Worried about scams, phishing and viruses when you're on-line? Join Chris on this free zoom talk to learn how to recognise bogus emails, texts and phone calls, and what not to do when you get one. Also find out how to keep your computer secure and manage your passwords safely.
The event starts at 7.30pm, but the meeting room opens at 7.15pm. All the details for joining can be found on the Greenhill Library website - https://greenhill-library.org/category/evening-talks/
Here are Jan Flamank's Nature Notes for April 2021. Click on each photo to see a larger photo on a new page. For a downloadable pdf version see the link below.
We have 3 native woodpeckers and one visitor: Great Spotted, Lesser Spotted and Green Woodpeckers and visiting Wryneck.
The Great Spotted is our most well known woodpecker, and will visit garden birdfeeders, although it is a woodland bird. About the same size as a blackbird at 23cms long, it is mainly black and white with marvellous red ‘trousers’ on its rear undercarriage. The male also has a splash of red on the nape of his neck. It feeds mainly on wood boring grubs and insects, which they excavate from under tree bark. They have a very long, thin tongue, covered in sticky mucus and with backward facing barbs on the tip which they use like a rake to gather up the grubs and insects. The tongue is much longer than their beak, and they have a complex, adapted structure in their head to enable them to retract and extend their tongue, and which also protects their brain when drumming.
All birds have a hyloid structure, comprised of thin bone and cartilage, which attaches the tongue to the floor of the beak, or mouth, with muscles by the ear openings. When the bird contracts these muscles, the hyloid system pushes the tongue forward. In woodpeckers, this system is much longer, and splits in two in front of the throat into two springy straps, called hyloid horns. These horns, attached to muscles behind the ear openings, support the tongue, as with all birds, but in woodpeckers, they extend much further, wrapping upwards behind the back of the skull, and then coming together over the top of the cranium through a groove in the skull. This extra long system of thin bone and cartilage means there is very little space in the cranium for the brain to move, and acts as a sort of seat belt to keep the brain steady and cushioned when drumming. It also means that when the woodpecker pulls the muscles tight near the ear openings, the extra long, springy hyloid structure can extend the sticky, barbed tongue a very long way to probe for food. Amazing!
Males can drum up to 600 times a day to attract a mate, using their beak to make noise on trees, and metal poles and weathervanes in urban settings. Their long, powerful beak is a self sharpening, chisel shape which penetrates wood easily, and they have extra strong neck muscles to withstand all the effort of drumming. Drumming uses lots of energy, as an unmated male can drum up to 600 times a day to attract a female at a rate of 10 drums a second.
The Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers is much smaller, about the same size as a greenfinch at 15cms long, and harder to see as it tends to stay near the tops of trees, feeding on wood boring insects and spiders. It has bold black and white barring across its back, but no red ‘trousers’. Males have a red crown and females a white crown. It is more abundant in the south, but there are local families in Yorkshire, and it has the same long thin tongue and adaptations as its larger relative. Despite its diminutive size, it drums even faster than the great spotted, at 15 drums per second. Phew. It has red conservation status.
The Green Woodpecker is the largest of our native species, about pigeon size at 33cms long. It is also the most colourful, with an olive green back, yellow green rump and a red crown and black eye mask. The male has a black and red moustache, while on the female it is all black. Unlike their relatives, this large woodpecker favours ants most of all for its dinner, and is seen mainly on the ground, probing under the soil for ants. Their tongue has intrinsic muscles, along with the usual thin bone and cartilage, which enables it to move the tip of the tongue easily from side to side, sweeping up a feast of ants and worms. It is also known for a distinctive laughing call, and is sometimes known as the Yaffingale. They don’t drum loudly, but are more vocal than their relatives.
The Wryneck Woodpecker is now extinct as a breeding bird here, but they can appear in gardens in April and May on their migration from Europe and Africa. It is small and discreet, 17cms long, with a mottled brown colour. It feeds mainly on ants, living mostly on the ground, using the long tongue to probe for ants and worms. If disturbed on their nest, the parent bird stretches out their head and neck, then rapidly withdraws it, hissing like a snake.
