Archive for ‘Uncategorized’

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.




January 28, 2014

Sparrowhawks and other birds

28 January 2014

Those of you in the UK will know it’s been the Big Garden Birdwatch this last weekend, when many thousands of people record the birds in their garden for an hour. You will also know that the weather has been dreadful: not cold, but wet, wet, wet. It’s not only we humans who find the rain hard going: on Sunday, about noon, I looked out the window to see this:

Sparrowhawk holding out his wings to dry

Sparrowhawk holding out his wings to dry

He appeared to be using the feeble sunshine to try and dry his wings out, giving me a lovely view of those feathers and talons. I didn’t dare go out into the conservatory to take the photo, for fear of disturbing him, so this is through two layers of glass. I wondered if he was doing his own garden birdwatch, deciding what he fancied for lunch…

I did the Big Garden Birdwatch that afternoon. I lurked down the far end of the garden for a while, which was unusually unproductive: I heard one blackbird and saw a couple of jackdaws, though I was interested to see one of them was collecting nesting material. I then put out a bit of extra birdfood and settled down with the binoculars and a cup of tea in the conservatory – it could be said I’m a bit of a fair-weather bird watcher. My final count was:

  • Chaffinch – 13
  • Blackbird – 2
  • House sparrow – 5
  • Blue Tit – 3
  • Dunnock – 2
  • Starling – 2
  • Great Tit – 2
  • Goldfinch – 3
  • Collared Dove – 3
  • Pigeon (I need to check what type) – 1
  • Jackdaw – 4
  • Robin – 1

The numbers of starlings and sparrows was disappointingly low, as we often see 20+ of each, but they go around in flocks, so you either get a lot or very few.

And finally, a flower picture, though it may have a bird-related theme.

A pale pink flower on a daphne bholua 'Jacquline Postill"

A flower on a daphne bholua ‘Jacquline Postill”

Those black edges aren’t a camera fault, by the way – I’ve just discovered that Adobe Lightroom has a vignetting tool, so I thought I’d try it out on you. All the flowers on the bush are low down, just as they were last year. Higher up I have to wonder if some birds (bullfinches?) have pecked the flower buds out, as there is a surprising lack of bloom. Oh well, I like sharing my garden with wildlife, so I guess I’ll have to share my daphne too.

Make 2014 the year you share your garden with wildlife.

December 15, 2013

The moth that’s smaller than its name

15 December 2013

“The moth that’s smaller than its name” applies to quite a lot of micro moths, though the label “micro moth” doesn’t necessarily mean a moth smaller than one classed as a “macro moth” – you didn’t think it was going to be that simple, did you? However, most micro moths are very small. Out of around 2,500 moths in the UK, only about 900 are classed as macro, so you can see that there are actually more micros than macros.

Here I’m talking in particular about plutella porrectella, a micro moth I see in my garden, or more often in my greenhouse: though that might be because it’s easier to see small things on plants at waist level than ground level. Its body is only about 10mm long: in this photo it is on the leaf of a succulent called crassula, having just emerged from its chrysalis. The adult moth is recorded as flying in May and again in July to August, so the fact that I took this photo in October may be due to the good summer helped by the shelter of the greenhouse environment.

Plutella porrectella moth

Plutella porrectella moth

The foodplant eaten by the caterpillars of this moth is one called Sweet Rocket, or Dame’s Violet in the UK: hesperis matronalis to give it it’s Latin name. As someone who grows plants to sell in aid of Butterfly Conservation, I found myself a bit torn a couple of years back when I first encountered this moth by finding that its caterpillars had eaten all my young plants of it! I now try to live and let live by keeping some of the small plants under cover and letting the moths enjoy the bigger ones, which they can’t damage enough to kill.

What first drew my attention to it wasn’t the adult moth or its caterpillar, but its chrysalis. As you can see in the photo below, it is quite distinctive, forming a loose net around the pupa, usually on the back of a leaf. The one on the bottom leaf is a new pupa: it still looks quite like the caterpillar, while the upper ones show the stages it goes through as it changes from green to brown as it develops. You can also see an empty web, where one has hatched.

Plutella porrectella chrysalis

Plutella porrectella chrysalis

The egg, as you would expect, is also very small: I would not have spotted this one on the underside of a leaf unless I had been looking for it, alerted by the pupae.

Plutella porrectella egg

Plutella porrectella egg

So – look out for small things on your plants – you never know what they may be!

Now we’re into winter, these posts are going to be somewhat sporadic, but they will continue.

