September 15, 2014

This blog is going into hibernation

Hello – and thanks for reading my blog, which has been going since February 2013. I’m now ceasing to add to it, though the existing posts will stay up.

It really started as a gardening blog, but it soon became clear that the popular pages were about wildlife, so I stuck to that subject, and I now feel I have written myself out. The wildlife that appears in the garden tends to be the same each year, and I don’t want to bore you by repeating myself.

I will leave you with one bit of news – we’ve had a grass snake in the garden! He/she appeared under the plastic trays we keep down to attract slow worms: I had a bit of a shock when I lifted the tray to find him. It stayed around for about three weeks, but we haven’t seen it very recently. It is nice to have it, but I hope it doesn’t empty the wildlife out of the pond: hopefully, it will stay up the other end of the garden. Someone I was talking to about it said they knew when their grass snake had arrived in the pond because they saw all the frogs hopping out!

I’ll leave you with one photo I’ve never shown you, from a few years ago when we had a bumper year for slow worms.

DO NOT SCROLL DOWN IF YOU DON’T LIKE PICTURES OF “SNAKES”. Slow worms aren’t snakes – they are legless lizards, but they have much the same effect on those who are scared of snakes.

Goodbye – and happy wildlife gardening!

A tangle of slow worms of very mixed ages.

A tangle of slow worms of very mixed ages.

 

 

 

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July 12, 2014

Baby blackbirds

11 July 2014

There seem to be a lot of baby birds around this year – or am I just more aware of them because I’ve got more time at home these days?

Quite often, we’re alerted to the presence of youngsters by their parents objecting (noisily) to us or the cats. I can sometimes judge the progress of a cat up the garden by the robin ticking at it in one place and the wren churring angrily at it from another – the cat gets to look quite henpecked (wrenpecked?) sometimes. Our neighbour feeds his cats outside in the summer and says the birds like finishing up the cat food, and have even got to the stage of intimidating the cats while they are eating, to get at the food!

A few days ago, there was a young blackbird just outside the window, being fed by its mother. I noticed it at first because it was on the arm of one of our patio chairs (excuse the quality of the photo – it was taken in a hurry through the window):

Young blackbird on the arm of a chair

Young blackbird on arm of chair

Mother and child then moved around the border, with Mum finding goodies to stuff down the young one’s throat – I went out and she kept a cautious eye on me, but didn’t fly off.

Female blackbird feeding youngster, standing on the edge of the patio

Female blackbird feeding youngster

My husband puts out the bird food in the morning, as says there are always three male blackbirds waiting in the holly bush, watching him and giving the impression of tapping their watches to complain about how late it is.

Young starlings also abound: I counted 17 starlings on the ground the other day, plus more on the feeders, mainly young ones – easy to tell because they start off with brown plumage and only slowly develop their iridescent coats. I like to think we’re helping to build the starling population here: we used only to see one or two, now we have them in twenties and thirties.

Good news on the butterfly front, too: I had a Red Admiral, a Peacock and a Small Tortoiseshell on my buddliea a couple of days ago – summer has propery arrived.

 

 

 

June 28, 2014

Build a pond and the wildlife will come

11 June 2016

We had our patio widened last December, and as part of the work, had a small pond installed, to replace the old pre-formed one we were taking out. The old pond rarely had much in it, as it was too shaded.

We added water and plants, and six months later, it’s amazing what wildlife has moved in:

Froglet clinging to edge of stone, with pond snail to one side, at least five times bigger than the frog

Froglet next to pond snail. The snail was quite big, but new frogs are really tiny

Small creature with a long tail and fins

Unknown creature – if you can tell me what it is, I’d be most grateful

Damselfy clinging to a plant stem

Damselfy. We think this had just emerged from the pond.

Dragonfly or Damselfly larva.

Dragonfly or Damselfly larva.

