30 Days Wild – Day 15 – Half Way Day in the Garden (weather permitting)

Another day off today, I would have spent much of it in the garden but the rain had other ideas. However I did get out between the showers and even had some sun at times.

The moth trap was not busy being mostly filled with the really common species like heart and dart, Vine’s rusticwillow beauty and treble lines. One of the very common species for much of the season is shuttle-shaped dart, a moth that is so common as to be largely ignored and not helped by a rather drab colour scheme. However the detail of the wing patterning is exceedingly intricate.

shuttle-shaped dart

shuttle-shaped dart

At this time of year I am always drawn to the mini-meadow, it attracts so much insect life and today was no exception. There were an array of bees, hoverflies, beetles and bugs, including the grass bug Notostira elongata, this one is a male, with a much stronger, more contrasting, pattern than the female

Notostira elongata male

Notostira elongata male

I had not recorded this species in the garden before that I could remember. Another “First” was the hoverfly Scaeva selenitica, a species of pine woodland, so I expect it had wandered off the New Forest to visit some good nectar sources.

IMG_3316

Scaeva selenitica (male)

You can tell that this one is a male as the eyes meet on the top of the head to give it the maximum possible all-round view of the world. This difference in eye size between the sexes is common amongst flies and is probably to help them, spot females.

Caught up again! Just fifteen more days to go.

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30 Days Wild – Day 1

It’s that time of year again! I have started the 30 Days with a day off, so I was out in the garden, thanks to a rather warm day there were lots of insects about. As ever my mini-meadow was the place to look.

common blue

common blue female

I have not been able to confirm if they are breeding in the meadow yet, but I have recently seen both males and females, so I am hopeful. The garden is also good for bees, lots of bumble bees of several species and solitary bees too, such as this mason bee, which I think is orange-vented mason bee.

mason bee

mason bee (I love those eyes!)

These bees seem to face a lot of problems, not least a lot of parasites, one of which maybe this wasp with an almost unbelievably long ovipositor, this one is  the rather splendidly named Gasteruption jaculator.

Gasteruption jaculator

Gasteruption jaculator

I also got out onto the New Forest for a bit, I called in at a site that is well known for its population of southern damselfly, and found lots of them!

southern damselfly 4x3

southern damselfly male

Nearby there were lots of heath spotted orchid, smaller than the common spotted orchid and with a more compact and shorter flower spike, they are common across a lot of the New Forest heaths.

heath spotted orchid 4x3

heath spotted orchid

Back at work tomorrow, so we will have to see what Blashford has in store.

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

30 Days Wild- Day 10: Bees and Butter

Not at work on Day 10, so I spent some time in the garden. It is a mixture of fairly traditional borders and a small wilder area which we manage as a mini-meadow. In the border the emphasis is on plants that look good but have flowers that will be attractive to insects. Certain types are particularly good, the star so far this year has been the Echium pinana which attracts bees in amazing numbers. Another very good group of plants are the scabious and similar species. We have a good patch of the very large Cephalaria grandiflora which lots of insects will visit.

common carder bee on Cephalaria gigantea

common carder bee on Cephalaria gigantean.

I have always liked growing Umbellifers in the garden and I am pleased to say they seem to getting more popular, most species are attractive to hoverflies, this year we have added the lace flower (Orlaya grandiflora), and it seems to have been well received by the insects.

hoverfly on Orlaya grandiflora

hoverfly on Orlaya grandiflora

To provide feeding for as many bees as possible it is necessary top grow a range of plants with a range of flower types as different bees are adapted to exploit different flower forms. They will also collect pollen as well as nectar. Some of the bumblebees have especially long tongues and so can reach into flowers with very long tubes such as some of the clovers which smaller species cannot.

red-tailed bumblebee on white clover

red-tailed bumblebee on white clover

The star sighting of the day was attracted in by the flowers, but it was not a bee, but a humming-bird hawk-moth, my first of the year. Although they seem to be getting more regular these day-flying migrant hawk-moths are always exciting to see.

I am lucky to live within a short walk of the New Forest, so as dusk approached a short excursion to listen to nightjar was in order. It was a bit windy, which reduced activity a bit but we still heard one or two churring birds and briefly saw some wing-clapping display flight.

In walking through the pines to get top the heath edge something brilliant yellow stood out on the woodland floor. So bright, in fact that my first thought was that it was a bit of rubbish, but it was not, it was a large patch of troll butter. This is slime mould and like most is found of rotten wood.

troll butter

troll butter

 

 

30 Days Wild – Day 2: In the Garden

My weekend started early and I was on a day off today, so I took the chance to do some work in the garden. Although not large and a pretty typical suburban garden it is now home to a good range of wildlife. When we moved in nearly three years ago we decided to leave part of the lawn and develop it as a small-scale meadow. It has come on well and looks the part quite convincingly now, with yellow rattle, field scabious, knapweed, ox-eye daisy and much more. It is perhaps more accurately a herb-rich grassland as some species are not entirely typical of true hay meadows, but it looks good and the wildlife seems to like it.