Beaks are a bony extension of the bird’s jaw, with the top, upper mandible fixed to the skull, but the lower half able to move much like a human jaw. Nostrils are usually found in the upper mandible, but some birds such as gannets have no nostrils, but breathe through their mouth instead. Clearly, beaks are primarily used for feeding, and as such, are a myriad of shapes and sizes, depending on the habitat and food supply for each species. This variety ensures different species can reduce unhelpful competition for food, e.g. Goldfinches pinching tiny seeds from teasels; the Curlew’s long, graceful curved beak to probe deeply into soft mud; Oystercatchers hammering and stabbing bivalve shellfish; Treecreepers with their long thin, down-curved bill searching cracks in tree bark; Falcons with the special notch in the side of their beak to snap the neck of their prey; Avocets with an upturned bill perfectly designed for the scything action they use to gather crustaceans and fish fry. These are just a few examples from so many more ..... beaks mean survival in many ways.
Essential tools also for preening, birds run their beak through feathers, removing parasites, distributing waterproofing oils, and used in mutual pair bonding preening rituals. Beaks are vital in nest building, skilfully collecting materials and making a safe place to rear their young, and are also used to make tools to retrieve food and explore habitat. So much more than a nose.
Early Spring is the key time for birdsong and the wonderful dawn chorus, but it doesn’t lend itself well to website notes! There are excellent recordings available on CD, apps and the RSPB website to help us identify different songbirds, but here is a reminder about how birds sing.
As we know, birds sing to establish territory and announce to rivals they are there, but springtime is when the song is used to attract females and show how healthy and strong the male bird it to a potential mate. Anyone who has sung in a choir knows it takes lots of energy and stamina to sing, and more so for small birds, outside on a cold early morning.
Birds have specialised vocal anatomy that enables them to have loud, complex songs. Put simply, when we sing, air from our lungs is squeezed through the larynx/voice box at the back our throat, which has two vibrating flaps made of folded mucus membrane which lines the larynx. This vibration is then shaped by our lips, mouth and tongue to make recognisable words and sounds. Birds have a very similar arrangement, but it is called the syrinx, and is lower down in their air canal, where the trachea splits into two to go into the lungs. The name syrinx comes from Greek, meaning panpipes. So, birds have two sets of flaps for the air to squeeze through, and can make different sounds with each set at the same time. Some birds also have air sacs around the syrinx, which amplify the sound, so even tiny birds like the wren can make a gorgeous loud sound.
Enjoy an early walk if you can, away from traffic, and listen to a lovely chorus. One of the very few benefits of lockdown has been a reduction in the cacophony of human noise, enhancing our opportunities to tune into nature.
© Jan Flamank 1st April 2021. All rights reserved. Images used in the document have been sourced free for use in this social, educational, non-commercial setting
Here are Jan Flamank's Nature Notes for March 2021. Click on each photo to see a larger photo on a new page. For a downloadable pdf version click the link below the text.
As I have done in some of our lovely nature sessions at the library, this month I am going to focus in a bit more detail on just one subject: our somewhat capricious but fascinating weather.
I love watching a decent BBC weather forecast, but often want the presenters to explain far more about the underlying global forces and conditions that drive the many changes we see through the seasons. So, I am giving myself a temporary meteorological role here, which will hopefully illuminate some of the complexities of our weather. We have had some glorious sunrises and sunsets recently, aided by dust blown across us from the Sahara on Southern winds.
Earth is blanketed by gases, ranging up to 600 miles above us, which we call the atmosphere. These gases literally allow life to flourish; protecting us from the searing heat and radiation of the sun and the icy blasts of night. There are 5 main layers of our atmosphere, most of which are calm and unchanging. But the lowest layer, the Troposphere, filling just 3 to 10 miles above sea level, and where we live and breathe, is the layer where all our turbulent weather occurs. This is because the troposphere contains the most water vapour, without which we would have no clouds, rain, snow, hail etc. and therefore no weather. Vast swirling clouds all across the earth are easily visible from space, showing the constant motion of gases in this layer, with the resulting changeable weather. I have included a satellite image, showing clear skies over the UK due to a high pressure anti cyclone, and the swirly clouds of a low pressure depression, over the Atlantic. Better than a wet finger in the air!
