Been away awhile, but it’s good to be back…

It’s been a long time since I posted to this blog, even longer than usual, and, like everyone else who enjoys these blogs, I thoroughly enjoyed catching up with all things Blashford, reading about what Tracy and Bob were up to on the reserve and finding out how the site and wildlife was faring from mid March as Spring shifted to Summer all the way through to the beginning of July as Summer begins transition to Autumn, effectrively missing a whole season in the process.

I think everyone has had very different experiences of lockdown and the coronavirus pandemic generally as everyone’s individual circumstances have been so different. For me I am pleased, and relieved, to say that for all that it was scary, disturbing and unsettling at times, it has actually been positive for us as a family on the whole and has left us stronger, wilder and greener.

Hopefully our economy can be too.

Until my return to Blashford on 2nd July the previous time my feet had graced its paths was 13th March – my daughter fell ill over that weekend with a sore throat, ears and high temperature. Although it was unlikely to be coronavirus, following the guidance at the time she stayed off school and I worked from home initially to look after her but then, following the then 7 days quarantine period just as we thought she was returning to school and I was returning to work the goal posts changed and a 7 day quarantine for the ill person changed to 14 days for the ill person and their family. She was gutted to not be going back to school – and even more so when, again, just as she thought she would be returning, lockdown kicked in, school and the Trust offices closed and we were all at home indefinitely!

So life for us as a family had changed massively, as it did for most people. Those first few weeks weren’t too bad as we were all at home, but I don’t mind admitting that it soon got much harder, partly managing the emotional well-being of the family and especially my daughter who felt so cheated of time with her friends, and partly adjusting to a new routine of “teaching” the children during the day and then logging onto the Trusts remote desktop to work at night and into the early hours of the morning while the children were asleep, only to start it all over again the next day. My wife, who is an infant school teacher, would have sailed through the children’s work with them, but she of course was soon back at work in the classroom with those children whose parents were key workers or vulnerable so our kids were stuck with me. Generally, although hard, it all went okay but there were the occasional memorable days or odd weeks when things really did not work out so well. Both my daughter and I will, I think, remember always some very heated conversations about fractions whilst we battled through some of her maths lessons together!

So, although very unsettling at the time when the proposal that the Trust education staff be furloughed was first made, the reality was that actually in many ways it was a huge relief and meant that I could concentrate on just looking after my family rather than trying to juggle them and work and failing to do as well at either as I would have liked.

I reckon that a couple of weeks before I returned to work we even, finally, had it cracked at last, with the sudden realisation from the younger two children that actually if they just knuckled down and got on with it in the morning we could do fun stuff all afternoon! Shame it took them so long, but hey-ho!

Apart from the never-ending school home learning (the routine of which actually, however other children/parents found it, was, I think, invaluable to helping us get through lockdown in one piece as a family) the other thing that kept us going was being outside.

There was not a day went by when we were not immensley thankful to live where we do – just a 20 minute brisk walk from the front door to a woodland or 15 minute brisk walk to heathland.

The “gorse walk” was awash with silver-studded blues on occasion this summer
The “secret path” through the wood. One of the pleasures of lockdown was discovering places we’d previously walked past rather than through and we really enjoyed exploring them. Even when it was wet!

Pretty much every day, without fail, after my wife had got back from work and we had had our tea we would all head out for our “exercise walk” and a recharge in nature that all of us needed and benefited from, even if, out of the five of us, it was only my wife and I that realised, or admitted to ourselves just how important to us it was! The children have always been reasonable walkers and always enjoyed exploring and creating mini-adventures on walks in the past, but, prior to lockdown, my wife and I would always first have to endure a barrage of moaning about it before and as we set out. During lockdown our evening walks just became part of what we did and no more did they moan. Within just a few weeks a walk that had taken us about an hour to complete was only taking about 45 minutes and we were able to lengthen the journey and venture a little further afield, discovering new walks and lots of lovely hidden gems of bog and ancient woodland hitherto unknown to us, and all right on our doorstep. As the lockdown restrictions eased and everyone else seemingly took back to their cars we continued (and still continue) to walk from home and are thoroughly enjoying doing so.

We are also very much blessed, unlike many, in so much that we have a garden, albeit a very small one. It was somewhere the children – and I – could escape to whenever we needed to. As weeks turned into months we were able to enjoy watching (and listening!) to the families of great tits and blue tits in the two bird boxes in our garden grow and fledge and, because we spent so much time outside, they and the other “resident” house sparrows, robins and blackbirds became very trusting of us and provided us all with an unparalleled closeness to wild birds that I think we are unlikely to experience again.

