Wildlife Wednesday – Love is in the Air for Territorial Robins

We have two Robins visit our garden, one is currently rotund, one is svelte. Apart from girth neither of our visitors have any distinguishing marks. Male and females are almost identical. Usually breeding begins in March with the first clutch laid in April but our mild winter will probably lead to an earlier courtship. I’ve read that females require more body weight for producing eggs, so I have fingers crossed that Rotund is a female.

Rotund Robin

Rotund Robin (Erithacus rubecula) who we hope is a female

In colder weather both sexes plump up their feathers for insulation and warmth, but when seen at the same time, its clear one is much rounder than the other. So far, there’s no activity in the nest box but Robins create nests in all sorts of odd places, we are fairly sure there is activity in the potting shed, mainly due to the additional droppings on the potting bench. But what’s a little poop between a gardener and her friends!

Alert Svelte Robin

Svelte looking alert.

Renown as territorial birds, both males and females defend their individual patches all year round and once united defend their joint territory for the summer months, parting after their chicks fledge. Last week we watched Svelte defending his territory, eyes to the sky, he had heard the incomer before us and was waiting for the newbie to land, but he wasn’t really aggressive and believe it could have been Rotund landing on the table.

Robins

The newcomer turning tail on puffed up Svelte

There wasn’t a fight as such, just a baring of his Red Breast, which we read they only do to defend territory, however we have also read in our well thumbed RSPB ‘Handbook of British Birds’, that Robins “have elaborate courtship displays when the red breast of the male is used as a visual signal to attract females and deter males”. Either way, the newcomer hopped off.

An angry Robin

Making his presence known

I couldn’t quite make out what was being said here, but following the encounter Svelte let out a cry of frustration/warning/who knows? The following day Newcomer came back again to try his/her luck, Svelte postured with head high and lots of red breast baring, despite the wind blowing his feathers apart. We could see no real aggression and the 2nd bird crouched on the ground watching quietly.

Robins maybe partial threat?

Is this just a partial threat?

Newcomer remained crouched on the ground watching Svelte posture about for a few minutes, Svelte then turned tail and Newcomer flew after him. I’ve read of fights to the death and just hope they both came to a gentleman’s agreement, but nature can be cruel and the brutal fights part of life’s cycle.

(Or as the RSPB book suggests, this is maybe courtship and Newcomer is actually Rotund – her crouching down is the mimicking of a chick and they were off to the bushes for some privacy? – time will tell.) Males chase females from their territories for some days until finally the male accepts her and they become a couple.

Some while later, a slim Robin we assume was Svelte resumed feeding, happy to share fatballs with Blue Tits. Robins are only territorial with their own kind and the only birds we see being chased off are the dowdy, timid ground feeding Dunnocks.

Robin Feeding alongside the Bluetits

Feeding alongside the Bluetits

If we do have a couple, there will be courtship feeding – the male feeds the female, apparently its a prominent activity, we are desperately hoping to see this and then will know for sure if who is male and who is female. The male can supply over a third of his mates food intake during nest building and egg laying. She alone is the creator of a cup shaped nest, made of dead leaves and moss, lined with hair. To help her we have saved our Labrador’s soft underbelly hair for months and have placed the soft hair in a mesh feeder ready for all nest builders.

Svelte Robin and log

Svelte looking trim

The RSPB report that the parental instinct in Robins is highly developed and they are known to feed the chicks and fledglings of other bird species, including Song Thushes, Blackbirds, Spotted Flycatchers and Willow Warblers, the latter two we do not see but we have had Blackbirds nest in our garden. I guess Robins would only be able to step in if they had no brood of their own. We would be thrilled if these two were a couple and over the moon if there were nesting, egg laying and hopefully successful fledgelings.

I’m joining in with Tina’s My Gardener Says meme Wildlife Wednesday, where lots of other folk from across the globe are sharing their wildlife experiences.

Happy Wildlife Wednesday!

Citizen Science and the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

This weekend, saw the 37th annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, the increasingly popular citizen science opportunity to record visiting garden birds.

