Wildlife Wednesday – Early Spring Visitors

A pair of wild ducks have been visiting from early March, the drake does not eat but protectively keeps guard over the female and watches her, my hopes were up that she was nesting in our garden. He seemed to love her, despite her manners.

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Protective Drake watching his mate

A few days later, my neighbours with a large pond told me the duck had laid eggs in their garden, under an elderly Sage bush, I have been given visitation rights but felt a little disappointed as I had wanted the chicks to be born here.

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The pair continued to visit and the Drake still did not eat, he cannot feed her in the way other male and female birds do, but he can lead her to a source of food. She lays more than half her body weight in eggs, so needs plenty of rest and nutrition. This last week, he has started to eat too, his job is done for this Spring and will be off, their love was brief, they do not pair for life and then if no replacement clutch is needed he joins other groups of males for the summer moult. There is a short period between siring one clutch and the summer moult when groups of males behave in a foul manner towards females, I hope she is spared.

Ladybirds

7 spot native Ladybirds (Coccinella 7-punctata)

During the late March tidy up I was delighted to see lots of 7 spot native Ladybirds emerging from dormancy and searching for handy mates. During their year long lives, they can eat 5,000 aphids each, even the larvae eat aphids. The parents die as the new generation emerge and the cycle continues.

Woodlice

Woodlice, possibly Porcellio scaber

Elsewhere, the children’s Wildlife Centre has been taken down. They have left home and I wanted to let more light into the potting shed, the centre was a lean-to tacked onto the side, blocking some of the windows. The wood was rotten with only fond memories holding it up and still home to the inspected and usually nocturnal woodlice. Predated by Toads, woodlice are one of natures recyclers eating rotting vegetation. In its place we now have another small log store with living roof, placed under the shed windows, although we do not need insulation for the wood store, I wanted another growing space for pollinators, hence the living roof. The soil is 3-4″ deep, the spot sunny and sheltered. I’m still dithering over plant choices but to start will experiment with some shallow rooted Phacelia tanacetifolia.

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Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) on Forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica)

Bees have been foraging too, climate change has enabled the European Tree Bumblebee to make its home in the UK and this worker feeding on self seeded Forget-me-nots had mites and was trying to clean them off by combing its legs over the body, I’ve read on the Bumblebee Conservation Trust website that some mites are not harmful, but if a heavy infestation, when the weight of the mites would inhibit flight a small childs paintbrush can be used to gently brush them off.

Male Pheasant

Male Pheasant

Amongst the usual bird visitors, a male Pheasant has appeared on a daily basis, they were introduced into the UK for gun sport. Its estimated 40 million Pheasants and 10 million Partridges are raised in battery cages for release during the “season”. Animal Aid’s report on the welfare of these birds make gruelling reading. Animal aid are campaigning for a ban on the use of these cages. Its quite staggering that the shooting lobby claim these shoots are good for our countryside.

In more uplifting news, our Robins have nested and begun to lay eggs but alongside my potting tray behind several stacks of waiting pots, I cannot risk upsetting her, incase she abandons her eggs, I have read she will lay one egg a day usually early morning and a normal clutch is 4-6. They are used to me in and out of the shed but think it will be a step too far to prick out seedlings so close to her. It will be 13 days for her to incubate the eggs, 14 days further for the chicks to fledge and then both adults continue to feed them for a further 3 weeks. So all in all I will be potting on seedlings in the summerhouse this year and hoping to see the chicks in a few weeks time.

My grateful thanks to the lovely Tina for hosting the Wildlife Wednesday meme, please take a look at other wonderful wildlife across the globe.

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!

Wildlife Wednesday – Looking back at January Garden Visitors

Tina from My Gardener Says hosts a monthly meme – Wildlife Wednesday – I am really happy to be joining in for the first time and sharing some of our very welcome visitors.

Starling in decline

Starling in decline and a Red Status bird but a regular January visitor to our garden

We have a wildlife friendly garden where we aim to provide some shelter and a place to forage for almost all creatures. Some like slugs are collected in a bucket and taken to the field behind, where we hope the frogs, toads and voles living in the drainage ditch make the most of them. The long mild autumn and bountiful hedgerows have meant birds have had plenty to eat elsewhere but the late January drop in temperatures have brought more birds back to our feeders.