We also regularly see birds and our cats drinking from the pond (though not at the same time!) It’s a source of endless fascination for us – I’d highly recommend putting in a water feature of some size, however small your garden.

 

 

June 8, 2014

Robins don’t make it but dragonfly emerges

8 June 2014

I forgot to say in the last entry – sadly our Robin chicks didn’t make it. When we became suspicious and investigated, there were only two chicks left in the nest, one of which was very under-size, and both were dead. We think the most likely cause is the heat in the greenhouse, which can be intense early in the day. Luckily, the parents don’t seem to be thinking of re-building in the same place.

Nature is prolific, though, and in compensation, we’ve had a Broad-bodied Chaser female emerge from the pond. She’s the only one we’ve been aware of, but there may have been others: there were several larvae in there last year that I think were this species.

Female Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly clinging to reed

Female Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly

There are still several big, but slimmer, dragonfly larvae in the pond, which I’m guessing are Southern Hawkers; in the past we’ve seen this species emerging around the end of May, so we’re keeping a very good eye on the pond. Our new pond has a few tadpoles which we moved from the old pond to keep them safe from the newts, and they are doing well, starting to grow their back legs. It’s fascinating to see what else is turning up by itself – all sorts of small water creatures.

The other thing that has especially pleased me is seeing a female Brimstone butterfly investigating the buckthorn bush I planted as food for Brimstone caterpillars. I can’t see any eggs, though a lot would be too high to see, so I’m waiting to observe whether any damage to the leaves becomes obvious so I can see if there are caterpillars present; I’ve had one pointed out to me in the past, and their camouflage is so good, it still took me ages to actually spot it.

 

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May 29, 2014

Crab spider versus butterflies

29 May 2014

My garden seems to be a dangerous place for butterflies at the moment. I’ve got some periwinkle out, and there is a crab spider hiding in it, which has killed both an Orange Tip and a Wall Brown.

I didn’t realise what was going on at first. I saw the Orange Tip on the periwinkle and just thought “Oh good, another Orange Tip”. It was when I walked past again about an hour later and saw it was still on the same flower that I thought something odd was going on and stopped to have a proper look, and all became clear. This sort of spider likes to lurk in a place likely to be visited by the insects that are its prey, and when they land, will grab them and sink their fangs into the body, injecting them with a venom to kill them, after which it will suck the goodness out of them.

Orange Tip hanging under the periwinkle flower while crab spider sinks his fangs in

Orange Tip being killed by crab spider

I didn’t like losing the butterfly, but spiders have to eat too. However, I walked past again a week later and spotted a Wall Brown butterfly on the periwinkle. I stopped to take a better look immediately, but mainly because I wanted to verify it was a Wall as this would make it the first one of the year, only to find it was also the victim of the crab spider. Within about half an hour the spider had disappeared and the remains of the butterfly were on the ground. This was rather more upsetting, as the Wall is becoming a less common butterfly: it is disappearing fast from inland areas and only hanging on around the coast.

Wall being killed by crab spider

Wall being killed by crab spider

One final photo, to show you a Brimstone which had the sense to keep away from the periwinkle and stick to the honesty close by – as far as I know, it lived to fly away and maybe mate with a female which will lay eggs on the buckthorn I’ve planted at the far end of the garden: it’s about time one did!

Brimstone on honesty flower

Brimstone on honesty flower

 

 

May 6, 2014

It’s a Robin’s nest

5 May 2014

We’ve now had a sighting of the bird on the nest in our greenhouse, and it’s not a finch, it’s a robin. Our bird book said robin eggs were blue, which is what led to our confusion, but checking on the internet, they often seem to be brown. We’re just as pleased to have her! You can just see her in the photo, peering over the edge of the tray to see what I’m up to.

Robin sitting on her nest

Robin sitting on her nest

The eggs have just hatched, and we managed to get in while she was off the nest for a quick look – all four eggs have turned into baby birds and all four reacted to us by opening their beaks, so they seem healthy enough. They should fledge in about two weeks apparently – it seems so quick.