Blue Tits

As always, lots of Blue Tits made an appearance and enjoyed the Sunflower hearts

The RSPB uses the data to monitor long term bird populations. With a strong marketing campaign to encourage folk to take part, participation rates are already up on last year. Analysed results are published in March.  The RSPB encourage schools, groups and individuals to give up one hour and count visiting garden or outdoor space birds and in recent years have included mammals and reptiles too.  They are as interested in whats not being seen as the birds that do visit.

Coal Tit

Identifying a Coal Tit – white stripe on back of head and two small white bars on wings

As gardeners we can be in tune with our natural world and understand how our wildlife is faring in a world of diminishing habitats. Largely due to industrialisation, pesticide use on our farmland and gardens which destroy the invertebrates at the source of the food chain and increased house building. We will have a better chance to understand what man has done and what we could do to help mitigate or prevent further destruction to our living planet. We need to co-exist, not exist at the expense of other creatures.

Male Great Spotted Woodpecker

Male Great Spotted Woodpecker making an appearance in the allotted hour

Climate change, brought home this year by the unseasonable mild winter and dreadful flooding in the UK, not only threatens the homes and livelihoods of people but the habitat, shelter and foraging opportunities for our wildlife too, by taking part in a citizen science project we can play a small part in helping our scientists to understand more of whats going on.

Robin

Robin, one of two that showed up for the Big Garden Birdwatch hour

Many of our birds are now in sharp decline, 60 per cent of UK wildlife species monitored for the State of Nature report have declined over the last 50 years. I cannot imagine wanting to garden without hearing birdsong or being distracted by a Bee at work, those simple pleasures will disappear along with us too, if we continue to destroy our natural world.

Weekly Photo Challenge – Eye Spy a Butterfly’s Eye

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The Weekly Photo Challenge – ‘Eye Spy’ – A Butterfly’s eye is a wonderful creation, their spherical compound eyes with almost 360 degree vision are able to detect threats from behind at the same time as focusing on nectar probing. Predators and camera wielding humans are all to be avoided. In common with many other insects, each eye comprises of up to 17,000 ommatidia – individual light receptors with their own microscopic lenses. Surrounding the eye and extending through the body are long hair like scales which give a furry appearance.

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In late July and August our favourite spot to observe Chalk Hill Blues is Sharpenhoe Clappers, in the Chiltern Hills, managed by the National Trust, just a few miles from home. This species of Blue Butterfly is only found in the UK on southern Chalk Grassland Hills. The adults prefer a sunny sheltered south-facing spot for nectaring and roosting. Although this little Butterfly is not endangered, its habitat is diminishing. The caterpillars sole food plant is Horseshoe Vetch, only found growing on chalk grassland.

Roosting Male Chalk Hill Blue

Roosting Male Chalk Hill Blue

Sitting patiently waiting for Butterflies to land nearby and then staying to watch the sun go down with roosting Chalk Hill Blues alongside is quite a magical experience.

Wildlife Wednesday – Early Winter preparations

Over the last month high winds have brought down an ivy clad tree in our lane and many of the standing perennials I leave for sheltering invertebrates and foraging birds were blown to the ground. Temperatures have been slowly dropping and the first frost left its sparkling mark. We have put high energy, fat and suet up, to help birds maintain their body temperatures especially on cold nights.

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Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) on fat filled Coconut feeder

The Strong adult bills cope with seeds, sunflower hearts and peanuts but come springtime and early summer their chicks need caterpillars and up to 100 caterpillars a day, so for a brood of 10, thats 1,000 per day, collected from trees and shrubs. A very good reason to plant more trees, shrubs and a native hedge.

Blue Tit

Blue Tit

To the right of our east facing dining room window we have a veteran climbing hydrangea petiolaris, nearly 15 feet wide and 10 feet tall. The Summer flowers are a Bee magnet but in the winter when the leaves drop the gnarled structure becomes a playground for birds. Hanging fat filled coconut shells from the branches near the windows have brought in some confident Blue Tits. They are more common in our UK gardens now; once they would have lived primarily in deciduous woodland, where the food they need for their chicks to survive is hopefully abundant. The BTO report that males are usually brighter in colour than the females and the youngsters have pale yellow rather than white cheeks, but so far I haven’t been able to distinguish the adults apart, hopefully there will be a chance to see a chicks pale yellow cheeks next spring.

