30 Days Wild – Day 11

I started the day going through my garden moth trap, the highlight was a pine hawk-moth, a species that was rare in England before the large scale planting of conifers in the years after WW1. I often catch them as I have a large conifer plantation under 200m from the house. Although I see them frequently they are often very worn, so this very fresh one was a treat.

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pine hawk-moth

The only native pine in the UK is the Scots pine and that is a true native only in Scotland and the very north-east of England. It used to grow across most of the country, colonising after the last Ice Age, but as deciduous trees took hold it was out competed and became extinct. The pine hawk-moth occurs only in the southern half of the UK outside the range of native pines, so it is here only thanks to the planting of pines by people.

I also caught a couple of species for the first time this year, one was the uncertain, a splendid name for a moth and one that has recently become even more apposite. The uncertain looks similar to another moth, the rustic, but regular moth trapper would usually be happy to say they could tell them apart reliably. However recently it has been realised that some uncertains look just like some rustics and the features thought to differentiate them are not entirely reliable, so they are in fact “uncertain”, unless dissected and I don’t want to go there. Having said all that I still think this one is an uncertain rather than a rustic.

uncertain

I am pretty sure this is an uncertain!

The other new one was a common Pyralid moth, Endotricha flammealis, I say it is common, but actually this is only the case in the south of England, although it is spreading northwards, probably helped by climate change.

Endotricha flammealis

Endotricha flammealis

The rain seems to have encouraged a few more plants to flower, it has certainly greened things up a bit and will no doubt result in a growth spurt in vegetation everywhere. In my mini-meadow the perforate St John’s wort is just starting to flower.

perforate St John's wort

perforate St John’s wort

I also saw my first knapweed flower today, these are a great nectar source for loads of insects and along with the field scabious the most popular flowers in the meadow in mid-summer.

knapweed

knapweed

Although I refer to this part of the garden as a mini-meadow this is wrong as a meadow is an area where grass is cut and taken away as a crop, this means cut in June or early July, so some species that don’t usually set seed before that time do not typically occur in them. What I have is more of a herb-rich permanent grassland, I cut most of it in the autumn, far too late for a hay cut and even then I cut it in patches so I don’t remove too much of the grass all at once. I also cut at different heights and dethatch some bits to increase the diversity within my small patch. I have to take care not to knock down any  anthills, of which there are now quite a few, as these increase the surface area and provide extra diversity.

30 Days Wild – Day 7

At home today and started with a short walk out onto the heath before breakfast and found several silver-studded blue taking advantage of the early sunshine. They seem to use two strategies to warm themselves. The first is to sit with wings closed turned an dangled to offer the greatest area facing towards the sun.

silver-studded blue male on cross-leaved heath

silver-studded blue male on cross-leaved heath

The other is to turn, head-down and three quarters open their wings to form a “dish” turned toward the sun.

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basking silver-studded blue (male)

I spent a short time in the garden before I had to go out and in a few minutes saw four species of butterflies, as many as I saw in nearly two hours of butterfly survey last week! These were a fly through red admiral, probably a migrant, but could have been locally reared from an earlier arrival. Then the first two meadow brown of the year in our mini-meadow.

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meadow brown

Next I spotted a female silver-studded blue, not a typical garden butterfly, but this is the fifth year we have seen them here, in fact it was soon apparent there were two.

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silver-studded blue (female)

Then the excitement really kicked in, when a green hairstreak as found on an Allium, a completely new species for the garden and not a butterfly I see anywhere very often.

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green hairstreak

All in all a very splendid butterfly day! I can’t wait to see what Day 8 brings, actually I start every day with the hope of seeing something exciting and I am often not disappointed.

30 Days Wild – Day 2

I was at home on Day 2, another bright, hot, sunny day spent largely in the garden. I rebuilt my moth trap a while ago and have not been happy that it has been catching as well as it was. The new design just did not seem to be retaining the moths, so I decided to reconstruct it all over again.