We’ve also had the first green-veined white in the garden, as you can see below – the green veind on the under-wings are clearly visible: these are not present if the butterfly is a Large or Small White. It is on the honesty called ‘Corfu Blue’ that I have mentioned before.

Green-veined White

Green-veined White

And just to finish off – a lovely clump of bugle (ajuga reptans) in full flower, which is attracting lots of bees. It is one of those plants that spreads quite rapidly if it finds the right spot, and makes for good ground cover – it can get a bit over-enthusiastic, but its dark leaves are so attractive, I forgive it. The white behind is a lovely perennial viola called ‘Ivory Queen’.

Clump of buge in flower

Clump of buge in flower

April 18, 2014

Goldfinch or chaffinch nest?

18 April 2014

I was doing things in the greenhouse at the far end of our garden three days ago, when I took down a plant tray that I use to store odd tools and things off the top shelf – you can see it in the photo below: it’s green.

Green seed tray on top shelf in greenhouse, with nest in it

You can see the tray on the top shelf of the shelves

To my amazement, there was a bird’s nest in it. Looking carefully, it seemed to have some small areas of fungal growth in it, so I thought it was abandoned.

Checking the next day, however, to my amazement, there was an egg in it!

Single egg in nest

Single egg in nest

Trawling round the internet, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is either a golfinch nest, or one belonging to a chaffinch, and we see both in the garden regularly. We have never seen a bird fly in or out of the greenhouse, but then it is the other end of the garden, so unless we are working up there, we wouldn’t see it.

Not wanting to disturb the nest again, we checked today with a hand mirror, and there are now three eggs.

Three eggs in the nest, viewed via a hand mirror

Three eggs in the nest

I’m very chuffed it has honoured us with its presence: I just hope it realises how hot it can get in there when the morning sun is on it. I can’t say it’s very convenient for us, as when the female bird starts incubating, she won’t want us going in and out of the greenhouse, which means all my plants need to come out. At a time when I’m overwhelmed with plants coming on for my own garden or for sale, this is quite a problem, which is being temporarily solved by using the vegetable bed where the runner beans are going to go – it won’t be in use until the end of May (the earliest I’ll risk planting out anything frost-tender), so it gives me some time to see how things evolve.

It’s brilliant – like having Springwatch in my own garden. Wonder if I can set up a video link somehow……

I’ll keep you updated as the story progresses.

 

 

April 11, 2014

Orange Tips arriving

11 April 2014

After a few not-so-good days, the sun has come out again, and with it the first of the real spring butterflies: the Orange Tip. The male who appeared moved around my forget-me-nots for a while before flying over to a flower on my perennial wallflower (erysimum). He was quite distinctive, having a notch taken out of one wing, presumably by a bird; it is amazing how much wing a butterfly can lose and still keep flying (see my blog from last July for an amazing photo of half a Speckled Wood).

Orange Tip male on purple perennial wallflower

I’d highly recommend the perennial wallflower for attracting butterflies to your garden – this is one which is easy to get, called Bowles Mauve. They tend to flower on and off all year, so they often supply nectar early and late when it is really needed.

The forget-me-nots seem to me to attract more small bees and flies than butterflies, though the butterflies will use it. I’ve got an area of garden I reserve for annuals, and I let the self-seeded forget-me-nots come up under the annuals so I’ve got a show of them for the following spring. It is not really accepted gardening practice, but it works for me – they do form a lovely haze of blue once they get going.

View of the garden looking out from the patio

You can see the forget-me-nots in the photo above, behind the red tulips. The purple behind them is a variety of honesty that is confusingly called lunaria annua, so you expect it to be an annual, but actually it is at least semi-perennial, and very easy to grow – it’s name is ‘Corfu Blue’. I’ve also got the perennial honesty called lunaria redeviva, and that is now out (Corfu Blue was out before it), but I don’t think the butterflies like it as much as Corfu Blue.