Squirrel

Squirrel stealing the birds peanuts

Another woodland but sometimes less welcome visitor is the Squirrel, we feed the birds every day and winter peanuts are pricey but birds bring so much joy and make our garden a better place to be. As winter begins several Grey Squirrels are visiting, all with a variation in colouring, we were really intrigued to see one with the cream underbelly colouring of our native Red Squirrel. But its not a hybrid, just a variation. The Greys are still causing controversy and the cull debate goes on. Anglesea an island off the north coast of Wales separated by the Menai Strait and linked to the mainland by two bridges have just declared they are a Grey Squirrel free zone. They achieved this by culling the Greys with the last reported sighting in 2013. There are now 700 Red Squirrels on the Island, which they hope will thrive.

Robin

Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

We have noticed Robins trying to extract seed from the feeders but they do not seem to be designed to cling on. Occasionally I put mealworms and sunflower hearts on a mesh ground platform for Robins but our wet November often left a soggy mess. So we placed fat filled cages adjacent to convenient branches, close enough for the Robin to reach across and take the spoils. Sheltering from the high wind this little chap was quite happy for me to stand close by with a camera.

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Elsewhere in our garden, I am bundling up the hollow stems of the wind strewn perennials and stacking logs to create ‘dead wood habitats’ which should rot down and any overwintering invertebrates provide more food for birds in the Spring. The hollow stems and seed heads will provide shelter for lady birds, lacewings and other beneficials. Piles of leaves have been stuffed into hedge bottoms. And we’ve been cleaning bird boxes and putting up new ones in readiness for the next cycle of life.

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With many thanks as always to Tina at My Gardener Says for her inspiring Wildlife Wednesday meme.

Happy Wildlife Watching!

Wildlife Wednesday – Great Spotted Woodpeckers

For the last month, we have been visited by a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers, the male is larger with a black cap and crimson red rectangle on his nape, the female is smaller with black cap extending to the nape. To tell them apart look at the back of their heads as he has a distinctive red rectangle and she does not. They do not appear at the same time but the odds they are a couple are high. On balance we seem to see the skittish female slightly more than the male. They have been tricky to photograph but a couple of weeks ago, I came home to find the male clinging to one of our peanut feeders.

Male Woodpecker

Male Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)

We live in a house with very large picture windows, so whilst we can see out easily, birds can spot if I am moving towards a window with a camera too, so Pink Panther style I crawled along the floor, holding my breath and camera and slowly slid up a wall. He was still there, still seemingly hanging on. I could not believe he was happy to pose and began to take photographs.

Male Woodpecker with closed eye lid

Male Woodpecker with nictitating membrane across eye

When I looked later at my photos I could see he had closed the nictitating membrane across his eye briefly. I’ve since read this is to both protect the eye from flying debris when they are chiselling wood and to clean the eye surface in much the same way we do when blinking. The longer I stood taking photographs with only a slight breeze moving the peanut feeder I began to worry his claws were entangled in the wire and he was frozen with fear. I thought through the process of trying to keep the bird calm whilst I unhooked him from the feeder.

Great Spotted Woodpecker with passing Blue Tit

Great Spotted Woodpecker with passing Coal Tit

Other birds flew by, he ignored them and just as I was finally bracing myself to help this beautiful bird, he flew off. I looked at the time line on my camera, he had hung there for just over 10 minutes, completely still. I then looked his behaviour up and my RSPB Handbook of British birds reports that Great Spotted Woodpeckers ‘freeze’ when danger threatens usually on the side facing away from danger. Does he not know how gorgeous and striking he is, that the flashes of red are most alluring?

The female of the species was much harder to photograph.  Annoyingly, we also have a large Magpie in our garden that dive bombs the Woodpeckers. I think his/her behaviour may be protective as like Magpies, Woodpeckers can eat other birds eggs and chicks and although any Magpie eggs should now be hatched, fledged and on their way to adulthood, the Magpie probably had a bad experience. However, a few days after the male had been so obliging I was delighted to be able to slide along the floor again, up the dining room wall and peek out from behind the curtains to see the female Great Spotted Woodpecker engrossed with peanuts.