No fancy camera, just my phone (which is not at all fancy) and although its not going to win any prizes it does illustrate nicely just how close we were to the birds in our garden as we went about our day to day business and they went about theirs

At one time, before children, our little garden was an oasis for wildlife – with a small pond and mini bog, a couple of fruit tree’s, micro-meadow, log pile and a herb bed that would buzz with insects all summer. With the arrival of our eldest things changed quickly – initially with “just” the loss of our pond (one of the hardest things I’ve ever done was filling that in!) but soon, as he became more adventurous and needed extra play space and was joined by his sister, a lawn was needed for football and chasing around in and the herb bed later disappeared under an extension as we added to the ground floor of the house to give us a little extra space to accommodate child number 3.

So it was with delight that over lockdown the children (instigated by them but very much encouraged by me!) decided that their “playing garden” should have more space for wildlife in it, and so it has developed over the last few months, giving both them, and especially me, a lot of pleasure in the process. It would be true to say that the children still govern the lion-share of the space, but, in addition to the two bird boxes, it now boasts a micro-meadow again, complete with “good for pollinator” flowers, chirruping with grasshoppers and churring with crickets, a mini (washing up bowl) pond, complete with attendant male large red damselflies (I’ve yet to see a female there, but live in hope!), a bespoke mini-beast & bee “hotel” and a small log pile.

The new “wild patch” at the bottom of the garden

One of the highlights was going out at night after the kids were in bed to check on a botched together home-made light trap (it was useless as it happens and never caught a single insect, let alone moth!) only to be surprised by the sudden movement from a medium sized animal illuminated by the camping lantern that was supposed to be attracting insects. After the initial surprise I was thrilled to see that what I had at first taken to be a rat (there’s been a few of those around as well) was actually a hedgehog – the first I’d seen in the garden for years ūüôā

The children have yet to see the hog, other than a photograph and short film of it, but they are delighted to know that the “sacrifices” they have made within the garden in the interests of wildlife conservation have paid off and are really keen to add a hedgehog house to the “wild patch”. After I’ve made them a “den” out of recycled pallets that is – yes, they still have their own interests and priorities for me to follow and willingly “allowed” me to mow some of “our” meadow in order to accommodate the groundworks for the new construction (don’t worry though. I cunningly managed to miss a different patch of lawn when I mowed last to mitigate for the recent depletion in garden grassland habitat!).

The den is being constructed, slowly. Following my return to work at the beginning of the month, progress has slowed somewhat, but it has not ground to a halt and the childrens interest in our wildlife visitors has not reduced as the restrictions of lockdown have eased, helped somewhat perhaps by the occasional new “resident” of our garden, like this rather fine male stag beetle who graced our front garden with his presence for several days recently.

Stag beetle scaling the wall at our front door

It was really very strange that first day back at Blashford – even just driving to work and joining the A31 at Picket Post Hill and accelerating to 70mph after nearly 4 months of not driving anywhere beyond a weekly food shop and not leaving the 40mph restricted roads of the New Forest, was quite a shock to the system.

It’s been great to finally see and catch up with Bob & Tracy, and, of course, re-discover Blashford Lakes in its limited, but still quite special, new post-lockdown guise.

Lots of work to be done now, both at work as well as at home in the garden wild patch – and all of it so much easier than lockdown fractions with my 8 year old!

30 Days Wild – Day 28

A really blustery day spent at home, mainly in the garden. The conditions meant the moth trap had few visitors and photographing insects on waving flowers was a near impossibility.

The highlight was a male Cheilosia caerulescens, a hoverfly I first saw last year and which was only first found in the UK in 2006. It is one that probably came here in plants transported for the horticultural trade. The larvae mine the roots of house-leeks and were probably in the roots of imported plants. It was first found in Surrey and is now quite widespread in S. England.

Cheilosia caerulescens 4x3

Cheilosia caerulescens

Although this species may not do too much harm, unless you are an avid grower of house-leeks, it does illustrate how difficult it is to keep from inadvertently bringing species into the country. With increased travel and much more international trade the opportunities for stow-a-ways are many.