I’ll leave you with a shot of the garden from the other direction, so you can see the marsh marigolds out in the pond and the two cats by the bench. Happy gardening!

View of garden looking over pond towards cottage

View of garden

 

 

 

 

March 26, 2014

Watch out for caterpillars, even in March

26 March 2014

It feels rather early in the year to be seeing caterpillars, but if you think about it, they’ve got to be around soon, as the birds will be having their young, who will need food, and caterpillars are a moist morsel full of goodness for a young bird. I was picking some narcissi a couple of days ago, when I realised there was a bright green caterpillar on one of the leaves.

Bright Green Caterpillar

Bright Green Caterpillar

I’m fairly sure this is the caterpillar of the Angle Shades Moth, a very pretty moth which is quite common, so you might well see it or its caterpillar. Unfortunately, some people regard the caterpillars as a pest in the garden and kill them: I think this is because they not only eat the leaves but also the flower buds. Unless they get to plague proportions in your garden, though, the amount of damage won’t be huge, and they need to eat, too.

This is how the adult moth looks:

Angle Shades Moth on a leaf

Angle Shades Moth

Isn’t it pretty – what a gorgeous, subtle combination of colours. Very good camouflage for the moth, too.

Moths are pretty impressive close-up:

Close-up of Angle Shades Moth

Close-up of Angle Shades Moth

With eyes that size, it’s no wonder they can see you coming and get away quickly. And look at that crest – looks like something on the helmet of a Roman gladiator.

So – keep an eye open for caterpillars and don’t kill them. Not only are many moth species struggling to survive, but they form a major part of a young bird’s diet. Blue Tits, for example, will have 8-12 eggs, and each chick will eat 100 caterpillars per day (wonder who counted that?). What incredible senses the adults must have to find all that food – and I feel pleased with myself when I see one!

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 10, 2014

Early nectar plant for butterflies – Honesty ‘Corfu Blue’

10 March 2013

I know the year is getting underway – I’m sitting here with the sound of my printer churning out this year’s edition of “Counting Dorset’s Butterflies” behind me. The Dorset Branch of Butterfly Conservation encourages butterfly recording by offering people a range of schemes for counting, varying from very formal methods such as transect walks to just noting butterflies in your garden. I have produced a booklet explaining them all, which I update every year – it’s available via our website if you are interested.

There are many signs of the year progressing outside, too. Several days of reasonable weather have enabled us to get out in the garden to admire the butterflies also tempted out by the early sunshine. It is important that these early risers can find something to eat, so having plants for early nectar in your garden is important. I’ve previously found honesty difficult to keep in this garden: it is supposed to self-seed, but that doesn’t seem to work here. However, there is a new variety on the market that is at least semi-perennial (despite its name): lunaria annua ‘Corfu Blue’. As you can see from the photo below, taken yesterday, it is in full flower now, and being appreciated by the Small Tortoiseshells.

Small Tortoiseshell on honesty 'Corfu Blue'

Small Tortoiseshell on honesty ‘Corfu Blue’

You can also see it is more lilac coloured than blue – why do plant breeders try to insist so many flowers are blue when they are not?

There is a truly perennial honesty called lunaria redeviva, which I’ve also got, but that’s not in flower yet.

The sunshine was making a couple of the Small Tortoiseshells feel a bit frisky: the one behind the other in the photo was definitely very interested in the one in front, and I’m assuming that’s a male interested in a female, but I could be wrong. They got a bit fed up with my camera pointing at them, and whirled off together.

Two Small Tortoiseshells together

Two Small Tortoiseshells together

There’s definitely a lot of newt activity in the pond, too: maximum count so far is 13, but there will always be some we can’t spot – when disturbed, they dive into the loose earth at the bottom of the pond so you can’t see them. Photo of two of them below.

Two common newts in the pond

Two common newts in the pond

What a wonderful time of year!

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