Posted in nature

Too hot to handle

Last Friday was a scorcher. Anything above 22 degrees celsius and I start to wilt, so the 37 degrees endured that day was certainly too much for me. According to the Met Office the warmest temperature on Friday was 37.8°C, the third hottest day on record in the UK. I am fairly sure the top two hottest days on record were also recorded in recent years, which make me wonder about their impact on wildlife.

On Friday I tried to work in the shade as much as possible, while remaining hydrated (cooling techniques also used by mammals and birds). Like humans a few animals perspire to cool their bodies, namely primates and horses. These mammals also pant to keep cool (enabling cooler air to replace the expelled hotter air). Other mammals and birds use this method as well. In fact on extremely hot days I have often observed Magpies (Pica Pica) and Corvids walk around with their beaks open.

One of the Jackdaws (Corvus monedula) panting to cool down during the hottest part of the day last Friday.

In the past, I have even witnessed Magpies lie forwards on the ground wings spread out, allowing colder temperatures to reach a greater surface area. Having access to water, especially on hot days, is also important. Along with drinking the water, it allows them to have a dip; fluffing up wet feathers to enable a breeze to cool them down.

It is important to leave fresh drinking water out for hedgehogs (Erinaceinae) too. Of course hedgehogs also wonder about in the evenings and night time when it’s generally cooler.

Unfortunately last week some negative news about hedgehogs was reported; they have been added to the Vulnerable to Extinction Red List of British mammals produced by the Mammal society (please read the report on their website).

These snuffling garden helpers need our help, whatever the weather. For information on how to help them check out the websites below

Hedgehog street

The British Hedgehog Preservation Society.

Lastly, I went to check on the European gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) on the allotment at the weekend but there was no sign of it. Therefore I will assume it was a male moth and had flown away safely into the night.

Posted in Allotment, nature

Butterfly Numbers Flying High.

With Buddleia, Lavender and Verbena bonariensis in full bloom at the moment butterfly sightings have increased significantly.

Along with plenty of Peacocks (Aglais io), Red Admirals (Vanessa atalanta) and Large whites (Pieris brassicae), I noticed a few other butterflies last week.

The first was a Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus) visiting Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum × superbum),

but I also saw a Comma butterfly (Polygonia c-album) pollinating some Verbena bonariensis too.

Along with these butterflies, the European gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) reappeared, still under the Rhubarb patch on the allotment (see my ‘All you Need is Love and Nature.’ post from the 29th June 2020). However it was no longer a caterpillar but in the next stage of its life cycle, a pupa hanging from a Rhubarb leaf.

It can be in the Pupal stage for a fortnight so I will keep checking for its emergence as the adult moth, so I can hopefully see it take place. As I don’t exactly know when the Pupal stage began I’m not sure how soon it will occur. The male and female moths look very different so can be easily identified, plus the females don’t fly (see Butterfly Conservation); therefore if no moth is found then it was probably a male that has flown away.

The last insect that was noticeable last week was a Common red soldier beetle (Rhagonycha fulva).

It is always great to see these beetles as the are beneficial insects which predate aphids while their larvae eat
invertebrate pests, slugs and snails.

Posted in Allotment, nature

Spectacular Sighting

Last week began with me spotting a Grey heron (Ardea cinerea), presumably trying to catch fish while standing in the local river, as I walked passed to the first job of the day.

Yet the rest of the week remained fairly quiet until Friday morning arrived.

This is when I saw a Swallow tail (Ourapteryx sambucaria) moth.

As the moth ages it’s cream coloured wings lighten.

This one had been disturbed because they are night flying moths. The caterpillars overwinter in tree bark, and feed on Broadleaf trees such as Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) and Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) along with Ivy (Hedera helix).

Afterwards, at my allotment on Saturday I noticed a Parasitic wasp (Hymenoptera) on my Echinacea purpura PowWow wild berry, although I’m not sure which one.

There are 40 families of parasitic wasp in the UK and Ireland, from which 6,500 species have been recorded. I am pretty convinced that the one I saw wasn’t the Braconid Dinocampus coccinellae which causes the host, a dead Seven-spot ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata), to remain in situ over the wasp’s pupa cocoon as protection until it hatches. Nor does it appear to be Cotesia glomerata. This parasitic wasp lays it’s young in Large white (Pieris brassicae) caterpillars which dies as the young develops. Once they emerge they cocoon themselves beneath the caterpillar until they finally transform into adult wasps. I have Seven-spot ladybirds as well as Large white caterpillars at my plot but neither appear to be affected. Interestingly parasitic wasps can become hosts themselves. The parasitic wasps of parasitic wasps are called hyperparasoids.