So this was the last catch with the old trap, not many moths but a couple of nice ones, a very fresh lime hawk moth is always good to see.

lime hawk

lime hawk moth

There was also a very smart buff-tip, this species recently won an online pole to find the Nation’s Favourite Moth, so I will court popularity with a picture.

buff-tip

buff-tip

I also caught my first four-dotted footman of the year, this is a very common moth on the heathland nearby and no doubt had wandered from there.

four-dotted footman

four-dotted footman

As I was in the garden I was able to enjoy the mini meadow we made when we moved in six years ago, it is now well established with species we introduced now seeding themselves.

mini meadow

mini meadow

It is approximately 4m x 5m including a small pond. At present ox-eye daisy is the most obvious species but but there are lots of other species, a personal favourite of mine is the corky-fruited water dropwort.

corky-fruited water-dropwort

corky-fruited water dropwort

So many flowers do attract insects, although I saw no butterflies at all! Well I did see two species, but both as larvae, large white and brimstone.

The insect highlight of the day was a new species for the garden and only my second ever sighting, it was the very striking mottled bee-fly Thyridanthrax fenestratus, a heathland species.

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Mottled bee-fly Thyridanthrax fenestratus

Out in the Garden

Like most people who are lucky enough to have one, I have been spending a lot of time in the garden recently. Our garden is almost exactly the average size of a UK garden, so a little larger than most people will have, but still not a large plot. It does allow space for all the elements with a flower border, vegetable plot, lawn and most importantly a pond and mini-meadow. The aim has always been to maximise the opportunities for wildlife within a more or less conventional garden space and I am really pleased that it was as there has enough wildlife to keep me interested throughout lockdown.

Although the garden is very short of trees and shrubs the variety and features such as the meadow seem very attractive to lots of birds, probably just because it offers home to a large number and wide variety of invertebrates, the main food of nestlings.

blackbird female

Blackbird female

As we have been sitting out a lot it is really noticeable how much more tame most of the birds have become, a feature not just of birds that use the feeder, they just seem to have got used to us being out there.

I took the chance to refurbish our pond, which had evidently sprung a leak, so it was relined and filled from the water butts. In no time it attracted eight smooth newt and several damselflies and even egg-laying broad-bodied chaser with an attendant male.

broad-bodied chaser male 4x3

broad-bodied chaser male

The mini-meadow, which with the area of the pond is in a 5m x 4m space is the main attraction for most wildlife. It was made by initially allowing the existing grass to grow and cutting and removing the vegetation once a year. I then added some seed and a few small plants that I grew from seed and over the last five years it has developed.

common vetch

common vetch – just one of the species that was already present 

A flowery meadow is, unsurprisingly very popular with butterflies, over the last few days I have seen my first small copper and common blue of the year in my garden, both species I think breed in the meadow.

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My first common blue of 2020

small copper pair

Small copper pair

Lots of other insects live in the meadow, most obviously lots of ants, I now have a number of anthills dotted about the patch, you may have spotted a couple of ants in the common vetch picture above, probably collecting nectar from the base of the flowers. A range of true bugs are wandering about, mostly, but not all, vegetarians.

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Rhopalus subrufus – one of the many true bugs

There has been a lot in the media in recent times about bees and pollinators. You could be forgiven for thinking that pollination is dependent upon honey-bees, occasionally in very industrial scale agriculture this is almost true, but generally this is far from the case. In fact it turns out that more diverse environments have more pollinators and more different types of pollinators, we have a pollinator “problem” because we have impoverished our environment. I notice in my garden that having lots of different plants with differing flower types results in seeing lots of different types of insects and especially different species of bees.

ashy mining bee

ashy-mining bee

The ashy mining bee is one very distinctive species of spring-flying solitary mining bee which is increasingly visiting gardens. Pollination is carried out by almost all insects that visit flowers and even by other creatures like birds and small mammals. Recently the importance of moths has received some attention, as they fly at night their role is often forgotten. Hoverflies are more obvious and it is easy to see them visiting lots of flowers, often with a coating of pollen grains. I was interested to see a species I did not recognise recently int he garden and luckily got a picture that was good enough to identify the species. It turned out to be a recent colonist to this country with larvae that eat house-leeks, it may have got here under its own steam, but more likely was brought here as a result of the plant trade. It was first found in 2006 and now quite widespread across the southern part of the country.