Introduced species can be a hot topic, with widely differing views about what controls there should be. My personal feeling is that wherever you stand on the rights or wrongs of controlling invasive species, bringing ever more in should be seen as a bad idea. Any newly arrived species is unlikely to be adapted to the environment and so most die out. If they don’t they will be competing with species already present, there are not generally lots of unused resources lying around, something will be using them and any arrivals will effectively be taking away resource from something else already using it. In the worst cases they thrive to the exclusion of lots of other species, especially if there is no local control by predators, parasites or disease to keep them in check as would be likely in the native range. The upshot of this is that we tend to gain widespread generalist species and lose localised specialist species, in short the species diversity is reduced and some of the variety that makes the world so interesting is lost. This is happening worldwide of course and the impact of introduced species is one of the greatest extinction threats to local wildlife faced across large areas of the world.

As I mentioned I spent most of the day in the garden and many of our garden plants are¬† a good fit for potentially invasive species. Most are not native to the UK and many not to Europe, but they are selected to be types that will grow here, and the ones we grow most often are the easiest to grow, which is to say they grow very well here. All characteristics that would make a successful invasive species. A lot don’t grow well from seed for one reason or another, but some will set viable seed and a good few will grow well from roots or rhizomes, which is why fly-tipping of garden waste can be sure a problem and¬† a major route out into the countryside for garden plants.

I have been refurbishing my pond over the lockdown period and it is beginning to look a lot better, with several plants coming into flower, including water forget-me-not and lesser water plantain.

water forget-me-not

water forget-me-not

lesser water plantain

lesser water plantain

30 Days Wild – Day 14 – Garden Safari

I spent almost all of the day in the garden, working in bursts until I got too hot, then just sitting back and watching. There was a lot to see, twice groups of crossbill flew over, these birds breed very early in the year and then the families set out to look for ripening cones from which to prize the seeds. In some years, when the breeding season has been good but the cone crop is poor, birds will fly very long distances, hundreds or even thousands of miles. These are known as irruptions and are characteristic of species that exploit locally abundant, but unreliable food sources.

The main interest was the insects though, the pond continues to draw in dragonflies and this fine male broad-bodied chaser spent most of the day nearby.

broad-bodied chaser

broad-bodied chaser (male)

Whilst looking in the flower border at something else this recently emerged emperor dragonfly was spotted, not by me, although I was looking at something about 15cm away!

emperor

Emperor

As it was so close I got a few closer shots of the head and eyes. They have almost all-round vision with thousands of tiny facets to the eyes, which also have different coloured zones.

emperor head

emperor head

It was not just dragonflies though, there were meadow browns in the mini-meadow and a red admiral on privet flowers, a small white attempting to lay eggs on the cabbages was less welcome though. The wild carrot is now coming into bloom and attracts quite a few species, including a second garden record of the mottled bee-fly, first seen a few days ago.

heath beefly

mottled bee-fly

Beetle included a Welsh chafer on a pink bistort flowerhead.

Welsh chafer

Welsh chafer

Lots of bees mostly evaded my camera, but I did get this male leaf-cutter bee resting on the side of the bee hotel, I confess I totally failed to identify this and had to be put onto the right course, I still find bees difficult!

Hoplitis claviventris 4x3

leaf-cutter bee (male)

However prize of the day goes to an especially brilliant bug. I was working near the house when I was called to see “A red and black shieldbug” an exciting prospect as there is a recently colonising species spreading at present. However I was in the middle of¬† a task so had to wait a couple of minutes before going over, luckily the bug was still there and it was an ornate shieldbug.

ornate shieldbug

ornate shieldbug

A species which is slowly colonising the south coast, something to look out for on plants of the cabbage family, this one was on rocket in our salad patch. Unlike some other species people ask us to look out for this one is pretty much unmistakable and really stands out, although it does come in various colour forms, so they don’t all look like this one.

 

 

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 Рjust 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.

common blue 4x3

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.

Rhopalus subrufus 4x3

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.

Cheilosia caerulescens 4x3

Cheilosia caerulescens – the house leek hoverfly

 

A Couple of Days in the Garden

I made the most of the weekend sunshine and spent some time in my garden, now with a refurbished pond. Refurbished in that it now actually holds water, it had been reduced to an ephemeral pond at best, an interesting habitat, but perhaps not the most appealing in a garden. On Sunday I decided to use the last of the rainwater stored in the water butt to top up the pond, trusting in the forecast rain to replenish the store. I was almost instantly rewarded with the appearance of a female broad-bodied chaser dragonfly, perching near the pond and then dipping her abdomen into the water as she laid some eggs.

broad-bordered chaser 4x3

broad-bodied chaser (female)

A little later there were two, chasing each other around between bouts of egg-laying and resting up in the sun. I also saw large red damselfly and common blue damselfly in the garden, making three Odonata in the garden before the end of April.