Female Great Spotted Woodpecker

Female Great Spotted Woodpecker

The RSPB report they are the size of a Blackbird, the male seems larger, maybe its his puffed out chest. We occasionally see a pair of Green Woodpeckers looking for ants in our lawn but this is the first time we’ve been regularly visited by a two Great Spotted. Primarily living in woodland they use their powerful beaks to bore into trees and their long tongues to find the adults and larvae of wood boring beetles. Both the males and females also use their beaks to create nesting cavities within tree trunks and branches of mainly Birch and Oak. The repetitive knocking on wood sound is distinctive and joyful, one of the easiest birds to recognise by ear.

Female Great Spotted Woodpecker and Male Great Tit

Female Great Spotted Woodpecker and Male Great Tit

Great Spotted are one of 3 UK Woodpecker Species, Green, Great and Lesser. The Great Spotted are a success story, with numbers rising rapidly since the 1970’s and again in the 1990’s according to the BTO. A new colonisation of Ireland was recorded in 2008, where previously there have been no Woodpeckers. The BTO estimates 140,000 breeding pairs in the UK. I continued to watch the female Woodpecker who in turn was watching the Male Great Tit.

Female Great Spotted Woodpecker observing a departing male Great Tit

Female Great Spotted Woodpecker observing a departing male Great Tit

Then as the Great Tit jet packed off, I shifted slightly and she flew off too. We feel very fortunate to see these Woodpeckers visiting every couple of days, along with all of the usual suspects – Chaffinchs, Great Tits, Coal Tits, Blue Tits, Dunnocks, Sparrows, Blackbirds, Wrens, Wood Pidgeons, Jackdaws, a pair of Robins that so far I haven’t caught on camera but will keep trying. Pheasants, Long-tailed-Tits, occasional Goldfinches and the squabbling Starlings are all back too. But this month our honoured guests are having Wildlife Wednesday all to themselves.

My ever grateful thanks to Tina who writes the eye opening My Gardener Says blog for hosting this meme and for providing the opportunity to both share and to learn about other folks wildlife.

Happy Wildlife Watching!

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!

Bird Baths and Cats

We have a new Bird Bath.

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Juvenile Blue Tits discovering the new bird bath

10 years ago, our youngest daughter rescued a feral Kitten with a badly gashed stomach. A vets fee and some pleading eyes were involved and we became the owners of a second cat, along with several guinea pigs, hamsters, one eyed rabbits, one eared rabbits, an assortment of chickens and our beloved Bag Puss of cat, Charlie. Our doodle less Labradoodle, Archie came into our lives 2 years later.

LollyPop

LollyPop, Lolly for short, took some taming, being a previously feral cat, he had been used to catching his own dinner – mainly flies and rodents and I am sure some birds too. Lolly drank from the bird bath, then having deterred any thirsty feathered friends, he sat on top of the bird table, basking in the sun, surveying his kingdom below.

Collared Dove

Collared Dove – they came to the UK in the 1950’s

We gave our stone bird bath away, followed shortly after by the bird table and replaced it with a multi armed pole for hanging nuts and seeds from. But we really missed watching birds drink and splash around whilst bathing in the bird bath.  We were ever mindful of Lolly during the day but he was not an indoor cat, if we tried to contain him at night, he made sure sleep wasn’t an option for any of us. Having slept all day himself, he only wanted a night on the tiles.

Pigeon having a thoroughly good wash

Wood Pigeon having a thoroughly good wash

A neighbour once reported that she saw Lolly fillet a pigeon and eat the lot. In the UK we have 5,400,000 breeding pairs of Wood Pigeon. They eat seeds, nuts and berries, cabbages, sprouts, shoots and buds wether asked to or not. They cause irritating damage in my veg garden, but they do clean up fallen bird seeds, which the smaller birds chuck out of the feeders.

Drying off after a thoroughly good wash

Wood Pigeon drying off

A report by The Mammal Society who carried out a study on predation from domestic and feral cats has been widely reported in our press and mainly against cats. However, for this post, I have read it again and was surprised to read that cat owners reported less predation if they owned a bird feeder.

Family of Blue Tits on feeders

Family of Blue Tits on feeders

From the RSPB website, who offer a balanced view – “The most recent figures are from the Mammal Society, which estimates that the UK’s cats catch up to 275 million prey items a year, of which 55 million are birds. This is the number of prey items that were known to have been caught; we don’t know how many more the cats caught, but didn’t bring home, or how many escaped but subsequently died.”

