Thursday, 29 June 2017

Hairy-Legged Mining Bee



This little bee in the photo above, adorned with the golden pantaloons, is a Hairy-Legged Mining Bee (Dasypoda hirtipes).

She turned up in our garden over the weekend and I've just had confirmation that she is what I thought she was: a Nationally Scarce species, recorded in less than 100 of the 10km squares that Britain is divided in to.

As such, she is more common than the Tawny Longhorn (who has been back in the garden and brought a friend with him),


but still rare enough for it to be very exciting and important that she's in our garden. The species distribution is around a handful of sites around the southern part of the UK, mainly coastal sand dunes and inland heaths. We are neither of those so I'm curious as to why she's arrived in our garden.

Britain has around 270 species of bee, and 250 of those are solitary bees. Many of them nest in holes in the ground, which is why it is so vitally important that lawns (a huge nesting resource for solitary mining bees) aren't treated with pesticides which would kill them. Solitary bees are responsible for the majority of pollination in this country, both of our crops and in our gardens, so they are incredibly important. They just don't get to share much of the limelight with honeys and bumbles and as a result, people know very little about them.

This little bee digs a big tunnel to nest in: 8-60cm, and leaves the waste pile to one side of the hole. She digs the tunnel in the afternoon and isn't usually seen after lunch because her preference is to visit yellow Asteraceae flowers (daisy family) which tend to close in the late morning.

Hirtipes means hairy. This bee is the only species of the genus to be found in Britain.

I've also had a few visits from Small Tortoiseshells this summer, which is great news because they've been notable by their absence in recent years. Here's one snoozing on the house wall before the weather broke....


The Marmalade hoverflies have been out in good numbers too...


And my Nigellas, grown from seed in the spring, are just starting to flower....


Everything in the garden is rosy. 

I wish the same could be said of my toenails. One of them is purple and looks very much like it would like to detach itself from my toe, one is yellow and two are varying impressive shades of red. I very nearly have Rainbow Feet. My solution is blister plasters, which I discovered on a runner's forum. I tried them out this morning on my 4 mile run and they work wonders: no pain, no rubbing. Which is just as well as I've another HM coming up in a couple of weeks' time and I'm not missing it because of sore toes! Bad toenails goes with the territory of distance running. I've yet to meet an endurance runner who didn't have gnarly nails :o)

Hope you're all well?

CT.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Ridgeway Revenge: First Half Marathon In The Bag!


I'm just back from running 13.5 miles (so slightly over a HM distance) along the Chalk Hills of The Ridgeway. The Ridgeway Revenge is a fantastic half marathon, mainly off-road, along trails and through farmland that really lives up to its name.

The Ridgeway, a prehistoric trackway that cross Britain from West to East, runs along a Chalk spine in the south west, which means that you're either running up, running along or running down hills in this Half Marathon. It was, to coin M's favourite phrase, lumpy.

I had a last-minute panic of Oh My God! What Am I Doing Here?! five minutes before the off, which my husband sorted by saying I was being ridiculous and was perfectly capable of running 13 miles across country in these conditions, and then there was no more time for over-thinking it because the 200 or-so runners were called to the start and we were off.

I got my pacing right (steady because of the end of the bug) and soon fell into step with a guy who was about to turn 70 (I swear he didn't look a day over 60), who runs ultras. We jogged along nattering for the next five miles and as a result the first half of the race flew by. I was grateful to him because I often find the first half of endurance distances hard work. By the time I've bagged 7 miles I've settled in to the run and am generally OK.

M was waiting at the 4 mile point water station, waving and yelling encouragement. We swung left out of the field at that point and ran down a lane, which we followed until it turned into a track at the bottom and became fields. At that point the ground was tough work because the path wasn't wide enough to fit both feet, so you had to continually hop from one side to the other, watching the ground all the time for ruts and roots and holes. 

At mile 7 the land started a long sweep up and my ultra man ran on ahead while I slowed down a bit. I saw M running through a field to my left and then found him waiting for me a little further up the hill. I managed to run past him (for the photo's sake!) and then walked because the hill was biting. The jelly babies came out, I chewed two of them, gave another to a fellow runner who was looking knackered and glugged some water down from the hydration vest. Feeling restored, I trotted on again. It went on like that for the next few miles.

Up yet another hill. 