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Cheilosia caerulescens – the house leek hoverfly

 

Visiting Royalty

Like all responsible people, unless key workers of course, I have mostly been at home, looking for wildlife in the garden and keeping lists of all the birds that visit or fly over. I even saw my first hedgehog in the garden last night. I have found the odd dropping before so knew they visited occasionally, but last night I was out with the bat detector and there was one snuffling around the mini-meadow.

Last year I caught a female emperor moth in the trap and collected some of the eggs she laid, I reared the caterpillars and now the moths are emerging. The first one out was a female. In this species the females emerge and then wait until they attract a male to mate with, the males fly in sunshine and can come in from hundreds of metres away drawn in by the female’s pheromones. So I decided to put the freshly emerged female in the garden and see who came to call. The answer on the first afternoon was nobody, but yesterday that changed, the male flew in fluttered around to locate exactly where she was and then mated.

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Emperor moth pair, the brighter male in front

The males do not generally fly at night and rest up to wait for the sunshine. The females after emerging and mating wait until dark and then fly off to lay their eggs, although they usually lay a few at the mating site first. This is presumably a good way to ensure dispersal and maximise the chance of a new generation surviving.

So far my lockdown bird list for the garden stands at 46 species, not bad and I have several usually regular species that have gone unaccountably absent, so I feel 50 is well in reach. Highlight so far has been a roding woodcock over the garden and two red kite which flew low overhead the other day. The  last not a rare site for many these days, but still quite unusual in my part of the county.

Today I am going to take part in the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) survey of garden plants, they are seeking all records of native or naturalised species found in gardens, including ones you have established yourself (so long as you tell them you did so). You can find details on their website, it should show how important gardens are fro wild plants and so, by extension insects and much more.

Home Delights

I had a long weekend, this time not due to the virus, but as I had some leave booked, the current situation ensured that I was at home rather than out and about, but there was still plenty to see.

It was rather cold with an, at times, strong east or north-east wind. In my mini-meadow the cowslip are just starting to flower coming to to replace the primrose scattered around under the hedge.

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cowslip

This is the fifth year of the meadow and it is really noticeable that lots of the plants are now self-seeding really well, including the cowslips.

My garden is not the greatest for birds, like a lot of people I have been keeping a list of all the species I can see or hear from the garden during the lockdown, so far, with just about one week down, I have reached a rather meagre 34 species, although today I did add red kite, when two flew low overhead. Like many gardens one of the commonest species and one that seems to be present all the time is woodpigeon. Not always a favourite and undoubtedly much more common that it was, they can be quiet entertaining, especially when you watch pairs engaged in their courtship, the males inflating their necks a bobbing up and down.

woodpigeon

woodpigeon

One of my highlights has been the brief appearance of first a male and then a pair of house sparrow a rare bird in the garden. I a desperate effort to get them to stay I hastily made and put up a semi-detached house sparrow box. Sadly they were not impressed and I have not seen or heard them since!

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House sparrow box, with room for two pairs (perhaps a little optimistic)

Close to Home

Very, very close, in the garden in fact, but still full of wildlife. I saw three species of butterfly, with brimstone and peacock leading the way, but with my first comma in the garden this year as well. A pair of peacock were courting by the fast declining pond, it has a leak! I took some video, but unfortunately I cannot upload that here, but it may turn up elsewhere.

My mini-meadow is starting to look good, not much flowering, but a few things nearly there, but lots of seedlings coming up. The yellow rattle seedlings that first showed last week are coming up thick and fast.

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yellow rattle

I did not get on very well with the camera or in finding many ants, these were my main objective today, strange how there are lots about until you start looking for them!

Other firsts for the year included a very smart gorse shieldbug, one of the more brightly coloured species and it can be found on a lot more plants than just gorse.

gorse shieldbug 4x3

gorse shieldbug

As a fully paid-up member of The Self-isolating Bird Club (thankfully it is free), I also recorded any birds I could. You can follow the SIBC on Twitter @SIBirdClub, I recorded all the birds I could see and hear whilst having lunch in the garden, 30 minutes and I recorded 15 species, 2 lesser black-backed gull were unusual, but I suspect they were a pair from nearby as they flew up to harass 4 passing buzzard. I will try again tomorrow, although it sounds rather cooler, so I may need extra layers.