On balance the RSPB say –

“Despite the large numbers of birds killed, there is no scientific evidence that predation by cats in gardens is having any impact on bird populations UK-wide. This may be surprising, but many millions of birds die naturally every year, mainly through starvation, disease, or other forms of predation. There is evidence that cats tend to take weak or sickly birds.”

Chaffinch with chaffinch viral papilloma on foot.

Chaffinch with chaffinch viral papilloma on foot, although not life threatening

The RSPB add “Gardens may provide a breeding habitat for at least 20% of the UK populations of house sparrows, starlings, greenfinches, blackbirds and song thrushes four of which are declining across the UK. For this reason it would be prudent to try to reduce cat predation, as, although it is not causing the declines, some of these species are already under pressure.”

“Cat predation can be a problem where housing is next to scarce habitats such as heathland, and could potentially be most damaging to species with a restricted range (such as cirl buntings) or species dependent on a fragmented habitat (such as Dartford warblers on heathland).”

Succsesful landing

Succsesful landing by Juvenile Blue Tits

Its recommended by some wildlife organisations for cats to wear a bell on their collars to give prey a fair chance of escape. But I have to confess we did not do that, Lolly didn’t wear a collar at all, as I had a fear the collar would catch on a branch and he would end up strangled.

Lottie with Lolly

Collarless Cat

Then this Spring Lolly died and we were all very sad, especially my youngest daughter who had rescued him all those years ago. I bought a new bird bath from the RSPB, made of resin and very cleanable but a bit too deep, they recommend 2 inches of water otherwise small birds may drown, so we put some large stones in the bottom. If any birds poop in the water and thats mainly pigeons, the bath is easy to clean out.

Archie

Archie, who prefers sticks to wildlife

Now we do not have a menagerie of pets any more, just Archie, who is is easy going but does attempt to chase the odd squirrel. We encourage as much wildlife to our garden as we possibly can and I do not think we will have another cat but for the time we had Lolly here, he was much loved and he is missed.

Wildlife Wednesday – Summer Pollinators and others

Its been a while since I was able to take part in Wildlife Wednesday. Our rural internet speed dipped to an all time low and then all but vanished for the Summer. Then at the end of August, BT installed their version of super fast broadband – ‘Infinity’, so far, so good and we are back in the 21st century.

Hoverfly and Bumblee Bee on Lavender

Hoverfly and Bumblee Bee on Munstead Lavender

Meanwhile, my workload increased and life generally got in the way. Weather wise, there has been a roller coaster of temperatures and now as we head into September temperatures have dipped into an Autumnal coolness I am not quite ready for. Spiders are weaving webs laced with rain drops and it feels like it will not be long before we see webs outlined with frosty patterns.

Spider luring prey

Will you walk into my parlour said the Spider to the Fly

At the beginning of July, we took a weeks trip to windswept Lundy, an island off the south-west coast of England and came back to a hot dry garden alive with insects. I had been reading Dave Goulson’s book – A Buzz in the Meadow – whilst we were away and returned with a new appreciation for the value of some of the less attractive pollinators namely flies and wasps. I have tried to photograph both but neither are as easy going as Bumbles, Honey and Solitary bees, except the Hoverfly group. Plus peering at Wasps is Hazardous.

Solitary bee on Perennial Sweat Pea

A Solitary bee on Perennial Sweet Pea

Pollinator Awareness Week during the middle of July had me looking even more closely than usual at our visiting insects. I grow white Perennial Sweet Peas, they have no scent I can detect and scramble about in an unruly manner. For the first time this year I noticed how Solitary bees, flip their bodies and push through to the nectar within. The Bee left a red footprint, I wondered had she visited a plant with red pollen before?

Solitary bee pushing through to the nectar

Solitary bee pushing through to the nectar on perennial Sweet Pea

On this years highly scented annual Sweet Peas (I’ve forgotten the cultivar the packet is in a safe place so safe I now can’t find it!) Hoverflies found it easier to push apart the petals. Some species of Hoverfly produce larvae that feed on Aphids and the adults feed mainly on nectar and pollen.