Beautiful countryside on my beloved Chalk kept me going
Around mile 8, I fell into step with Sally, a lovely lady, as we ran through a beautiful meadow of wild flowers. We kept each other going to around mile 10, talking about race experiences and pacing. Sometimes she ran in front so I could follow her and have a rest, sometimes I went in front so she could follow me and rest. It really helped.

With Sally at mile 10

As we came up (yet another) hill, there was M at the next water stop, shouting you've only got three miles left! That's a Parkun! You can do it! You're nearly there! He lifted my energy no end and I suddenly found myself zooming away from Sally, catching up with and overtaking the next five runners ahead. It must have been a second wind. I knocked a minute off the next km and was flying along feeling really strong thinking: at this rate I'll be back in a little over 2:10 which was a good deal faster than I'd thought.

And then the next hill bit.


It was a monster. Everyone around me slowed down to walk up it. At the top was a stile. I looked meditatively at it, thinking how used to hopping over stiles I am, then discovered that climbing over it seemed to require more energy than I had left. Heaving myself over (grunting like an old lady), my heart sank as I realised this wasn't even the top of the hill! This is where the Revenge part of the name comes in: of the final 3 miles of the race, 2.5 were uphill.

I walked, and ran a bit and walked again. I ate another jelly baby; I drank more water and then I fell in with a lovely couple, the husband was running it with his wife and was urging her on. She and I ran together for the next mile, up the never ending field and after that the never ending chalk track, noting that the race was going to be longer than 21k because we were at 20.5 and there was no end in sight!

I kept plugging on, and then mercifully the land turned and we began to run downhill. I could see the finish a few hundred metres ahead. The flints were rolling under my feet and the chalk track was white and bone-hard and rutted where runnels of water had run, but I was feeling so elated to be finishing that I opened my arms and flew down the remaining hill, loving every single second.

I sprinted to the finish where M and a crowd of people were cheering, and crossed the line in just under 2:20 hours, which, given the terrain I was really pleased with.

The finish!

So that's it, a top race which I really enjoyed and a noble one to be my first ever Half Marathon. I can't quite believe I've done it!

Thank you everyone for all your support and encouragement over the past couple of weeks: you're all brilliant. 


Happy Days!

CT :o)





Friday, 23 June 2017

Return To Running


The heat has finally broken and we woke this morning to a cool breeze. Very welcome by me: I'm a Northern Hemisphere girl, unashamedly fond of jumpers.

I got back to running on Wednesday. After a week off I felt fat and unfit so I was very glad to get out with the club to the latest RR10, 5 miles through the woods and tracks of manor farm country park, which some of you may remember from BBC2's Wartime Farm. It was a lovely course, out into the countryside and back along the river Hamble, with its unique tidal mudflats smell hanging warmly on the early evening air.

I took it steady and enjoyed it immensely, running the first couple of k's with my buddy Mike who is doing the Clarendon with me in the Autumn. We had a good old natter as we trotted along- he's retiring next year and we discussed potential Marathon Ambitions, which I am going to encourage of course! I didn't have a great deal of oomph, which is not surprising given the cold bug and it was, at that point, still tremendously hot. I ran with a water bottle, which I don't usually do, took swigs of it along the way and tipped lots of it over my shoulders which really helped. I was about ten minutes slower than I would normally run 5 miles, but to be honest I was just so pleased to be out running again the time was immaterial.

Everyone was saying how hot it was and there were a lot of shiny, sweaty conversations at the end. My nemesis, Ray, who at present beats me over 3 mile, 5 mile and 6 mile distances, and I caught up and discussed what we usually discuss: at what point I will be beating him. As Ray is in his 60s, he thinks it will be down to his increasing age not my increasing ability :o) This is a conversation we have every time we see one another, it's good natured banter and it really does spur you on to improve. We always have a giggle about tripping each other up as the rivalry between us intensifies. We have mulled over how nice it would be to cross a finish line at the same time. I've told him he's got a year to prepare for handing the crown over :o)

Two of my friends fell over, one managed to do this in front of a Rather Handsome Man who gallantly scooped her up - she said the fall wasn't therefore a total disaster :o), - the other friend fell in the woods and got a nasty shock as a result. She said she felt like crying, poor love. Falling over as an adult really isn't much fun, is it? Anyway, she picked herself up and carried on to the finish where we all cheered her in.