Hibernating camouflage of Peacock Butterfly

Hibernating camouflage of Peacock Butterfly

An unwitting stowaway came up from the log store into the covered area next to the house on the 4th of January, we had accidentally disturbed a hibernating Peacock Butterfly, I dithered wondering if I should return him or her to the log store and then looking a little ragged it started to open its wings, grabbing my camera I took a couple of photos and then decided it should stay in the new log pile and hopefully continue hibernating near the house.

Peacock Butterfly Jan 4th 2015

Peacock Butterfly Jan 4th 2015

We were surprised to see a large Buff tailed Bumblebee on the Hellebores in mid January, and believe it could have been a Queen briefly coming out of hibernation to gather food. I read they build their nests underground and had worried a week later that the late January colder temperatures would be detrimental but learn they can survive underground up to minus 19c. I wasn’t quick enough to photograph her but this is a link to the very helpful and excellent Bumblebee Conservation Trust website, which explains amongst other things how Bumblebees hibernate in winter. I thoroughly recommended a visit to their website.

January also brought another visitor, I had admired the squirrel deterrent Jessica from Rusty Duck has and foolishly or not wished for a squirrel to visit my garden. Well we have one now, thats a squirrel not the deterrent. The grey squirrels are an exceptionally prolific introduced species from North America that have outrun our native Red Squirrels.

Squirrel on our bird feeder

Squirrel on the peanut feeder

We only have one Squirrel visiting our garden and its not a problem, however the Forestry commission and Defra are between them very sadly planning to introduce a cull which they say is designed to protect Woodlands and native Red Squirrels. This follows on from the failed waste of money debacle of the Badger cull, instigated by the current government. The UK has around five million Greys and an estimated 120,000 and 140,000 Reds, with 75 per cent of them in Scotland.  Understandably Animal charities are strongly objecting to the plans. Hugh Warwick wrote an excellent article in the Guardian at the tail end of last year “Should we cull grey squirrels to save the native red?” he concludes “The biggest threat to the natural world is our lack of understanding – without understanding, without a connection, we simply cannot care deeply enough to make the changes needed to ensure wildlife and humanity can live together.”

January continued in a rollercoaster of temperatures and a just before the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, temperatures dipped again bringing yet more bird species into our garden. Folk are asked to count bird visitors for just one hour over the weekend of 24th-25th January. To date 199,885 individual bird counts and nearly 6 million birds have been recorded with the RSPB. We recorded 12 species in a really happy relaxing hour of drinking coffee and looking out of the window guilt free. Not all of the regulars showed up in that hour but amongst many others one of the local pheasants appeared.

Male Pheasant

Male Pheasant

We live in a rural area, pheasants are bred nearby for people to shoot. Lately one male with a damaged tail and two females have been regular visitors and they eat up the seed dropped from the feeders. Yesterday I sadly noticed a pile of female pheasant feathers in the landlocked wild field at the bottom of our garden. Most likely a fox.

Thankyou so much if you read to the bottom of my post and if you can help me with this little Blue Tit I would be grateful, apologies for the blurry photo, on January 31st I spotted what looked like a youngster with a partial moult of feathers is that usual or is something else afoot here?

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Blue Tit and partial moult

Many thanks to Tina for hosting, please visit her lovely blog My Gardener says to see Tina’s and other Wildlife Wednesday posts. Or join in this month or maybe next month on the first Wednesday.

Happy Wildlife spotting!

Wordless Wednesday – Phacelia tanacetifolia and a female Tree Bumblebee

Phacelia tanacetifolia and female worker bee - is this a tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) ?

Phacelia tanacetifolia and female worker bee – is this a tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) ?

Thursday 12th June Postscript. I sent a copy of this picture to the Bumblebee conservation trust who identified this bee as a Tree Bumblebee and also gave me the details of BWARS – Bees, Wasps, Ants Recording Society, who are running a Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorum mapping project. This bee originated in France and BWARS are recording the spread throughout the UK.