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.

Jackdaw

Jackdaw

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!

In a Vase on Monday – Hidden Scent and Plants for Bees

The glorious and uplifting sunshine we enjoyed last week is due to give way to heavy rain, my family were away for part of the weekend, which in turn gave me some free time to experiment with vases before my Autumn flowers get the promised drenching.

IMG_5292

Hidden Scent

Firstly I had the sitting room carpet to clean, Raspberries dropped on the kitchen floor by my eldest, rushing to make a snack for her journey became stuck to the feet of our dog. I think they all worry I have not got enough to keep me busy! My new vase was bought at one of the local Methodist Church fundraisers, who are in desperate need of a new roof. The vase is far more elegant than I’m used too, after several attempts I finally settled on simple white and green. And plonked the hotter colours of Rudbeckias, Persicaria and the Sweet Peas we are still picking in jugs.

Eleagnus ebbingei vanilla scented flowers

Eleagnus ebbingei vanilla scented flowers

I started with Eleagnus ebbingei as I love the fragrance. The tiny flowers are powerfully scented, its heady vanilla aroma fills the air. The flowers are hidden from view and formed in the leaf axils. About 10 years ago it survived a widespread scale infestation and last summer a good half of this very mature 4 metre tall shrub died back – I thought we were going to lose it all, the dead wood was cut out and its sprung back with lots of fresh growth and has just started to flower again. The shrub is weeping profusely for the first time this year, possibly in response to the hard pruning.

Weeping resin

Weeping Eleagnus ebbingei

I’ve added in a couple of sprigs of Hesperis matronalis – short lived perennials sown this spring and one plant has already thrown up a few flowers rather than wait till next year, they have a beautiful fragrance which reminds me of cloves and I’ve read they make good cut blooms.

Hesperis matronilis

Hesperis matronilis

Added also is Gaura lindheimeri, I grew these from seed last year and this summer have been rewarded with an absolute abundance of flowers, although perennial they are not long lived. I had worried Bees were not visiting this plant and after reassurance from Amelia of A French Garden have now noticed Honey bees visiting the fresh stamens.

Gaura lindheimeri

Gaura lindheimeri

The Cosmos also grown from seed this spring objected to the cold wet weather and was heading for the compost bin but has perked up in last weeks sunshine,although the new flowers are much smaller. The Cosmos, Hesperis and Eleagnus ebbigei flowers are all much loved by Bees and now I know the Gaura is too, but I have not noticed any insect activity on the Alchemilla mollis which I found having a last hurrah and is providing the green froth.

Thanks to Cathy at Rambling in my Garden for hosting this meme, which I rarely have time to join in with but always enjoy seeing what everyone else is up to.

Wordless Wednesday – Autumn Sunshine, Heleniums and Long Borders at Cliveden

Helenium

Heleniums at Cliveden

Hot Border at Cliveden

Cliveden Hot Border

Cleome - Cliveden

Cleome – Cliveden

Cliveden Cool Border

Cliveden Cool Border

PS – The mystery Helenium could be one of several plotted on the Cliveden planting plan boards, I’ve attempted to make a match with one from the Helenium database run by Sampsford Shrubs who held the National Helenium collection, the nearest is possibly ‘The Bishop’, but then again…..

GBBD – June Flowers for Bees and other Pollinators

I rarely post photos of my own garden. I work as a gardener, which means our garden at home takes second fiddle and often has the look of cobbler’s shoes but I do try to grow as many plants that have wildlife value as possible. This is my first time of joining in with Carol at May Dreams Gardens for GBBD, I am a little late, apologies!

Phacelia and Bee

Phacelia tanacetifolia enjoyed by lots of Bees

Phacelia tanacetifolia is on the top of my list for Bees and pollinators alongside Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’. We grow Nepeta both as a hedge and dotted through the garden, plants in full sun attract the most Bees.

Nepeta 'Six Hills Giant'

Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ with stripey bottomed bee and no pollen balls – ident appreciated!

Phacelia was originally grown here as a green manure, it self seeds wonderfully and now we have lots, a large patch in my veg garden and also dotted throughout the borders. Phacelia also makes a great cut flower. Third top plant for Bees and Pollinators in June are the Geraniums and especially the large patches of Geranium x Magnificum

Collecting Pollen on Johnson's Blue

Collecting Pollen on G x Magnificum, similar stripey bottomed Bee with pollen basket

Early Morning when the Opium Poppies, Papaver somniferous are fully open they are the first to attract awakening Bees, by early evening the petals begin to close up and Bees have long switched to the blue brigade.

Papaver somniferum

Papaver somniferum

On the left of our East facing dining room window we have a large climbing Hydrangea petiolaris, in the winter we watch lots of birds flitting around the bare branches, once the flowers are open Bees are attracted too.

Hydrangea petiolaris with

Hydrangea petiolaris with White tailed bumblebee Bombus lucorum and clearly seen pollen balls.

I grow both wild native Foxgloves Digitalis purpurea and I save the seed and re sow any that spring up as white in another area of my garden. I read Foxgloves attract long tongued bumble bees only, I am not yet sure which bees have long tongues, but hopefully my foxgloves are helping. I shall watch out to see if either colour is preferred. Other plants in flower at home attracting Bees and other pollinators this month are Aquilegias, Borage, Chives, Polemonium – Jacobs Ladder, self sown Nigellas, Alliums and the aphids sticky sap on my Apple trees, I wonder why?

Phacelia and Honey Bee

Phacelia and Honey Bee

We have a wonderful organisation over here called Buglife with an excellent website highlighting the desperate flight of Invertebrates, did you know in the UK , half of our 27 bumblebee species are in decline. Three of these bumblebee species have already gone extinct. Seven bumblebee species have declined by more than 50% in the last 25 years. Two-thirds of our moths and 71% of our butterflies are in long term decline. Across Europe 38% of bee and hoverfly species are in decline; only 12% are increasing. It is estimated that 84% of EU crops (valued at £12.6 billion) and 80% of wildflowers rely on insect pollination.

We shall all go hungry if we do not get on top of this.