The atmosphere is on the move because of the wind, which is simply air in motion. Warm air is lighter than cool air, so warm air rises and cool air sinks. Winds blow wherever there is a difference in air temperature and pressure, and always flow from high to low pressure. We have both global and local wind systems. Global wind systems move warm air from the equator to the poles, with cold air sinking and moving towards the equator, thereby keeping world temperatures in balance. Nature likes to balance things as much as possible! Because the earth spins, winds north of the equator bend to the right, and winds south of the equator bend to the left, known as the Coriolis effect. The UK has a mainly southwesterly wind direction, which helps our temperate climate.
Most of us will have heard of the Jet Stream, which is sometimes helpfully added to the weather graphics we see on TV. The Jet stream is a well defined zone of very powerful, narrow belts of winds that develop where there are extreme temperature contrasts in the atmosphere. They are key to the development and movement of low pressure systems. They can blow in excess of 480 miles an hour, with this record speed recorded above South Uist in the Scottish Highlands in December 1967! These winds occur at the junction between our troposphere and the next layer up, the stratosphere, and can be thousands of kilometres long, but just a few kilometres deep. Because they are so powerful, the position of the Jet Stream around the UK makes a huge difference to what weather we experience, also blocking warmer or cooler conditions depending on their position. If these strong winds get ‘stuck’ then we are stuck with whatever weather conditions we have, until they change direction. That makes me think about Mary Poppins.....
Oceans cover 71 % of the earths’ surface and ocean currents are hugely influential on global weather. As a small island we are especially affected by these forces. Our latitude means we should have a much colder climate than we have, but thanks to the ocean circulations, surface currents and winds that surround our shores we have a more temperate climate. The Gulf Stream is a lovely, strong and warm current of water, that starts in the Caribbean Sea, travels up the eastern coast of America and then crosses the Atlantic Sea to our shores. The maximum Atlantic Sea temperature occurs in September, so our land mass benefits from air blowing across these relatively warm seas in autumn and winter, making us much warmer than other countries, e.g. Siberia, who are on the same latitude as us.
As a sea faring little island, a good understanding of our weather is an essential aspect of safety at sea. I have included a nautical map, used in the past to note the state of the seas around our shores, and I still love listening to the daily shipping forecast on the radio. It sounds almost musical to me, and remains an important service.
Occasional but huge global phenomena also affect us here in the UK, such as volcanic eruptions and El Nino. Large volcanic eruptions have a huge impact on the weather, even across the globe. Vast quantities of dust, ash, gas and sulphur dioxide droplets combine together and reflect incoming radiation from the sun back into the atmosphere, which can reduce the temperature by as much as 5OF/ 3OC. Water vapour also reacts with sulphur dioxide to produce a dense haze which can last for years in the stratosphere, cooling the lower troposphere layer we live next to. We were affected by an eruption in Iceland I think, not too long ago.
El Nino is a period of unusually high sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, along the coasts of North and South America. El Nino usually grows slowly over several months and seasons, occurring every 3 to 11 years, with varied intensity. There is much better tracking of these changes, but the phenomenon is still not fully understood. It all relates to changes in the strength and direction of the trade winds, which then affect ocean currents and surface temperatures. Warm currents that usually travel towards the western Pacific reverse, and travel eastwards, causing huge disruption to weather in the tropics, but with far less effect here. We often have more wet and windy weather after a strong El Nino year.
Spring starts, meteorologically, on March 1st, and we usually have turbulent weather through this month, as in the saying ‘In like a lion, and out like a lamb’. We have very changeable weather all year really, all down to where we sit geographically in the world.
Our small island sits between the Atlantic sea and the large landmass of Europe, with Iceland above us and Africa below. This means that we are sitting underneath 5 main air masses, all with their distinct weather features. A weather front is where those air masses meet, with resulting turbulence as they each try to dominate the weather. Each air mass brings us different conditions: Maritime refers to the sea, and Continental to land.
The Arctic Maritime air mass brings cold, wet, snowy conditions.
The Polar Maritime brings cold and wet conditions.
The Polar Continental brings cold air in winter, hot air in summer
The Tropical Continental brings hot air in summer
The Tropical Maritime brings warm, moist air, rain and wind.
So, we have lots to contend with, which all makes for our famously mercurial weather, whatever the season!
As well as global influences, local topography affects our weather, and we all know what a bracing sea breeze feels like. I miss the sea.
