30 Days Wild – Day 5 – A Smashing Time in the Garden

By way of contrast with my wanderings yesterday, today I was mainly in my garden. The highlight of the day was a summer generation small tortoiseshell, my first and I think a rather early date for one. Small tortoiseshell hibernate as adults like peacock butterflies, both emerge in spring, mate and lay eggs. The small tortoiseshell develop quickly and a new generation of adults hatch in summer to lay more eggs which will result in adults that emerge in early autumn and then hibernate until the following spring. Peacock, by contrast have just one generation and when the new adults emerge in July they will survive all the way until the following spring, occasionally some of the over-wintering generation are still on the wing when the first of the new generation emerge. The comma has a similar strategy to the small tortoiseshell. It should also be added that this story only holds in southern Britain, head up to Scotland and both small tortoiseshell and peacock are single brooded.

I totally failed to get any pictures of the butterfly but I did manage to get one of a soldierfly in the mini-meadow. It was the common Chloromyia formosa, a shining green species that can be seen sitting around, sunning itself on leaves in grassy areas.

Chloromyia formosa

Chloromyia formosa

Something of a feature today was the frequent tapping sound of a song thrush smashing snails against various hard surfaces in the garden. The recent dry weather has made finding their preferred earthworms very difficult, so they eat snails, but there is the problem of getting them out of their shell. Beating them against a rock or the wooden edge of the raised vegetable bed.

snail shell smashed

Garden snail shell broken open by a song thrush

30 Days Wild – Day 1

A day off and mostly at home, so a chance to see the garden during the day. As my garden will feature from time to time in the blog over the “30 Wild Days” I will provide a bit of background.

A bit of research shows that it is very close to being an average UK garden, apparently the average back garden is 190 square metres, I think mine is almost exactly this. Like about 3.5 million UK gardens it has a pond, even if a very small one. We have two trees over 3m tall and one just under so close to the 2.4 average number of trees. 7 million gardens have bird feeders, around 60% of all gardens, and 4 million have bird boxes and we have these too. It is located in suburbia, although close to open countryside and surrounded by housing.

There are ways in which it departs from the average though, about 50 square metres are left to grow as a mini-meadow. This area is in its fourth year of meadow management and it is starting to look quite good. It has developed by a combination of mowing once a year with the cuttings removed and some seeding. I have not entirely gone for local native species, but they are the main component.

meadow

Back garden meadow

I am going to do a little daily “feature” within the blog entitled…

What’s in my meadow today?

yellow rattle

yellow rattle

In the meadow picture you can probably make out some yellow flowers that are not buttercup, these are yellow rattle, it is both a traditional element in a hay meadow and one that was not desirable if you wanted a good crop of hay. It is an annual that has seeds contained within the inflated calyx and as they dry they rattle, hence the name. As the hay was raked up the seeds would fall out, scattered about as the hay was turned. It was undesirable because it is semi-parasitic on other plants and often on grasses, so lots of yellow rattle meant less grass and so a poorer hay crop. In a back garden meadow it is useful as it reduces the vigour of the grasses making them less competitive and allowing the flowery herb species to prosper. The rattle is also a good nectar source in its own right being popular with bees in particular.

It was not a very sunny day but fairly warm and there were a few insects about, one of the largest hoverflies in the garden was a Sericomyia silentis, it is also one of the more attractive species.

Sericomyia silentis

Sericomyia silentis

One of the species that probably occurs in every garden int he country, is the garden snail, whilst they can be a nuisance in the vegetable patch are rather attractive in their own way. They can live for five years or more and will both hibernate to avoid the cold in winter and aestivate to avoid drought in summer.

garden snail

garden snail Helix aspersa

Sunshine, Sexy Snails and Skippers

A very different day and just perhaps a prelude to a better spell of weather, with warm sunshine for a good part of the time and only the very slightest few spots of rain in the late afternoon. The warm damp weather has resulted in an abundance of slugs and snails everywhere and I came across two garden snails on the side of the Centre ensuring this will continue. They are not  a pair in the conventional sense as they are hermaphrodites, each one is both male and female.

garden snails mating

The moth trap was not very busy, but included were several elephant hawk moths, a double kidney and 2 purple thorns, one of the hardest moths to photograph as they hold their wings so awkwardly.

purple thorn

The sunshine brought out a few dragonflies and more butterflies than I have seen in a long time, including two firsts for the year for me, a gatekeeper, which is a bit later than usual but reasonable. The other was a very fresh large skipper, in some years this would be about the latest I would see them and here was my first!

large skipper

I went to put some compostable waste into the bin and found a swarm of ants, just preparing to fly, possibly the extra warmth of the compost bin combined with the sunshine had triggered their flight, unusually there did not seem to be a mass flight so perhaps these had been fooled and got it wrong.

ant swarm

Other insects about today included several speckled bush cricket nymphs.

speckled bush cricket nymph

The sun also tempted out a few flies, although the recent cold and wet has severely depleted numbers, usually this is the peak time of year for many species, this robberfly was all I could get a picture of though.

robberfly

As we have an invertebrate study course at Blashford tomorrow I hope the weather remains favourable, we are supposed to be looking for dragonflies, damselflies and grasshoppers and crickets, at least in the main. A lot of species are so far behind their usual timetable that we will struggle to find a lot of them even if the weather is ok, still we may come across some other things along the way.