Wildlife Wednesday – Beneficial Balance

There’s been a mixed bag of weather during September, the hotter dry days made peering at insects a priority. They are mostly a joy to observe and obliging to photograph. Bees, Butterflies, Hoverflies, Beetles, Moths, Wasps have all been welcome. House flies have been really, really annoying. Beneficial or not Insects are encouraged here, invertebrates form the stuff of life, at the very least they provide food for birds, they pollinate flowers and fruit and without them we’d all be in a lot of trouble.  But they are a tricky lot to identify, unlike our visiting birds who by and large are much easier.

Long Tailed Tits and Great Tit

6 Long-tailed Tits are joined by a Blue Tit

To our sheer delight native Long-tailed Tits have made a reappearance in our garden, for most of the year they live on insects, foraged on woodland edges and hedgerows but in the Autumn and Winter we are fortunate to see them on our feeders, adding seeds and nuts to their diet. With a fast undulating flight, which is slightly comical to watch they are always uplifting to see. They are very social birds – parents, offspring and nest helpers all stay together and join in with other birds from the Tit family and can form flocks of 20 or so birds.



The Jackdaw is a bird that has us jumping up, banging the window or running out of doors clapping our hands loudly, he is ruthless. I think this one is a male as the grey ‘hood’ is quite distinctive and pale. As he swoops in, smaller birds disperse and he will take whole chunks of seed impregnated fat and if allowed he would polish the lot off.  Jackdaws are a member of the Crow family and are intelligent scavengers, their diet ranges from insects and seeds to scraps, road kill, eggs and young birds, they are social and usually seen in pairs although we often see just one – carrion birds fulfil a vital part of the food chain otherwise we would be knee deep in decay.

Female Greenfich and Blue Tit

Blue Tit with mottled head feathers on left and larger Female Greenfich on right

We were delighted to see a female Greenfinch back on the feeder and hoped the flashy looking bright green/yellow male would make an appearance too but so far he has been shy. In comparison, she is ‘drab’, with just a little understated yellow on the edges of her wings. They are about the size of a House Sparrow, larger than our Blue Tits and armed with a distinctive beak. Although not rare, they have been in steep decline recently due to the parasite disease trichomonosis, which prevents the Greenfinches from feeding properly.

Left, Male Chaffinch Right Coal tit, with moulting head feathers

On one of our many rainy days – Left, Male Chaffinch -Right Coal Tit checking out the company

Back to the tricky insects! At first I thought a bumblebee Queen had flown into our garden, I grabbed my camera and took photos from every angle, she was moving very slowly and walked between the Verbena stems, rather than flying on and off. I tried to photograph her markings, hind legs and some facial close ups. On closer inspection I could see the yellow band on her abdomen was broken and was almost giddy with the thought that I was looking at a rare Bumblebee. Turns out though, this is something else.

Southern Cuckoo Bumblebee

Southern Cuckoo Bumblebee with ‘broken’ yellow band

I logged on to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust website which the more I use the more I am gaining an understanding and starting to get my ‘eye’ in. After working through the options and eliminating possibilities, I was fairly confident I had photographed a Southern Cuckoo Bumblebee. I submitted a couple of photos for clarification and they confirmed my sighting. She is quite common though in the south of England and is no Queen.

Southern Cuckoo bumblebee walking with hairy legs

Southern Cuckoo bumblebee walking between flowers with hairy hind legs.

Cuckoo Bumblebees, do not have their own nests in the way true Bumblebees do, instead they sneak into the True Bumbles nests, evict or even kill the true Queen and take over her workers. There are 6 species of Cuckoo Bumblebee and each is designed to attack a specific species of True Bumble. The Southern Cuckoo attacks the nests of the Buff-tailed Bumblebee. I am not certain why these cuckoo bees have evolved this way but the dark evenings of winter are looming and there will be time to learn.

Nectaring Southern Cuckoo

Nectaring Southern Cuckoo bumblebee

As well as the birds there are several other insect predators lurking in our garden and this one lives in my potting shed! The Garden Spider – Araneus diadematus is in the process of parcelling up his lunch. Females are 15mm long and Males 9mm, this one was quite small, so guessing he was a he. If you look closely, he is in the process of preparing what looks like a Butterfly, as the tail extends to the last visible web line. There is a very helpful website the British Arachnological Society to help with lots more spider identifications.

Potting shed Friend Garden Spider

Potting shed companion – Garden Spider eating lunch

During the sunny last week of September a Common Darter Dragonfly came to rest on one the terracotta pots in my pile of ‘stuff to sort out’ Balancing on one leg I leant in to have a close up look. Adult Dragonflies also feed on insects including unwelcome midges. Dragonfly larvae, hatch in ponds and are strong swimmers, they are more voracious and include tadpoles in their diet. The British Dragonfly society has a very helpful website, detailing their amazing lifecycle and helping with identifications.