However this wasn’t the highlight of my week. Also at the allotment on Saturday I finally got to see a Leaf-cutter bee. I was so excited to see this spectacular sighting but had to stay quiet and still while I attempted to capture a photo of it.

There are different Leaf-cutter bees in the UK but the one I saw was a Patchwork Leaf-cutter (Megachile centuncularis) bee. It was visiting my sweetpeas, collecting pollen and nectar for her young. The orange pollen brush underneath the abdomen clearly identifying it as a female of this species. The only thing left on my must see list, when it comes to Leaf-cutter bees, is to see one carrying a piece of leaf and also a nest. I do have a bee hotel on the allotment so here’s hoping.

Posted in nature

Song Finally Identified.

For several weeks I have heard lots of male Grasshoppers in the long grass next to my allotment plot. I have been hoping to see one so I can identify them. Finally last Saturday the opportunity arrived. Sitting on some carpet used as a weed suppressor, a Field Grasshopper (Chorthippus brunneus) was seen basking in the sun.

A Common Field Grasshopper (unsuccessfully) attempting to hide behind a stone.

At last I knew which grasshoppers were repeating that soft short chirruping ‘song’. The sound made as the hind legs are rubbed against their wings attracts females. With successful mating approximately 15 eggs are laid and remain in the soil until next year. The nymphs hatch from March onwards and after shedding their skins three or four times become adults in the subsequent summer. This common UK grasshopper feeds on grasses so they won’t go hungry living amongst the overgrown plot.

The other amazing thing I saw last week was another bee with spectacular coloured pollen baskets. A Common carder bee (Bombus pascuorum) with orange pollen baskets was visiting a Salvia flower.

After checking a pollen colour chart, the source of the pollen it had collected was most likely from Calendula officinalis which are in full bloom at the moment (especially on my allotment).

Given the vibrant petals of Calendula I am not surprised that it’s pollen is deep orange. My Calendula is growing next to Borage which has been blooming for a while too. Loved by bees, Borage nectaries refresh every few minutes and the pollen is greyish blue in colour. I look forward to seeing bees with their pollen baskets full of Borage pollen.
Posted in nature

New House Build. 🐝

Some fields along my journey to and from work contain a lovely combination of pink Rosebay Willowherb (Chamaenerion angustifolium), purple Buddleia and white Wild carrot (Daucus carota) flowers. Not only do they compliment one another visually but they are all loved by pollinators too. Yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) has started to bloom along the roadside as well.

One special moment occurred on the Monday. As I worked within a border I noticed a Buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) queen flying around a patch of grass. Eventually she began to settle and after a few more large sweeping flights began making a nest in the lawn.

It didn’t take her long to dig into the soil beneath the grass.

She will remain under ground until spring when she will start her own colony.

It was also great to finally get some photos of insects that have have alluded my photographic capture so far this year.

– The first is the Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta),

– Some Hoverflies, including a Hornet mimic (Volucella zonaria) hoverfly,

Hornet mimic Hoverfly pollinating Wisteria flowers that were still blooming.
Hoverfly pollinating Geranium flowers.

– as well as a Male False oil beetle (Oedemera nobilis), to compliment the female one seen on a walk earlier in the year.

A False oil beetle pollinating a Field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) flower.

The males are easily identified due to their large metallic thighs, explaining the reason behind the other common name for this insect the Swollen-thighed beetle.

Posted in nature

All You Need is Love and Nature

Last week love was definitely in the air as I saw numerous Dragonflies and a couple of Buff-tailed bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) mating. New generations were also evident as several young species of insects and an amphibian were noticeable during the week.

Firstly a European gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) caterpillar was discovered beneath some rhubarb that was being harvested.

Wind disperses these caterpillars when very young. So this one could have travelled several miles.

These caterpillars feed on Creeping Willow (Salix repens) and Bog-myrtle (Myrica gale) along with a few broadleaf trees and bushes. I guess this one could have been feeding on the Rhubarb; however as it was the only caterpillar and the rhubarb patch is very healthy, it was left. This moth was believed to be instinct in the UK during the early 20th century. However in recent years a few have established themselves in Jersey but also in areas of southern England.

I was happy to see the Seven-spot ladybirds on the allotment were happily munching their way through the white fly (Aleyrodidae) on the Calendula flowers. They have definitely grown in size.

