints of lime green colour, such as this Maple / Sycamore that I pass on my way to work.

There are more flowers out for the aforementioned bumblebees, and, ergo, more bumblebees; mainly queens foraging before setting up home  – such as this one that I took a picture of whilst it was a little dazed having for some reason flown into a lampost!  On the flower front, the Celandines are particularly noticeable on sunny roadsides, as is the purple flower ground ivy.  There are also some wild violets flowering in places.

There are also more butterflies about, initially I had only seen Brimstones, but today I saw my first Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock butterflies.  I think it will not be long before the Speckled Woods are roaming up and down the old Railway Track.

On a distinctly Wintery note though, I had a Redpoll in the garden this week for the first time ever.  This is a bird I associate with Winter, and one that I have only seen in the Country Park before now (and then only once).  Very strange, it must have been passing through.  I have no idea whether it is a Lesser Redpoll or a Mealy Redpoll, however, I don’t care either.

Compressor Survey

As I mentioned in my last post, I am trying to reduce the energy usage at work by looking at the process equipment.  The first piece(s) of equipment to fall under the spotlight was the compressor.  Although maintenance did not want to change any of the settings they did arrange for someone from the Company who installed and services the compressors to come in and talk to me about them (although maintenance were conspicuously absent from the meeting).

The outcome of the meeting was that we had a set of dataloggers installed to look at the air usage over a week.  From that we received a report detailing the loads during the week, the cost of generating the air, the annual cost of the air, and a number of recommendations for saving energy and money.  It is hoped that when faced with the hard data, then maintenance and management would decide that changes needed to be made.

The first of the recommendations was to use only one compressor, not only would this save us electricity costs in excess of £1000 per year, but would also save £250 a year in servicing costs.  This might not have been an economically viable option if it wasn’t for the fact that the pipework is already in place  and all we have to do it turn a valve on.  So, from this, another question arises – why do we have a separate compressor?  The second plant was installed in 2001, 15 years after the first plant – why not use the same compressor?  There is no one in the Company that can answer this question – so, as maintenance cannot think of a good reason not to do this, the valve will be opened and both plants monitored to check that there is no problem.  The specification of the main compressor and the air requirements of the main plant are such that it can easily provide enough air for both plants.  Money saved.

Second recommendation?  You’ve guessed it, turn the pressure down – apparently a one bar reduction in pressure will save £185 per year.  You might think that this is not much of a saving, but at 10p per kWh, it is equivalent to 1 tonne of CO2e per year, and it is all waste.  I was a little disappointed that the survey could not tell me what my minimum operating pressure is, but as far as I can tell, as long as I keep above 6bar, then the second plant will be fine, and if I do reduce the pressure below the minimum for the main plant then it will just stop – which is not a disaster, we just turn the pressure back up and start it up again – as long as it is in a controlled way no damage will be done.

Recommendation three was something I am not sure about – there is the possibility of recovering the heat generated by the compressor and using it to heat the warehouse.  However, the figures were based on the cost of electrical heating, gas is about 20% of the cost of electricity at the moment, and we do not want heat all year round.  This suggestion is parked for now.

The final suggestion is to conduct a leak survey.  Whilst we do check for leaks on a weekly basis, this is only done by listening for any leaks.  It is possible that this is missed, and, if we are using the connecting pipework across the warehouse to power both plants it may be more worthwhile (expected cost £350).  However, what is making me think that this could be worthwhile is that the survey showed the air usage graphically for the week.  There were a couple of days where the main plant was shut down, and the air usage, whilst low, was not zero.  Whilst there may be something that is kept under pressure when the plant is off, in which case maybe we can lock it off, it may be because of leaks in the system.  I have estimated that if this was the case, then the cost of these leaks is £300 per annum.

So, I have the data, and although it cost £200 to get the survey done, we should be able to save up to £1500 a year for no outlay at all and we can have the changes made by the start of the CRCEE.

Appearing this week in your area

I thought that Spring had sprung a few weeks ago when the sun seemed to be warmer and there seemed to be some flowers, such as the Winter Aconites appearing.  I guess I should have taken a hint from their name, and realised that it was, in fact, still Winter.  The weather this week has been pretty wet and pretty changeable, and I think that some of the signs of Spring are perhaps a little later this year – or maybe it just feels that way.

My first definite sound of Spring is usually the sound of the chiffchaff.  I went to the Country Park last Sunday and heard two of them calling away, and left with a big grin on my face.  I had been expecting to hear them on the old railway track on my way to work this week, but it has been strangely silent (in terms of chiffchaffs).  However, I did hear one on the way back from town yesterday so, all is right with the world.  Looking back 12 months, it wasn’t until the end of March last year that I first heard them, so maybe things are not out of sync after all.  Other birds are also singing away, most noticeably the wrens.  These tiny birds manage to make quite a lot of noise, and, at this time of year are sitting more conspicuously on bare tree branches, advertising their presence.  There were concerns that the cold winter may have dramatically reduced their numbers, but there seemed to be quite a number singing yesterday.

Although I saw my first butterfly over a week ago, I haven’t seen any since.  However, there are quite a number of bumblebees out foraging and the occasional honey bee (quite a few were frequenting the anenome blanda at Ryton last week).  At first glance it would appear that there is not much about for them at the moment, so it is probably just as well the numbers are small.  I haven’t seen any celandines in flower as yet (although I spotted a few on a sunny bank that looked as though they were tempted) and the blackthorn seems late – the first flowers are out in the hedgerows on the sunny sides of the street, but the old railway track is a bit bereft.  However, there are quite a few flowers in the gardens for them – my hellebores are now flowering well, there are lots of daffodils about as well as the aforementioned anenomes, and there are still some flowering heather in a few places.

I also noticed that the germander speedwell (treated as a weed by many gardeners) is now starting to flower.  I quite like the pretty blue flowers which remind me of the Summer sky, which is a blessing when it is actually covered in black cloud!  This is quite a common plant in the wild and in gardens, and provides an early source of nectar for some solitary bees.  It was also apparently used in herbal medicines at one time to treat coughs and catarrh.

Has Spring started to make an appearance where you are?