Monday, 25 August 2014

Thistles and plumage!

An adult Goldfinch tucking into thistle seeds
 There are advantages to working in conservation. My garden is what you might call “wild” – translated into normal speak – a tip! I like all sorts of plants that would never survive in a “gardener’s garden”, justifying their existence for wildlife reasons. For instance I can grow a mean Spear thistle – in fact a clump of four huge ones which have launched themselves skywards and are now much, much taller than I am.

Back in the summer, these plants were humming with Bumble bees and Hoverfly, while numerous species of butterfly alighted on the dark purple flowers to take nectar from them. Now, as autumn approaches these flowers have turned to seed – with their great white fluffy plumes. 

These seeds have attracted “Charms” of Goldfinch (Such a perfect collective name for a group of these delightful finches), who turn up in big family groups to pluck the little seeds out of the fluff. You can tell when a group has arrived as constant drifts of thistle down float away on the breeze, as it is plucked from the thistle heads in order to locate the nutritious morsel at the base. They are an awful distraction, as I am such a sucker when it comes to watching their antics.

So, yesterday I set up my camera to see if I could catch them amongst my thistles – I have attached a couple of shots for you to see.

At this time of year, many birds are moulting out their summer plumage and growing their winter feathers. This can be quite confusing to the Ornithologist as lots of birds appear with only “half” an outfit!

You can see the Goldfinch youngster – pretty much the same as mum and dad except that it crucially lacks the bright red face! Also, just so as not to be left out, a young Robin was also in on the scene, having spent the summer with a brown dappled breast, it is now beginning to produce a red breast, although I think you will agree, a bit more work is needed before becoming a fully-fledged adult Robin Redbreast! 
A young Goldfinch learning how to find the seeds

I will have a red breast to be proud of one day!


  1. I seem to remember my Gt Uncle a dairy farmer in the Ribble valley sending me off (1950's) to thwack (cut) thistles because it was against the law to let them seed. As they were a pernicious weed. True or False? or was I conned :-))

    1. Thank you for your thoughts on this Richard. You raise an interesting question here and you are not wrong - the Spear Thistle is designated an ``injurious weed'' under the UK Weeds Act 1959. This applies to a number of other weeds too, such as Creeping Thistle, Ragwort and Docks for instance. Land owners/managers are obliged, if requested, to keep these named weeds under control.
      So if there was a problem with seeds dispersing onto neighbouring land, then a request to control these plants could be made, potentially being followed up with court proceedings if no action was taken.
      This rarely happens with thistles, but more often happens with Ragwort, especially where horses are involved.
      It is not against the law to allow these plants to seed on your own land however, the problem arises only when your seeds start to cause problems on adjacent holdings.
      None of this takes away the fact that Spear Thistles are much loved by insects and Goldfinch though!!