Saturday, 30 May 2015

Of Badgers, Blackbirds, Longhorn Moths & Listening To Gardens

I got attacked by a blackbird this week. It's the first time that has ever happened. The Blackbird Children I showed you in the last post all fledged Thursday morning apart from one who got himself stuck inside a roll of wire beside the nest. I managed to get him out and return him to the side of the nest, but not without him yelling at the top of his voice that he was being Foully Murdered and his Pa duly arriving with clawed feet and sharp beak to see off his attacker. I still have the bruises. That's baby bird rescue #3. Will it be the last?

The Green Finches are back, which is a Welcome Sight. I've actually only seen the male so am hoping his wife is egging somewhere nearby.

I went Badger Watching on Wednesday night. 

Dave, Cat and I sat on a fallen tree in a wood below the sett an hour before dusk, while Ryan took up position on the escarpment above it. The night gathered slowly around us and the day-time sounds receded as the night-time ones took over. 

Two Tawnies, one male (who, who-who-who-whoooo) and a female (keewick, keewick) were calling in the branches above our heads. Dave joked that they were looking for their lost child :o)

We didn't see any badgers, despite three hours of sitting in more or less silence listening to the sounds of the wood, but the experience held its own magic nevertheless. We're trying again at a different location in a fortnight, when we'll also keep an eye out for glow worms as June is Glow Worm Time here.

We did see a herd of Inquisitive Fallow......

And more magical still, TWO hares appeared out on the Chalk. Blurry shots as they were quite some distance away. It seems to be my Year For Hares (I am not complaining)....

I have been working with the garden a lot over the past few days, sorting out and cutting back, re-potting and planting out. I spend a lot of time listening to the land when I garden. Over the last few years we have been working to change what was a neglected, dark, unloved, damp, tangled place into an open, clean, fresh, much-loved, much-enjoyed, healthy space where wildlife is welcome, encouraged and wants to set up home. 

Yesterday I brought 5 new plants home to add to the Garden Family: salvia, nepeta, 2 aqualegia and a lithodora, as well as some seeds. All of these are good for the bees and other pollinators. I knew exactly where I was going to put them, but when I went to plant them I suddenly knew the positions I had in mind were All Wrong. These plants needed to go in the back border, a new area created a couple of years ago which is still very much evolving and has rather turned itself away from a place to plant annuals (which is where I started off with it) into a space for perennials (which is clearly what the garden wants it to be).  

One by one, the few shrubs we put in there have found their way to a different area of the garden, one newly created at the end of last summer after a comment Ma made. It was overgrown, dark and gloomy and it pulled the rest of the garden into it. Ma said: why don't you cut it all down? It was like someone switching on a light. So we cleared almost everything away including getting a stump grinder to remove the bamboo. The only plant we saved was a camellia who had stopped flowering altogether she was so sad and smothered by other things. This Spring she was festooned with blooms, bless her. Now that whole side of the garden feels opened up, lifted and lit and it's balanced everything else. It feels like it's made of light and is breathing properly. That corner is where all the Spring Colour happens and the shrubs from the new border are slowly but steadily making their way to it. Gardens must get very frustrated with people's slowness to work things out :o)

I always buy plants/ sow seeds with the wildlife in mind, so it was Very Gratifying Indeed yesterday to see Common Carder Bees finding the Salvia while I was still planting it out :o) They are also enjoying the Snap Dragons I grew from seed a couple of years back. I love the way they get right inside the bloom itself and emerge absolutely covered in pollen....

I love the way he's using his legs to scrape excess pollen off his wings in the shot above :o)

I noticed this tree with the most beautiful lilac blossom when I was driving the other day.

I was very struck by it and have been trying (without success) to find out what it was. Then unexpectedly I came upon it again yesterday growing on an estate I'm doing some pollinator work for. Because they grow all sorts there many of the trees have labels, so I was finally able to work out what it was. A Judas Tree (Cercis siliquastrum). Legend says it was the tree that Judas hanged himself from, but it is also possible that its name is a corruption of Judean as the tree was once common in the Judean Hills. Its other name is Love Tree, which I much prefer.