Last Wednesday was the first time this year that I saw lots of Harlequin ladybirds (Harmonia axyridis), or more precisely their pupae as I cutback a Clematis in one garden. These ladybirds established themselves in the same garden last year so it wasn’t too surprising to rediscover them there.

Photo of this Harlequin ladybird pupae has been enlarged.

On the same day I also noticed a baby frog (Rana temporaria) hopping from a rejuvenated pond.

This photo is enlarged; It was smaller than my thumbnail so it was lucky I saw a small movement in the lawn.

I helped it escape the mower blades as my colleague cut the grass.

With the topsy turvy weather at the moment some days go by when I don’t see any pollinators; while other times they fill the air between visiting flowers. Along with bees and butterflies, lots of Hoverflies and day flying moths were about too.

I also saw Field Scabious
(Knautia arvensis) blooming along the verge as I walked towards my allotment.

This beautiful plant, loved by pollinators, flowers between July and October, so it isn’t that early.

Last week was uplifting, seeing nature continue to prosper. It fills me with hope for a wonderfully diverse world, something humans to reflect upon during these times.

Posted in nature

Allotment of Dreams

If I create a wildlife friendly allotment nature will come. My allotment is really filling up and blooming now even though I’ve only had it since February. Most of the plants are from seed, cuttings or rescued from other gardens. For the first year I plan to let the plants develop before harvesting properly.

We’ve had so much rain in recent days that I didn’t need to visit the allotment to water during the week. So last Saturday was the first time in seven days that I visited my plot to undertake major garden tasks. It was the summer solstice and the weather was glorious.

As I walked around to check how things were, I noticed a large number of wildlife; nature had come.

The first things I saw were two Small tortoiseshell Butterflies (Aglais urticae) pollinating the Thyme ‘Lemon curd’ (Thymus ‘Lemon curd’)

whilst Oedemera beetles were taking advantage of the Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) left on the grassy walkways.

Several Buff-tailed bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) busily flew between the flowers on a neighbouring allotment’s Hebe and flowers on my patch, including the Lacy Phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia)

as well as the Borage (Borago officinalis).

A Honey bee (Apis mellifera) also visited the Borage.

There was even a solitary bee buzzing about; an Ashy mining bee (Andrena cineraria) pollinating the Hebe.

Most likely this is the bee that was accidentally unearthed the previous weekend while getting rid of bindweed from around the potatoes (see photo below).

I had contacted the Bumblebee Conservation Trust to see if they could identify this silvery bee, if indeed it was a bee. Stephanie Miles answered my query explaining; ‘This is indeed a bee! It’s a male solitary bee of the genus Andrena. When these bees first hatch from the pupa they’re completely silver-haired, like this – over a day or so they dry out, lay down pigmentation, and the normal colour appears. Once the normal colour appears they can be identified to species level. You disturbed this one before it was quite ready to be seen in public!’ Therefore the Ashy mining bee seen on the Hebe seems a likely candidate.

Seven-spot ladybirds (Coccinella septempunctata) in different stages of development were resting on potato, Calendula (Calendula officinalis) and Borage foliage. There were newly formed adults along with the larvae.

A young Seven-spot ladybird before the recognisable red and black beetle develops fully.

Outside of my allotment wildflowers that are beginning to bloom included;

– Ladies bedstraw (Galium verum),

– Rosebay Willowherb (Chamaenerion angustifolium),

– Spear-leaved Willowherb (Epilobium lanceolatum),

– Creeping thistle (Cirsium arvense),

– Spear thistle (Cirsium vulgare),

– Hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium)

– and Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris).

Posted in nature

The Birds and the Bees

Two creatures were evident last week even though I didn’t actually see them.

Firstly Wrens (Troglodytes troglodytes) sung loudly in different areas, including near my home. It was a joy to hear them throughout the mornings.

These brown, diminutive birds with upturned tails, weigh about 7-10 grams; only Goldcrests (Regulus regulus)
are smaller. Wrens are rarely seen as their nests (made from moss and twigs) are positioned beneath shrubs or in rock crevices. Plus they mostly feed on insects and spiders and therefore remain hidden for a large amount of time. However they make their presence known due to their powerful song which can be heard at some distance. Their distinctive song contains a trill at the end, often discribed as sounding like a machine gun (see RSPB).