Common Darter Dragonfly

Common Darter Dragonfly

Still balancing on one leg and leaning over my ‘pile of stuff to sort’, I could sense movement to my left. There is a tarpaulin laying over some pieces of wood destined for a future project. And just sitting on top of the tarpaulin was quite a large frog, males are 9cms long and females 13cms, I did not have a tape measure handy but guessed she could be a she. Frogs eat insects, slugs and worms, they are threatened in turn by disease and loss of habitat.

Common Frog

Common Frog

We eye balled each other for a few seconds, as the frog was gulping I pulled back to stand on two legs, the Frog just turned obligingly to one side and waited for a while before slowly hopping off to the undergrowth.

Common Frog

Common Frog

Now this is an easy one for me to identify, in the UK we have only two species of Frog and two species of Toad, I hoped she was well and wondered why she moved so slowly, maybe the heat was slowing her down. In trying to research some more I came across a couple of articles who confirmed kissing a frog will not help in the search for a prince. Who knew! But for a more detailed informative website on amphibians Froglife is definitely worth looking at.

Many thanks to the very lovely Tina from My Gardener Says, who hosts this lovely eye opening, mind broadening meme. Her own post is packed with visitors and encouragement.

Happy Wildlife Watching!

61 thoughts on “Wildlife Wednesday – Beneficial Balance

  1. Really enjoyed your great post Julie, full of wildlife gems. Love the cuckoo bumble. Last year we had a Forest cuckoo bumble – like you, I took a photo and then realised it wasn’t what I thought it was!

    • Just looked your Forest cuckoo up and read some more, the cuckoo bumbles use the true bumbles workers to help raise her own brood, instinctively I disapprove of her behaviour in killing the true Queen. I read too that originally they were the same as true bumbles and have evolved as parasites, but still not sure what caused the change. Nature is full of complexities!

    • Thanks Sarah, I was really pleased to find the Spider website too, putting a name to the wildlife we see and understanding their lives makes it all the easier to provide a home for them, although Spiders do not seem to need very much help!

  2. Lucky you to have long tailed tits. I see them fleetingly, much more often when it gets very cold in winter. Another cold one is forecast, so perhaps my cute little friends will be back again.

    • We’ve recorded them visiting on 3 occasions this September, the first time time on the 22nd, so quite early and the second time it was a warm day, we were surprised as usually its later and colder. Hope you do get to see some soon Jessica.

    • I really enjoy taking part this meme Cathy, if your weather predicator is right, we will need some more sheltered places for creatures visiting our garden this winter. 🙂

    • We feed all year round but vary what we put out, impregnated fat cakes for example do not usually go up until its gets really cold here. I buy some feed on Amazon where I have found its quite affordable and from our local village animal feed shop. I’d like to grow far more berried plants but need a bigger plot! We do not spray and watch the various birds on trees, shrubs and even garden furniture picking off caterpillars and a variety of insects. The only thing I really worry about is hygiene and move the feeders around, keep them clean and pick up fallen seed as much as possible.

  3. Pingback: Beautiful Bees | Murtagh's Meadow

  4. Oh Julie, your photos are incredible!! One after another, they illustrate your wildlife just beautifully! Your Long-tailed Tits are darling and the Jackdaw is quite handsome–your description of his behaviors remind me of our Blue Jays. The information about the cuckoo bumble is very interesting–it’s a tough world out there, isn’t it? The photo that I loved the most in that thread is the last one where she is nectaring–wow! It’s amazing what you can find in potting sheds or garden shelves, isn’t it? Spiders, bees (sometimes) and frogs/toads! What a delight this post was and thanks so much for joining in!

    • Thanks for hosting Tina, I am really enjoying as always the research and learning more and more about your wildlife and our own too. I am really looking forward to the winter and some proper reading time now!

    • Bees are a fascinating group aren’t they, Cuckoo bumbles are fairly new to me too. Like you, I work as a gardener, so I know there will be a little bit more time in the winter to research some more.

  5. Nice array of wildlife. The Cuckoo bumblebee is a new one to me and I did some research to find we apparently have them in North America. Your Jackdaw is a handsome bird even it something of a nuisance.

    • Interesting how parasite creatures evolve but I am still not really sure why, it seems a cruel twist to evolution. We do have larger wildlife in the UK but I have never seen anything as exciting as your Owls and Foxes in my own garden. One day!

    • Insects are a wonderful group, so varied and diverse, we’d be thoroughly stuffed without them, even the house flies whose maggots clear up decaying stuff play a vital role.

  6. Beautiful post! The photo of the Common Darter is exceptional! I have seen a few here this year but no photos unfortunately. We get few Jackdaws flying over but they hardly ever visit our garden. We only get Rooks and Magpies from the corvid family 😦

    • The sound of Carrion Crows on a cold day in Autumn is one of my favourite sounds, it always makes me feel as if I am on a really good uplifting walk somewhere, even if I am just popping to the village shop. Magpies not so much! When I hear them clacking away, I always think they are up to no good.