October 7, 2013

October butterflies

7 October 2013

What a wonderful spell of mild weather we are having. It’s not only we humans that appreciate it, either, the wildlife also responds, getting in a late rush of feeding and even egg-laying in the case of the Southern Hawker Dragonfly. It shows very clearly how important it is to provide some flowers for late nectar in your garden – I’ll do a post soon giving you a list of suggestions, but for now I’m going to spend a couple of blogs sharing what I’ve been seeing: knowing it is soon going to be gone makes it feel so precious.

The butterfly I was most excited to see was a Small Copper: I don’t see many of them here, and they are such attractive little insects. If I get them in the garden it usually seems to be late in the year, so I’m guessing that earlier in the year there are alternative nectar sources for them. They go through several broods in one year: i.e. an adult emerges, lays eggs which hatch into caterpillars and then turn into pupae, which again hatch into butterflies, and the whole cycle repeats; a lot of butterflies only go through the cycle once a year, but the Small Copper has one brood in May, another in July/August and, when the weather is good, a third in late September/early October. You rarely see many at one time.

Small Copper on yellow Evening Primrose flower.

Small Copper on Evening Primrose flower.

This is a shot of the Small Copper by itself, but it doesn’t give you a very good sense of how small the butterfly is, especially if you judge against the size of the evening primrose flower, because this one is smaller than usual, being one that has come out very late after I’ve chopped the main stem down. The photo below shows both a Small Copper and a Red Admiral, so you can get a better idea of size.

Small Copper (left) and Red Admiral on Aster Frikartii 'Monch'.

Small Copper (left) and Red Admiral on Aster Frikartii ‘Monch’.

The Speckled Wood is another multi-brooded butterfly, appearing in April/early May, June and August/September. It likes shadier places, unlike most butterflies, and can often be found on the edge of deciduous woodland.

Speckled Wood on Rudbekia 'Goldsturm'

Speckled Wood on Rudbekia ‘Goldsturm’

I’ll share some more pics from the last two days in the next post, but just to show it wasn’t just butterflies which were being tempted by the combination of sun and available nectar, here’s a bee shot.

Buff-tail bee on Michaelmas Daisy 'Little Carlow'.

Buff-tail bee on Michaelmas Daisy ‘Little Carlow’.

Finally, for anyone wondering what the caterpillar in the last blog was (like Sarah), I think it was a Knot Grass. To see what the adult moth will be like, have a look at its entry on the Dorset Moth Group website.

August 17, 2013

Which buddleia do butterflies prefer?

17 August 2013

I’ve spoken in a previous article about the buddleia trial going on in Dorset and the first year results.  This suggested ‘Dartmoor’ (bright purple, huge flower heads), ‘Autumn Beauty’ (Lavender colour, late flowerer) and ‘White Profusion’ (white!) were top as far as the trial had gone at that point, though as all the bushes in the trial were not fully mature, this may change. What I didn’t discuss, however, was the impact of where they are planted.

Butterflies need warmth to function: that’s why you so often see them sitting on paving stones, walls etc: they are soaking up the heat from whatever they are sitting on, plus the rays of the sun (if it’s out) directly. Many of the species in Britain are at the far northern edge of their natural range, so they don’t always find the warmth they need, though it is possible there are some changes underway due to climate change. The impact of this on their choice of buddleia is as simple as whether the bush is in the shade or in the sun.

Six Peacocks in the sun on buddleia Weyeriana.

Six Peacocks in the sun on buddleia Weyeriana.

This has been being brought home to me recently by watching the butterflies on two buddleias I’ve got close together. Usually, I’d say that they would prefer ‘Lochinch’ (lavender-coloured flowers set off nicely by rather more silvery leaves than usual) to Weyeriana, which is pale orange – see the article I did on it back in April. However, my Weyeriana is now very tall – 12-15′ (4m+) I’d guess, so it’s getting sun for most of the day, especially on its top flowers. the photo above illustrates this – it isn’t a particularly good photo, because I was pointing the camera way above my head and into the light.

‘Lochinch’, by contrast, is in shade for quite a bit of the day, as you can see below, thanks to a laurel hedge becoming rather over-enthusiastic. The results are obvious: I’ve counted up to nine Peacocks, six Red Admirals, two Commas and numerous Whites on the Weyeriana simultaneously, while at the same time there were only 2 Peacocks, 2 Red Admirals and the odd White on the ‘Lochinch’.

Two Peacocks in the shade on buddleia 'Lochinch'.

Two Peacocks in the shade on buddleia ‘Lochinch’.

So – if you are thinking of planting a buddliea, or another buddleia (and please do), it need to be in the sunshine – or let it grow very tall, but then don’t expect to be able to take good photographs of the butterflies enjoying it!

June 7, 2013

No Blog today

7 June 2013

Apologies – no blog today, as I have hurt my back and cannot sit at computer. Hopefully tomorrow – I’ve got so much to share with you.