It was a weekend for egg-laying insects I watched, but failed to photograph successfully, an orange-tip laying on the garlic mustard and a holly blue laying on alder buckthorn.

holly blue 4x3

holly blue female

I had not known that holly blue would lay on alder buckthorn, although I did know they used a good deal more species than just the traditional holly and ivy. Laying on my rather small alder buckthorn also puts the caterpillars in direct competition with the brimstone caterpillars when they hatch in a few days after being laid last week.

brimstone egg-laying

brimstone egg-laying

The early rush of butterflies was dominated by brimstone and peacock especially, with fewer comma and small tortoiseshell. Perhaps because of the very good weather these species seem to have declined rapidly an dare now being replaced by the whites  and the first of the arriving red admiral. Small white and green-veined white are residents and typically pick up in numbers during April.

IMG_9640-002

green-veined white (male)

Large white are resident in rather small numbers but bolstered by, sometimes very large, arrivals of migrants.

large white

large white (female)

There is a bit of a race on at the moment to see who can add the next new butterfly species to the UK list. One thing is pretty certain it is going to happen and probably not very long away, in fact it may well already be here. The species is the southern small white, it has expanded from southern Europe over recent years all the way to the channel coast, under 30 miles away. The difficulty is that it is quiet similar to our regular small white, so if you want to make a name for yourself look up the differences, keep your camera handy in the garden and plant candytuft. Why candytuft? Because it is the preferred caterpillar foodplant of the southern small white. It could be you, especially if you live on the south coast, the Isle of Wight has to be a likely location, if someone in Kent does not get in first!

I will end on a picture of the most dramatic plant in my garden, the giant viper’s bugloss Echium pininana which as it starts to flower becomes a tower of bees as the flowers shoot 3 to 4m or more into the air.

Echium 4x3

giant viper’s bugloss

I have, of course been recording the species I have seen in the garden and uploading the data to the many citizen science recording schemes, something we can all do for everything from butterflies to earthworms.

 

Beeing in the Garden

Yesterday I spent much of the day beeing in the garden, by which I mean looking for and at the many types of bees that make their way into the garden. I do get a few honey-bees but not many and this is actually a good thing fro all the other species of bees, many of which can find themselves getting out-competed by large numbers of hive bees in some areas.

There a lot of solitary bees, something well over 200 species in the UK in fact¬† and spring is a good time to look for them. Although they are solitary, in that each female has her own nest, there can be lots of nests very close together, so you might find a nesting aggregation of hundreds of solitary bees, sometimes of several different species. Lots of them nest in tunnels in the ground, so a good place to look is where the ground is loose enough for a bee to dig a tunnel, old sand pits are a favourite. Several other species nest in hollow stems or old beetle tunnels in wood, so you can mimic this by drilling holes in a block of wood and making a “bee hotel”.

One of the common spring species is the tawny mining bee.

tawny mining bee

tawny mining bee

Some species are very, very small, in fact some are known as “mini-miners”. Others are tiny and brightly coloured like the “Blood bees” these are rather difficult to identify to species level.

blood bee 2

blood bee

Others are more familiar and much larger, the bumble bees, although there are rather few species they are not necessarily straightforward to identify. This is one of the easier ones, the garden bumble bee, appropriately enough as I found it in my garden.

garden bumble bee

garden bumble bee

Some of them would probably be passed over as wasps as they are mainly black and yellow, these are the Nomad bees and they are parasites of other solitary bees, often of just one species.

Nomada 5

Nomada goodeniana – Gooden’s nomad bee

Nomada 3

Nomada leucophthalma – the early nomad bee

Nomada 2

Nomad bee (I have not identified this one yet)

As you can see they are all similar, but slightly different.

Of course when you start looking for one thing you start seeing others. I can across several small spiders including these two jumping spiders.

Heliophanus flavipes

Heliophanus flavipes

They are fierce hunters for their size, creeping up on their prey and using their many eyes and excellent binocular vision to judge a jump to capture their prey. The one above is not rare, but not seen nearly as often as the zebra jumping spider, which often hunts on walls and fences as w ell as vegetation.

zebra spider with hoverfly prey

zebra spider with hoverfly prey

I also saw several large red damselfly, much earlier than last year when I barely saw one before May.

large red damselfly

large red damselfly

A Smaller World, but Limitless

Everyone’s world seems to have got smaller, we cannot travel around as we were used to doing, favourite places are denied to us. We have our homes and with luck a view of some sort, many will have a garden and how many of us will be appreciating this anew, not a chore to look after but haven. Then there is the daily walk, it may only be a mile or two but I’ll bet, like me, you will be seeing with new eyes what has been there all along, but previously overlooked.