Here are a few familiar words used in local forecasts, with a brief reminder of their meaning:
Cirrus – high, wispy clouds. Cold front – leading edge of cold air. Cumulonimbus – deep cumulus cloud that brings thunderstorms. Frontal depression – travelling low pressure disturbance with either warm or cold fronts. Isobar – contour of constant atmospheric pressure at sea level, and drawn as lines on weather maps that link two areas with equal pressure. When these lines are close together, they indicate strong windy weather. Ridge – an area of high pressure, formed from a larger anticyclone. Thermal - a plume of relatively warm air that rises through a cooler environment. Trough – an elongated region of low pressure, often with associated wind shift. Warm front – the leading edge of the warm, moist air in a frontal depression. There are many more to learn.......
I for one am delighted to live where we do have seasons, even if they seem to be less distinct than in my childhood. That may be due to rosy memory, but it is also the very real effects of climate change and pollution. I hope you have enjoyed reading more about the underlying factors that help to determine our weather, and that you also enjoy this burgeoning spring season, whatever it chucks at us.
© Jan Flamank 1st March 2021. All rights reserved. Images used in the document have been sourced free for use in this social, educational, non-commercial setting
Greenhill Library are hosting this interesting free zoom event on Friday 26th March 2021 at 7.30pm.
Taking the Greener Path - Simple Steps to help Combat Climate Change by Lindy Stone of Sheffield Friends of the Earth.
See the Greenhill Library website for the link to join - https://greenhill-library.org/category/evening-talks/ .
The event meeting room will open at 7.15pm ready to start at 7.30pm and it will be restricted to 100 participants - so get there early!
We are very pleased to announce that we will restart our Order & Collect service on Wednesday 10th March 2021.
We look forward to receiving your orders again!
Any outstanding orders made through our Order & Collect service before we closed in January are still waiting to be collected.
We have a few items that were reserved through Sheffield Libraries Online Catalogue waiting to be collected too. Please call at the library to collect any reserved items from January. We will check out your item/s while you wait in the foyer.
From the 24th of February 2021, the Sheffield eLibrary will move from RB Digital to Libby – the one-tap reading app.
The Libby app is the easiest way to get started with the thousands of free eBooks, eAudiobooks, and eMagazines available from Sheffield Libraries.
For more help with Libby, visit help.libbyapp.com.
The final event for the Volunteer Libraries in Sheffield 'Readathon Live' half term fun for children took place on Friday 19th February and The Performance was posted on CHOL's Youtube channel on Saturday 20th February.
What fantastic talent we have in Sheffield!
Here are Jan Flamank's Nature Notes for February 2021 as well as the December Nature Quiz Answers. Click on each photo to see a larger photo on a new page. For downloadable pdf versions of each topic see the links below.
February can be a rather drab month, best known for being thankfully short, as we move towards the end of the winter season.
Amongst the stark, bare branches of most of our trees, one real delight of February is seeing catkins, particularly evident on hazel, birch and alder trees. Catkins are the male flowers of these trees, which bloom early, designed to be pollinated by wind not insects. They are sometimes called lambs tails, and contain masses of microscopic pollen within their scales.
The earliest catkins are on hazel trees, dangling down in small clusters, flowers with no petals as such, but laden with pollen that is released in yellow puffs when the wind blows through the branches. These are easier to see than the tiny female flowers, called styles, which are bright red and sticky. This helps catch the pollen in the air, which then travels down the tube in the centre of the flower to fertilise the ova inside, from which new hazel nuts develop. Clever.
Dangling catkins are always wind pollinated, but there are also upright catkins which appear a little later, such as on various willow trees – salix - and these are pollinated by early bees, flies and also blue tits, who enjoy feeding on the nectar produced; pollinating by default as they forage on the fluffy catkins surrounded by pollen.
So, the next time you venture safely out for a late winter walk, look up and see how many catkins you can spot, as well as the discreet red female flowers on hazel trees. A sign of spring arriving soon.
I may have mentioned it before, but the Corvid family of birds are amongst my very favourite birds, and of the whole Corvid family - crows, ravens, jackdaws, rooks, choughs, jays and magpies – rooks are the ones I like best. They are so intelligent, highly sociable, and also very handsome!
We need to look carefully to help us distinguish between crows and rooks, as they are mistakenly all thought to just be big black, scary birds. Corvids have often been thought of as vermin that simply require eradication. But as we have learnt far more about their behaviour and have come to understand more about how intelligent and adaptable they are, there is, thankfully, less persecution now.