Listening to and working closely with the garden means it sometimes gives you rewards of glimpses of very small things you would otherwise not notice. While gently tying back some of the more rampant ox-eye daisies so M could dig out an ornamental cherry who had declared his intention of being replanted over in Spring Corner, this tiny Longhorn Moth appeared out of the flowers. It's called Nematopogon swammerdamella  and its antennae are 2.5 times the length of the forewing, which is itself only 8-11mm. Aren't they amazing? These little moths are common all around the UK.

I'll leave you with a shot of some material I'm making into summer trousers because I can't find linen ones anywhere...(cue L: you're not going to wear those outside the house or anywhere near me if you do, are you?')...

And a Funny Conversation we overheard this morning between Ted and Poppy, who's bedroom is directly below ours, We were uncharacteristically late getting up so Poppy was desperate for a wee. She told Ted she was going to go on the kitchen floor because no-one would believe it was her and he would get the blame. She is Very Naughty as you know, so it was no surprise to hear her also tell him she would make certain of this by weeing his name on the floor. Only she can't spell very well so she asked Teddy how to spell his name, to which he replied: 'It's P-O-P-P-Y'.... :o)

Wishing you all a Lovely Weekend,

CT :o)

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Beautiful Butterflies, Magnificent Moths, Interesting Insects, Bonny Baby Birds & How Bop Is Doing

I'll give you the Bop Update first- he is well. Phew. Eating mice like there's no tomorrow apparently. When Jill answered the phone yesterday I was greeted with a loud Rasping Raptor Screech in the background, which is the unearthly sound Tawny's use to communicate when they aren't whoo, whoo, whooing. We're off to see him next week and I promise to take the camera so you can all see him too :o)

In the meantime, the sun has come out here so I've been exploring the garden, camera in hand, looking for Small People.

The Great Tits who are nesting in Sparrow Terrace have two children. One is sensible, the other is an escape artist who clearly feels his time to fledge has come....

Yes, I can see you

And you can see me!

Oh Dear, this isn't going to End Well....

Hmm, well, I suppose you did reach the ground in one piece, but you couldn't exactly call it flying, could you?

You really are Very Small, aren't you?

He is not big enough to be off the nest because, despite what he thinks, he can't actually fly yet. I climbed a ladder up to the bird box (what a hazardous experience that was, one hand on the ladder and the other holding on to a fidgety small while M kept a foot on the bottom of the ladder to prevent Alarming Ladder Wobble occurring) and posted him back through the hole, only to watch him pop his head out a minute or two later, launch himself out of the hole, fall onto the kitchen roof, bounce off and plop on to the path below, which is where I found him the first time. Hopeless. I shooed the dogs away, closed the gate into the garden and left him to it.

Here is mum who I hope found him under the hedge were I last saw him scampering about. She's distinctive because of the black splodge on her face and has been working so hard feeding them both.

We also have a nest of at least four baby blackbirds. They are Growing Up Fast. Here they are four days ago...

and here they are this morning, now resembling recognisable blackbirds rather than little old men with wispy top-knots...

The Starlings brought their Elegant Child to show me and also to enjoy the coconut halves...

Insect-wise, things are waking up in time for the Garden Bioblitz this weekend. I'm encouraging you all to do it if you've got time. I've found a few things I didn't see last year already, including several solitary bees, a digging wasp and some tiny weeny moths that are so small it's easy to overlook them, so let's hope it's good weather this weekend and they all show up to be recorded....

Micropterix aruncella

thick-thighed flower beetle (male) Odemera nobilis

Female thick-thighed flower beetle

Solitary bee Colletes species
Digger wasp

Green shield bug (nymph)

Leucozona lucorum
Solitary bee collecting pollen
Hoverfly Sphaerophoria scripta

Wasp beetle Clytus arietis (a wasp-mimic longhorn beetle)
Nemaphora degeerella (a longhorn moth)
Common Blue Damsels mating

Common Blue Damselfly
And this is a very rare creature, a banjo playing frog whom I observed up by the pond among the buttercups. Apparently, this is their favoured habitat but there aren't many of them around so they're BAP listed as Red Endangered...