The other bit of news is that I've got a Half Marathon booked for this weekend! Yay! Another reason to be glad the weather has changed. It should be a deal cooler, possibly even ideal running weather. It's a gnarly, hilly, off-road challenge, so will be right up my street. I'm not focused on the time as I'm still in tail-end-charlie-bug-mode, I just want to get round and have fun doing it. M isn't running this one; he's my support crew and is planning on running to certain points on the route to cheer me on. I think I will probably need that!

I'll let you all know how it goes.

Have a great weekend everyone,

CT x


Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Golden Skippers, And A Rare Beetle Is Found At Home


The cornflowers and corn poppies are coming out. Everyone here is very excited about this, especially those of us with wings who enjoy hovering and like to drink nectar. The cornflower area of the garden is buzzing this morning.


The hoverfly enjoying the poppy is a Marmalade fly, the only one (as far as I know) who has these white lines on the yellow and black bands. As they are widespread across the UK if you live in these islands there is a very good chance you'll be getting them in your garden, so another one to have a look for.

The Golden Skippers are also out - at least, the Small Skipper version is. One of these grass-loving butterflies whizzed through the garden a couple of days ago in a blur of gold which had me leaping off the bench where I was sharing an early evening natter with M to go havering about the garden after it. This led my husband to remark with a smile that I have a particular run I do when excited about an insect. We won't go into details because it isn't very flattering and makes me sound like an excitable two year old.

Yesterday, I found another snoozing up by the pond in the shade on some bird's-foot trefoil. Hard to tell whether it's male or female with the wings closed, as the scent lines that tell the male apart aren't visible. Often, the male insect appears before the female, and I certainly saw all males in the grass lining the fields on our walk first thing this morning. Skippers frequently get confused with moths because most flutters adopt a wings-open posture at rest.

Butterflies are picky about temperature- too cold, and they can't fly, too hot and they don't. The optimum temperature range to see butterflies is 13-18 degrees, any hotter and they either down tools entirely or flit about so fast it's hard to work out what they are.


Small skippers are Very Fond Of Grass, especially Yorkshire Fog, which is pictured below. We have lots of it around the pond, not planted, it was already in the seed bank in the earth so we just let it grow. The first summer we let the grass grow long, the skippers came. They lay their eggs in it and the larvae eat the grass.

There is one other skipper you might confuse this one with, and that's the Essex skipper. You can tell them apart by the glossy black tips of the antennae on the Essex.

Yorkshire Fog
Incidentally, it's Purple Emperor Time. These fabulous shimmering flutters have begun to emerge over the last ten days in ancient woods all round the south. I am dutifully leaving some dog poo out in the garden in the hope of luring one here. They have unspeakable habits for such marvellous creatures.

I grew some Honeywort from seed this spring and it has just started flowering. The bumblebees can't get enough of it. Listening to a bumble inside a honeywort flower is an instant cure for melancholy- the tubular bloom has a small circumference, so it's a tight squeeze for a plump bee. As a consequence, once nectaring their buzz becomes very concentrated and high-pitched, more of an exasperate squeal than the usual reassuring, low rumble. It reminds me of the memorable giggling fit BBC newsreader Charlotte Green had when trying to read an obit after listening to the earliest recording of Clair da la Lune, which a colleague had likened to a bee trapped inside a glass. 

Honeywort
I've a very tame baby blackbird in the garden. Long time readers may remember Apple, the fledgling blackbird we raised in the house a few years ago. I like to think this is her great-grandchild and that somewhere in her genes the inherited memory of the time her ancestor spent with us, flying through the bedroom window for breakfast, coming to me when I whistled for her, or waking L for school by hopping onto his bed and singing to him, has reassured her that she's safe with us. Whatever the reason, she's completely unbothered by me or the dogs, which worries me a little. Strangely, Pop is completely disinclined to chase her, so when Pop is hunting rats in the garden, the little one just hops a few feet away, turns to watch me and then hops straight back


Small piles of sandy soil have appeared in the lawn again this week. They belong to the next batch of mining bees. Sometimes you can see their little faces peering up at you when you peer down. A bee face front-on has the appearance of a frown, possibly because they are quite concentrated, but maybe just expressing annoyance at the way you've blocked out the sun.


The most exciting bit of news here in recent days has been the appearance in the garden of a Tawny Longhorn Beetle. To be honest, I recorded them here last year too. The difference this year is that I now know that they are very rare, listed in the red data book and recorded from only 10 of the 15,000 15km squares in Britain. 