      • They usually are up to no good! They are good parents though and keep their young with them for a long time. They are also quite beautiful with their black, white and shiny Prussian blue feathers. I love the sound of crows and rooks too. I do find rooks a nuisance in the garden because they, like your Jackdaws, eat so much bird food and won’t leave any for the small birds. I read a fabulous book about corvids which really helped me understand them and like them better. ‘Crow Country’ by Mark Cocker. It was so beautifully written as well.

      • That was such a lovely recommendation, I have just looked on Amazon and found a second hand hard back copy and have ordered it. Thank you!

  7. what a wonderful post Julie, you take some amazing photos, thank you for the info on cuckoo bees, I saw them listed some years ago when looking up bees but never researched them, I feel parasites are just plain lazy, we have the cuckoo bird here each spring, fat and lazy is how I view it, and my garden version of the jackdaw is the hooded crow which this year have taken to using my pines, that’s a lovely photo of the jackdaw, they are kind of handsome,
    you are completely right about how beneficial the wee creatures are, the start of the food chain, sort of the roots, Frances

  8. What a lovely post! I feel as though you’ve just taken me on a lovely personal tour about your garden and grounds, with lots of asides about the creatures encountered along the way. I especially appreciate that you’ve taken time to link to your sources so we can all use whatever down time we get to do our own research and become better acquainted with our own gardening companions. It is fascinating to compare some of our common visitors and even more so to discover other more exotic types that only appear on one side or the other of the Atlantic.

    A sure sign we need more precipitation here in Texas – I found myself going back again…and again…looking with such longing at your evocative shot of the chaffinch and the coaltit highlighted against the falling rain. Have a delightful week!

    • Once I find some information I need to share it, but also I like to bookmark the sources for my own reference too. Annoyingly I am at that age where I forget as much as I remember, that crept up on me, but hopefully I am not yet at the stage where I am reading and saying stuff twice! I wish we could share some of our rain or more practically that you actually get some rain soon. Have a lovely week too Deb!

  9. Great photographs of your garden wildlife! I have never had long-tailed tits in any of my gardens so having six at one time on the feeder seems a bit greedy. You really captured that coal tit’s look. The birds provide such a lot of amusement even when it is raining. Amelia

    • Amelia, I have been surprised myself with how many we have seen this year, there must of surely been a nest close by. I can’t imagine a day without watching birds now, they bring so much joy with their visits.

    • I shall try Julian but you already take some very beautiful photographs. Now we have a better internet speed uploading is much easier, previously I could make a cup of tea and a sandwich whilst one photo uploaded. But think that was a combination of poor internet speed and using a mac. Really looking forward to our trip now, See you soon, best wishes, Julie

  10. Very interesting post and beautiful pictures! The Jackdaw is a new bird for me, looks kind of spooky, on the other hand the dragonfly is nothing short of a jewelry.
    You made me thinking now about the Cockoo bumblebees – I have to research see if we have any in Canada; I never heard of them, until today – thank you!

    • Spooky is a great description for Jackdaws, I think its the eyes. They are a member of the Crow family and that whole group have an other worldly look about them.

  11. Such a lovely post! It was so lovely to see all the wonderful wildlife in your garden. Loved the coal tit and the very handsome Jackdaw. I know they can be a bit of a pest but I really do love the crow family because they are just so clever. I have a family of crows that build nests in the tall pine trees of my Florida garden. They put food scraps into my fountain and come back to get them later when they have “softened”! Bit annoying sometimes but I have to admire their intelligence. How interesting about the bee too. This makes me want to research more about our native bees. Always so much to learn. Many thanks for sharing all this loveliness!


    • Hi Kate, your crow family sound intriguing to watch, I have not seen behaviour like that here. But there are plenty of other strange and wonderful habits our birds have! I worry about keeping areas clean where the birds visit frequently, like teenagers they chuck a lot of things on the ground!

  12. I love how much wildlife you have in your garden. I had loads of bumbles this summer but am not sure the type. I have some swamp milkweed (asclepias incarnata) seeds I will gladly send you if you’d like. They’re from my garden. :o) They’re very easy to grow.

    • Tammy, thats really kind of you – I am not sure if you realised but I am in the UK, I have looked around and have found a nursery here who supplies Asclepias incarnata seeds as I do not want you to pay postage to the UK. But I haven’t been able to find an organic seed nursery which sells the seeds – I am still looking though, Thank you again for your kind offer. 🙂

  13. I don’ t know how I came to miss this wonderful post when you published it. It is so interesting and your photos are stunning. The long tailed tits are adorable. I was fascinated to learn about the cuckoo bumble bees too.

  14. GREAT photos. I’ve never seen a jackdaw before though I’d heard OF them. Every photo is a treat to view but I have to say the frogs captured my heart. =)

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