It reminds me of childhood, in those days my world was the garden and a distance from home I could easily walk or later cycle. If you have a car you don’t really get to know your local area as you drive through it, only on foot do you see the details and appreciate the lay of the land.

What you soon begin to see is that this smaller world is still full of more things than you could know in a lifetime, the more detail you see the more there is to find. Lots of birdwatchers, confined to home have been scanning the skies and suddenly seeing bird flying over that they never imagined. I suspect Hampshire will see as many osprey reported this spring as in any year, despite almost nobody getting out to the “Hotspots” for this species. A remarkable feature has been the realisation that there are common scoter migrating overland night after night, if you go and stand in your garden you have a fair chance of hearing some flying over, eventually. I would add I would avoid standing in my garden, which has been a stubbornly scoter-free area! Who would have thought that you could get a sea duck on your garden bird list even if you live an hour or more drive from the sea.

A garden will have wildlife, you may need to look for it a bit but it will be there. The other day I noticed several tiny moths flying in the sunshine around my front door, they were a micro most called Esperia sulphurella, they were often landing on the wall of the house, so I went to get my camera. Just as I was lining up my shot, having got as close as I could I saw that several other pairs of eyes had also spotted the same target.

zebra spider with E sulphurella

zebra spider with Esperia sulphurella

I later realised that several of these zebra jumping spiders were patrolling the wall and more than one had caught the same prey as they warmed on the brickwork.

The sunshine has had lots of insects warming themselves on suitable surfaces, I have some large Echiums growing the garden and they seem especially popular with sunning solitary bees and ladybirds, such as this 7-spot ladybird.

7-spot ladybird

7-spot ladybird on Echium leaf.

The sun has meant that I have had the camera out, trying to get shots of some of the trickier species, the hoverers and the darters of this world, where a sharp picture is as much about luck as technique. I have been trying to get a flight shot of a bee-fly for ages, it requires a very fast shutter speed, actually faster than I can manage with my camera, and if I open the aperture the depth of field gets very small, still it can produce a result of sorts from time to time.

dark-bordered bee-fly

dark-bordered bee-fly, Bombylius major

I wonder if, when we are let out into the wider world again, we will see it with new eyes, perhaps seeing the myriad little pictures that go to make up the big picture, and appreciating all of it the more.

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.

emperor moth pair 4x3

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.

The Benefits of Staying at Home

I am still going over the reserve to make site checks, mainly security and safety checks, but sadly also dealing with the result of the actions of people who see the present situation as an opportunity. Arriving on site the first thing I spotted was a donation, sadly not a positive one, but a quantity of fly-tipped rubbish, inconveniently thrown well into a bramble to make it extra difficult to retrieve.

fly-tipping

fly-tipping

Thankfully very few people are continuing to drive out to the reserve, although some are, and they are providing good cover for a variety of people up to no good. There has been evidence of poaching on most days since the “Lockdown” started as well a several people wandering around in off-limits areas of the reserve, for no legitimate reason.

On my patrol I surprised a roe deer, she started up, but still had not seen me and stopped to look around to see what I was, standing very still she took a while to realise I was just a few feet away!

roe deer 4x3

rod deer doe

It was very warm in the sunshine and there were lots of butterflies about, mainly brimstone and peacock, but I also saw my first green-veined white of the year.

battered peacock

a rather battered peacock

Today I was with everyone else, at home in the sunshine. So the garden was my domain and I decided to keep a list of all the birds I could record in the day, it turned out to be a rather poor 29 species, although I did see my first two swallow of the year, both flying over heading north. I ran a moth trap overnight, but that was disappointing too, only Hebrew character and pine beauty, however with bright sunshine the daytime insect were out ion abundance. Solitary bees were particularly abundant, with lots of Andrena scotica, the chocolate mining bee, and not they don’t mine chocolate!

chocolate mining bee 4x3

chocolate mining bee

My small bee hotel, actually just a block of wood with holes drilled in it and placed in a sunny spot, had Osmia caerulescens, the blue mason bee nesting in it last summer. The males are now emerging, they are quite unlike the metallic blue females, but very smart for all that.

blue mason bee male 4x3

blue mason bee male

Staying at home is not just good for the nation’s health, if you look hard, or even not so hard, there is lots to see and some of it is really spectacular.

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.

cowslip 4x3

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!

sparrow semi 4x3

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