Tawny Longhorn
I leapt about in Great Excitement when I realised, and (with no pause to consider my health) rushed straight into the pit of carbon boyoxide  (which is the study when school is out) to relate this thrilling fact to L. Once I'd located him in the curtain-drawn gloom, (aided by the faintest of threads of light desperately trying to get back out into fresh air but illuminating while it did so a stack of biscuit-crumb-covered plates, discarded lolly moulds and glasses with dubious spots of green on them, before which my soon-to-be-sixteen-year-old-son was sat, glued to the screen and busy wiping various made-up beings off the face of a made-up world, while keeping up a non-stop commentary to his friend who was, presumably, sat in identical conditions in his house a few miles away), I delivered my exciting news in a rush. He managed to tear his eyes from his current quest for the briefest of glances, unhooked one side of his headphones and emitted a sound that seemed to be "whaa?" although it was in teenage, which is a language that, despite having very close acquaintance with for at least the last four years, I have completely failed to master. 

M showed a bit more enthusiasm when he got home, asking to see the very flower that the beetle had arrived on. Looking at that written down, I wonder now whether he was taking the pee. Anyway, he dutifully followed me up to the garden and made all the right "how exciting for you, wife" type noises, even though I suspect even he struggles to comprehend my extreme excitement levels at the appearance of a 13mm long, beige-coloured insect for a few seconds on a small, orange-ball buddleia which is swamped by docks, nettles and grasses. 

I'll leave you with some pictures of the flowers in the garden, which are so beautiful this year that I frequently find myself outside staring at them without being quite sure how I got there.



Hope you're all well?

CT.


Sunday, 18 June 2017

What Might Be In Your Garden...?

Thanks for all your kind messages of commiseration yesterday. M ran the race and returned home saying it had been absolutely boiling. He still managed to come in the top ten out of 500 :o). In hindsight it was probably a good thing I had to miss it. The thermometer has read 29 degrees here- it's even hot indoors. I am starting to feel better so hope to be back running this week and to have bagged my first competitive HM before too long.

In its place, I spent the day prowling round the garden, camera in hand, recording what I could find. None of the following are rare species in the UK, so if you live here and want to learn more about our wildlife the best way to do it is to go and sit near some flowers or a patch of vegetation with a camera and record what you see. Some of these are bound to be in your gardens. My favourite guide book is 'A comprehensive guide to the insects of Britain and Ireland' by Paul Brock - it has everything in it you could possibly want.

Here are today's offerings...

1. White plume moth in the greenhouse. Plume moths are widespread and usually look like small crosses made of brown sticks. The white plume is well-named!


2. Ladybird larvae, this is a Harlequin, looking for somewhere to pupate into the more recognisable adult ladybird. Check under nettle leaves and also among potato plants and clematis for them. The other species of ladybird look similar in the larval state, only smaller and with a variety of colour markings. They all look like miniature monsters however!


3. Hummingbird Hawkmoths have amazing memories, which means once they've clocked a favourite plant they'll be back. Ours has been visiting the valerian and nepeta most days since I first saw him last week.


4. This one took some investigating. It's a plant or capsid bug, similar to Miris striatus. There are lots of them in the long grass around the pond today. Behaviour-wise they are busy souls, lots of moving about and flitting between grass stems.


5. Another one that took me a while to find. This is Rhopalus subrufus, a scentless plant bug. They are known for their curiously shaped antennae, and they eat fruit and seeds. This one is associated with St John's-worts, although here they were mating on nepeta. They look a little like an elongated shield bug and were glowing copper in the sun.


6. Small magpie moth. There are loads of these little moths at the top of the garden, where they like to hide under leaves of potato, delphinium and nettle. Their larvae feed on common nettle and the adult moths are easily disturbed from under leaves from May right through to September.


7. It is something of a rarity for me to see a Small Tortoiseshell these days. These once ubiquitous butterflies have suffered severe population declines in recent years. They pepper the memories of my childhood so I was thrilled not only to have one in the garden, but to watch her laying eggs beneath a ragged old nettle leaf. If you enlarge the photo you'll see she is actually laying an egg.


8. And here are the eggs, the most beautiful, fresh, lime and emerald colours, perfectly round circles, neatly laid in two batches. I will be watching for the caterpillars.


9. A lot of people mistake hoverflies for wasps and bees. These harmless creatures have no sting and get their name from their flight behaviour- wasps and bees don't hover. They also have big eyes, so once you know what to look for it's hard to mistake them for anything else. There are hundreds of species of hoverfly. This one is Syrphus ribesii, a common and widespread hoverfly.