Numerous scientific tests of corvids, including rooks, have clearly shown they have intelligence on a par with primates and dolphins. These include their understanding of displacement of water in order to reach food, an ability to think ahead and problem solve, to use teamwork, making and using simple tools, the ability to mimic a wide variety of sounds and they also have a lovely tendency to ‘play’ in complex ways. This implies enjoyment as well as mere survival.
As humans we have always tended to think of ourselves as at the top of the evolutionary tree, and judge other species by very inappropriate human parameters. This is evident in the term ’bird brain’. Avian brains are built in different ways to ours and they have developed a part of the forebrain, called the hyperstriatum, which we and other mammals lack. Corvids have a large brain, similar in size to ours in ratio to body size, and packed with an exceptionally large number of brain cells. Rooks have excellent memories, make mental maps, enjoy socialising with each other - and they can fly!
Jays are the most colourful and distinct member of this bird family, but rooks have a gorgeous purple gloss to their feathers, and the base of their beak is bare and grey, not covered in fine feathers, and they have a more loose, ‘baggy trousers ‘ look to their thighs. How marvellous is that! Their beak is longer and sharper than in carrion crows, and it is also said that if you see a flock of crows then they are more likely to be rooks, as they are far more sociable.
Rooks nest together in colonies called rookeries, and the collective nouns for rooks include: a clamour, a wing, a congregation and a storytelling, which is lovely as they do chatter loudly to each other.
As an artist, I have made a series of artworks about this amazing bird, so have included one here, Rook, in watercolour and mixed media.
We will learn more about this extraordinary family of birds, but in the meantime, look closely when you see a crow, and you may find that it is instead, a rook. Baggy trousers, bare faced brilliance and all.
The magnificent wildcat is in severe decline, facing extinction now with less than 100 pure bred species, all concentrated in the Scottish Highlands.
They need a large area of wild country and woodland to hunt their prey, which is in very short supply, and have been heavily persecuted by humans and culled by gamekeepers. They also mate with feral cats, which results in hybridisation, and dilution of wildcat genes. A fully protected species since 1988, there are efforts to increase their numbers by the Save Wildcats project, within the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland. This is a complex project, needing the cooperation of local cat owners to neuter their moggies, and excluding any feral cats. A part of the Cairngorms now has permission to develop a special area for conservation and release of pure bred wildcat kittens.
Superficially similar to domestic tabby cats, the wildcat is a different animal in various ways. It is thickset, and up to 1 metre long including their tail, has longer legs, a more broad, blunt head, and a pale brown/ russety body with up to 11 black stripes. It has a very distinctive, thick tail with 3 black rings and a rounded black end. Pure wild cats are always this colour and never have white paws. It is silent apart from mating, and only has one litter a year in spring.
Nocturnal and solitary outside of the mating season, wildcats are carnivores, feeding on live prey, mainly rabbits, small mammals and birds, only eating grass occasionally for extra roughage and vitamins. Their soft feet allow them to approach their prey quietly, and then pounce and kill quickly with a bite to the back of the neck. Being solitary ensures each cat has exclusive hunting areas, and they rarely meet up apart from mating, so avoiding potentially damaging fights.
My own much loved moggie, Freddy, is also thickset, but black and white and very fond of lolling about on my bed, showing off his tummy. Unlike wildcats, he would be most insulted to be constantly out in the cold, making a ‘nest’ as they do amongst rocks, tree roots and old fox burrows and badger sets.
A piccy of Freddy here too, so you can clearly see the difference between a wildcat and a domestic cat!
Hope you did well! There are lots more answers and more amazing fingertip facts in the Autumn to Winter nature booklet I wrote. Enjoy.
© Jan Flamank 1st February 2021. All rights reserved. Images used in the document have been sourced free for use in this social, educational, non-commercial setting
These posters have been distributed to give further details of the exciting workshops that are available in February Half Term. There are still some places on the workshops available, so book your place now!
STAND (Stannington & District Library Group) was formed in 2013 after two public meetings that explored the issues raised by Sheffield City Council’s announced withdrawal of formal support for Stannington Library. Since then, the group has been formalised, a committee was formed and teams of volunteers were recruited