You may remember that M bought me some wildflower turf for my birthday. It is growing really well and gets all kinds of insect visitors from bees to beetles to damselflies. If you've got room, I highly recommend it. There are lots of different sizes and mixes available, we went for the wildflower one.

Here is what the patch looked like in April. We'd divided it into four sections, from right to left as you look at the pic they are: wildflower seeds, grass seed, wildflower turf and soil patch for annuals (although an enormous mass of Red Campion popped up there this spring!).

 Here it is now..

Here's the turf when first laid a few weeks ago..

And here it is now...

I think I showed you the Orange Tip eggs on the Lady's Smock? It's the small sticky-outy orange capsule-like thing in the "V" shape of the two green stalks...

Well, here is the caterpillar who has emerged in the last few days...

It is fascinating watching his behaviour- during the day he barely moves and he never goes far from his egg site at the moment anyway (many caterpillars are nocturnal, keeping safe from day time predators such as birds). He currently measures 3mm long. Given that they reach 31mm before pupating you can see how much eating he's got to do! I'm photographing him everyday to record his growth.

I also finally saw a Broad Bodied Chaser Dragonfly in the garden today. I've seen four empty nymph cases (exuvia) around the pond over the last 2-3 weeks, but apart from a brief glimpse of one who was sunbathing on my jeans on the washing line at the weekend, the dragons themselves have eluded me. Lovely, isn't he, and worth the wait.

Moth visitors to the garden are slowly improving too, with several new species turning up over the last week. Highlights include FOUR Poplar Hawks yesterday, one of whom has laid eggs on the cardboard egg boxes so I shall be raising those if they hatch.

White Ermines have also arrived...

As has the Peppered Moth...

Cinnabar moths have also returned. They are toxic to birds- the caterpillars feed on ragwort, ingest the plant's poisons and store them in their bodies. The red and black colours of the moth and the yellow and black of the pillar are known as aposematic coloration which warns predators of the danger.

Clouded Borders are also around, very delicate little moths that look more like butterflies, except for the lack of a club on the end of the antennae...

And this delicate little moth is called a Little Thorn. I've never seen one with wings open before as they almost always rest with them closed...

An Old Favourite, the Muslin..

And another Old Favourite, The Spectacle (you'll see why in the second pic down)...

The elegant Swallow Prominent...

Although I think it has been a slow spring moth-wise, I'm up to 60 species for the garden, which isn't too bad. Last year I recorded 311 confirmed IDs during the year so it'll be interesting to see whether we match it. There are some species (most notably the Green Silver Lines which is a very beautiful moth) that I saw in 2013 and haven't seen since which I would dearly love to see again, so fingers crossed for those.

I popped over to college earlier to do my transect, grabbing the sunny weather while I can. There aren't many flutters out at the moment- it's been too cold, sunless and windy for them, but I was lucky and the sun came out and the wind dropped while I was there, so I have some lovely Blue People to show you and one Green Person :o)

Common Blue male

Common Blue Male

Common Blue Male

Common Blue Male (see the under wing spots showing through?)

Common Blue Male

Common Blue Male

Green Hairstreak

Green Hairstreak

Kidney Vetch - the reason we have the rare Small Blue on site

Small Blue with a liberal dusting of blue scales
I found two Small Blues mating- and then a third one turned up and tried to get in on the action!

Small Blues x3

Small Blues mating

Thanks for bearing with all the pics and that rather long post! It's a busy time of year for insects :o)

I'll leave you with some Calendula from the garden and a small bunch of home-grown blooms I picked, and wish you all a pleasant evening. I am spending mine in the woods with a couple of friends beside a badger sett hoping to see some Brocks in the Wild :o)

I'll let you know how we get on....

Happy Days.

CT :o)