Hoverflies on Sweet Peas

Marmalade Hoverflies (Episyrphus balteatus) on annual Sweet Peas

The Wildlife Trusts report that in the UK we have at least 1500 species of insects designed to pollinate plants, including Bumbles, Solitary and Honey Bees, Hoverflies, Wasps, Butterflies, Moths, Flies and Beetles. They are mostly pretty tricky to identify correctly, there is so much to learn and some are far easier to identify than others! We see most insect pollinators here in the Summer months where I try to provide as wide a variety of flower types with nectar and pollen.  And places to provide some shelter for them in my exposed garden.

Pollen Beetles on Calendula

Pollen Beetles on Calendula

These Pollen beetles fall into the ‘others’ category for my post, In my veg garden they are most happy on the Calendula and as the name suggests they feed on Pollen. The charity Bug Life reports that in the UK we have 27,000 species of insect of which the Pollen beetles account for 36 species. When I cut any flowers to bring indoors, I have learnt to put them in water in dark place overnight, usually the garage, as a Kitchen full of Pollen beetles is not ideal. The RHS reports Pollen Beetles may assist with pollination. Frankly I would rather have more Bees and Hoverflies of which in Europe 38% are in decline and I know for sure they are pollinators.

Hoverfly on Curry Plant

Hoverfly on Curry Plant Helichrysum italicum

The RHS have just released a report “Plants for Bugs”. They set up trials at RHS Wisley to analyse the native versus non-native debate. Is it only natives that will help our beleaguered Pollinators? Of course on our comparatively small island we have fewer natives than over in the USA. The RHS found that a greater range of flowers from across the Northern Hemisphere will help pollinators far more than if we stick to natives alone. My top plant throughout August for pollinators was Verbena bonarensis, originating from South America, on my dry sandy soil it pops up rather obligingly everywhere. I don’t care if its a non native, I love it, so do my insect visitors.

Bumblebee on Verbena bonarensis

Bumblebee on Verbena bonarensis

Verbena bonarensis and Honey Bee

Verbena bonarensis and Honey Bee

Please visit Tina our marvellous Wildlife Wednesday meme host and her wonderful site “My Gardener Says” for more Wildlife Wednesday Posts.

Happy Wildlife Watching!

Butterfly Bucket List – on Sharpenhoe Clappers

Anna who writes the lovely ‘Transmutational Garden‘ blog is hosting a new meme – Butterfly Bucket List, posting on the 4th Sunday of every month and kindly encouraging stragglers to add a link over the following week. Anna’s photographs and Butterflies in Texas are very beautiful. Please take a look and if you can, join in too.

On Sunday we took a different dog walk than usual and drove over to Sharpenhoe Clappers, a couple of villages south from us. The Clappers are now managed by the National Trust, its a small area of wildflower rich chalk grassland and an adjacent Beech wood, in years gone by we would drive there just to kick the leaves up. We had been told the Pyramidal Orchids were good, but we did not bank on a couple of lovely Butterflies and Moths too.

Six-spot Burnet Moth

Five-spot Burnet Moth – we think! Enjoying the Knapweed

The Five-spot Burnet Moth is a tricky moth to identify and can be confused with the Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet, which has more pointed wings. The Butterfly Conservation folk who identify Moths too, say The Narrow Bordered caterpillars prefers Greater Birdsfoot Trefoil found on wetter ground, but there are two subspecies of the regular Five-Spot, one prefers Greater Birdsfoot Trefoil, one prefers Common Birdsfoot Trefoil found on chalk grassland. We were on chalk. Either way we are fairly sure its a Five-spot Burnet, not sure if a subspecies, unless someone can say otherwise.

Marbled White Butterfly

Marbled White (Melanargia galathea) Butterfly on Knapweed

Far less tricky to identify, quite common and very striking is the White Marbled Butterfly, they are said to show a preference for purple flowers but we saw several enjoying other plants too.

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Marbled White Male Butterfly on Sharpenhoe Clappers

The Marbled White Caterpillars are mostly found on flowery grasslands but can stray into gardens too. The caterpillars prefer grasses as their food plant, particularly Red Fescue – Festuca rubra as well as Yorkshire Fog grass – Holcus lanatus and Tor grass – Brachypodium pinnatum. Adults can sometimes be found roosting half way up a tall grass stem, another good reason to leave the grass long at home.

The reason for our initial visit – the Pyramidal Orchids – they were abundant too!

Pyramidal Orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis

Pyramidal Orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis

Happy Butterfly watching!