10. And here is one of my favourite insects: he's a wool carder bee, and he is fiercely territorial, so much so that I've been watching him chasing far bigger bees (including bumbles) off the flowers that he wanted. He does behave a little like a hoverfly and so this is one species of bee you might mistake, but his shape and markings are unique so once you get those you won't confuse him again.

The second photo shows the diagnostic series of yellow dots down the side of his body. This is typical of wool carder bees, who are named for their habit of stripping soft down off vegetation. You'll see them visiting flowers from May to September.



It's amazing what you can find in a garden if you take the time to look. Sometimes all it takes it patience, and the willingness to sit in a quiet corner for ten minutes, allow your eyes to relax into Wild Time and you'll find they pick out the small things that most of the time, you just don't notice.

Yesterday, movement that was different caught my eye in the goat willow beside the lake as the dusk was coming down. It was a baby Green Woodpecker, something I've never seen before. I sometimes feel once you've seen something once you become connected to it, because I saw him again this morning, on the owl tree, sitting quietly as if uncertain what to do next. There are also two baby GSWs who come into the garden. I had thought it was only one but they were there together yesterday. It's been a good spring for woodpeckers.

Hope you've all had a nice, peaceful, happy weekend,

CT.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Admitting Defeat




Unfortunately, the cold is getting worse rather than better, despite being Extremely Sensible and resting the past couple of days. There's no way I can run 13 miles tomorrow, so I've had to admit defeat on this one. Grrr.

CT.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Half Marathon Hopes Hanging In The Balance

Image result for half marathon cartoons
I had a bad night's sleep last night. Most nights, I sleep like a log. Last night I woke up every couple of hours because the back of my throat had turned to sandpaper.

I clung hopefully to the idea it was a hangover from the very dry athletics track we raced on last night during the mile of miles event. My friend and ace endurance runner Sue ran before me and came back gasping for water, explaining that from the first 100m her mouth has gone so dry she could hardly swallow. I had exactly the same experience and oddly it got worse after drinking water so that for an hour after finishing I was coughing and losing my voice. It was a warm evening and maybe the athletics track gives off excessively dry air, which, coupled with running fast makes your lungs work harder than normal.

Anyway, it was great fun, the atmosphere was brilliant with everyone roaring everyone else on. There were lots of our friends there from other running clubs so we had plenty of jokes about consorting with the enemy and what kinds of tactics might be employed to win (subtle but effective use of elbows were suggested by my friend Neil who was running the same time slot as me but for a different club. He is trying to get his Parkrun PB to under 25 mins before he reaches 70 and the clock is ticking on that one. He's great, such an inspiration). Elder Statesman Derek was handing over to me so we had a brief practice of how that would happen. Thank God there were no batons involved as I haven't done a relay since I was a kid and I was petrified I would drop it. We had to touch hands instead so it was fine. 

In the end, our A team ran a storming collective time (M clocking an awe-inspiring 5:26 minute mile) but couldn't reach the top three placed clubs. Our B team was brilliant too. I managed to clock a 7:06 minute mile time, which I was pleased with, and came second in the team behind Trev who beat me by 7 seconds. I think I could have sneaked in under 7 minutes but for the last minute panic that I'd miss-counted the laps and thought I had another one to go so slowed down, only to hear buddy Peat yell from the sidelines "run to the finish!".

Unfortunately, it isn't a dry throat that I've woken up with this morning. It is a Full On Sore Throat. Arghhhhh! And the half marathon's only a couple of days away! Arghhhh! Poor L keeps apologising, as it's probably the offspring of his cold, but it's not his fault- it's just life. There's not a lot you can do.

I haven't entirely given up hope of being able to run, it all depends on how I'm feeling. I'm resting up and stuffing myself with echinacea, cranberries, green vegetables and chicken soup. I'm not quite at the whiskey stage yet and sadly can't do honey or lemons as neither like me. The worst-case scenario is missing this one and finding another to run in the next couple of weeks. Luckily, it's half marathon season and there are plenty around, unluckily, there aren't all that many interesting trail marathons and I'd much rather do that than a road one. Maybe I'll at least start it so I can say I gave it a go, and crumble back to the start if my body gives up on me!  Oh well, it's part of the joy of running to occasionally have to alter plans when things go awry.

I will keep you posted :o)

CT.