Ox-eye daisy

Ox-eye daisy

We do also have more conventional flower borders and here we have gone for plants that are good for nectar and pollen, such as geraniums, fleabanes and scabious species. Today I came across a brightly coloured fleabane tortoise beetle on an elecampane flower bud.

Fleabane tortoise beetle

Fleabane tortoise beetle

I did not manage to dig a pond in the first year so it was a bit of a late addition, but a very necessary one in any wildlife garden. A pond, even a small one such as our, does bring in so many more species, especially if you do not add fish.

pond skaters

Pond skaters feeding on a drowned bumblebee.

We even get a fair range of dragonflies and damselflies and today I found a pair of large red damselfly egg-laying.

Large red damselfly pair egg-laying

Large red damselfly pair egg-laying

The male remains attached to the female whilst she lays to ensure that the eggs he has fertilised get laid.

We also planted a few native shrubs, including an alder buckthorn, the food plant of the brimstone butterfly, this has almost worked too well and our tiny tree has more than ten caterpillars and almost every leaf has been nibbled!

Brimstone caterpillars

Brimstone butterfly caterpillars

I like the fact that I can be at home in the garden but still be surrounded by a bit of the wild. Gardens can be fantastic for wildlife, especially for insects such as bees and others that require nectar and pollen, growing good plants for these species also gives you a great flower filled garden so is a win all round.

30 Days Wild – Day 26

A day in the garden, although intermittent and eventually persistent rain forced me inside at times. I had intended to try and get pictures of  as many hoverflies as I could, but in the end I only got three! There were lots of the migrant marmalade hoverfly (Episyrphus balteatus).

Episyrphus balteatus

Episyrphus balteatus the marmalade hoverfly

The large number of Alliums are attracting lots of greater bulb fly (Merodon equestris).

Merodon equestris

Merodon equestris cleaning its face

My best was a species I have only seen ion the garden a few times, the large and rather impressive Sericomyia silentis.

Sericomyia silentis

Sericomyia silentis

It favours boggy ground and is especially common in the north and west of Britain, but locally it is fairly common in the New Forest.

The above pictures were all I managed in the few minutes of sunshine. In looking for the hoverflies I could not help but notice that many of the flowers were covered in tiny beetles, I think they are pollen beetles, some of the evening primrose flowers had dozens of them.

pollen beetles

pollen beetles

 

30 Days Wild – Day 22

Lots of wildlife today, mostly after work. The sun was shining when I got home and int he garden I spotted the tell tale darting form of a hummingbird hawk moth. These are so difficult to photograph, but I did get one distant shot of this my first “Hummer” of the summer.

hummingbird hawkmoth

The first hummer of the summer!

I am lucky to live close enough New Forest to be able to get out onto the heath after supper and before it gets dark. It was a perfect evening, although with rumbles of thunder not too far away, so we went out in search of silver-studded blue butterflies, one of the delights of summer and we found some getting ready to roost.

silver-studded blue

silver-studded blue

We also found various other insects settling down for the night, including a male keeled skimmer dragonfly deep in the heather.

keeled skmmer

black-tailed skimmer, male

One of the most obvious things we saw out on the heath were water droplet bejewelled spider’s webs. I think it was just moisture from the air that had gathered on the fine webs, it was very humid. The result was webs with huge amounts of water scatter all over them, this did not seem to be inhibiting the spiders which were still lurking in their tunnels and darting out to investigate movements on their web.

spider

spider lurking in water bejewelled web

 

30 Days Wild – Day 11

Not a great day weather-wise, but this need not stop the quest for wildlife. Running  a moth trap in the garden helps as you never know what you might catch. This time it was two species that I rarely catch, although neither is at all rare locally. They were a female fox moth.

fox moth female

female fox moth

The males can often be seen careering wildly about over heathland in the daytime as they search out females. The females, on the other hand, fly at night, this one laid a number of eggs in the trap which I will put onto bramble in the garden.

And a female common heath.

common heath female

female common heath

Another moth that can often be seen flying by day over heathland and also one that, like the fox moth, shows strong sexual dimorphism, i.e. the sexes do not look very alike.

Also in the garden I noticed that my hazel was being eaten, lots of the leaves had been stripped and it did not take long to find the culprits, a group of hazel sawfly larvae. when they feel threatened they curl their tails up over their heads as you can see here.

hazel sawfly

hazel sawfly larvae

Still playing catch-up, but getting closer…….

30 Days Wild – Day 4

A day spent travelling home and so one a little light on wildlife, in addition I realised that I had lost my notebook, somewhere in West Pembrokeshire, a rather large search area!

Arriving home I was amazed at the amount of growth in the garden over our week away. In particular the small patch of what was the lawn that we have been managing as a meadow over the past two years since we moved into this house. It has certainly come along very pleasingly in such a short time.

meadow

The back garden meadow.

If you look closely you might make out meadow buttercup, red clover, yellow rattle, bloody cranesbill and cowslip as well as lots of grass.