Secondly, on Thursday, I discovered that female Leaf-cutter bee(s) had visited one of the gardens I help look after. The evidence was semi-circular shapes cut around the edges of Broad-leaved enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana) leaves.

The Broad-leaved enchanter’s nightshade is part of the Willowherb family.

The bits of leaf will have been carried to a nest, chewed and mixed with saliva to form walls to create the cells if the bees nest. Commonly Bee hotels are used by these solitary bees with lots of cells within each piece of bamboo or hole. Each cell contains an egg and pollen so that the larvae has a food source when it hatches. Although they become adults in autumn, the newly formed bees hibernate during winter, emerging in spring when the new generation repeats the process.

The most common Leaf-cutter bee found in gardens is the Patchwork leaf-cutter bee (Megachile centuncularis); for more information see The Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

Common plant leaves used for this purpose by Leaf-cutter bees are those from Roses, Wisteria, honeysuckle, several tree species and Willowherbs. As at least one bee was clearly using these plants for it’s nest, patches of these wild flowers were left at the back of the borders and the client was informed. Thankfully they are a fellow bee lover and happy to allow them to remain. I feel it’s important to point out, that no lasting damage is done to the plants. Therefore if you find such holes cut in your roses, please don’t panic.

I have yet to see a Leaf cutter bee, especially one ‘surfing’ with a leaf. I would love to see one of these bees so I got incredibly excited to see this evidence. Unfortunately my search was in vain but I am one step closer.

Posted in nature

Further Easing into Summer

I am constantly amazed by the natural world. Last week I saw something that, as a gardener, I’m surprised I’ve never noticed before. A few White-tailed bumblebees (Bombus lucorum) flew to and from a nest in a wall, via the damp proofing brickwork, of an old house. What I wasn’t expecting to see were the blue pollen baskets.

I had never thought of pollen as anything other than varying shades of yellow. After researching this I found that different coloured pollen often shows up in nests and hives. Charts have been produced enabling beekeepers to identify which flowers their bees have visited by the colour and shade of the pollen found. The most likely candidates in this instance, given the time of year and dark blue shade, is Purple tansy (Phacelia tanacetifolia), see the North Shropshire Bee Keepers Association website.

Phacelia is loved by bees. These photos are from a neighbouring allotment plot.

As well as Phacelia other flowers currently blooming include;

– Hedge woundwort (Stachys sylvatica),

– Pineappleweed (Matricaria discoidea),

A close up view of Pineappleweed. When crushed, the flowers have a refreshing pineapple scent.

– Stinking iris also called Roast-beef plant (Iris foetidissima),

This plant has two colour variations. It thrives in shady areas.

– Scarlet pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) and

– Pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis)

This orchid is attractive to butterflies and moths.

Birds are particularly noticeable at this time of year as they feed youngsters and defend territories. Last week I was able to listen to Song thrush (Turdus philomelos), Chiff chaff (Phylloscopus collybita), Robin (Erithacus rubecula) Great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) and Swifts (Apus apus).  I saw the Swifts’ arial display as they soared and dived in the distance while I ate lunch last Wednesday. They were too high and quick for me to identify visually but their vocalisations gave them away. The Swifts’ call can be heard on the RSPB website.

Ladybirds continued to show up last week, but mostly the Seven-spot ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata).

Eventually, the weather turned and rain finally arrived by Friday. It has been much needed and continued throughout the weekend. It was fantastic to watch thunder and lightening from the comfort of my sofa on Saturday afternoon.

Posted in nature

Early Transition into Summer.

Last week began with Spring bank holiday monday. I went for a socially distant walk around the village with my partner. Thankfully he was very patient as I constantly stopped to take photos with my phone.

There were lots of sights and sounds to observe and it really felt like a summers day (which aren’t far off). Some I have noticed for a while like Orange-tip Butterflies (Anthocharis cardamines), Red-tailed bumblebees (Bombus lapidarius), Skylarks (Alauda arvensis), Red kites (Milvus milvus) and House sparrows (Passer domesticus).

Yet amongst the Elderflowers (Sambucus nigra) and Brambles (Rubus fruticosus), which are blooming at this time of year,

These flowers are great for making Elderflower cordial.
Looks like there will be lots of Blackberries this year.

were many more plants flowering too. The explosion of colour within our countryside is fantastic for pollinators. One insect I saw on Mondays walk, in a field busily pollinating Buttercups (Ranunculus), was the False oil beetle (Oedemera nobilis). This very small beetle is a vibrant metallic green colour. When it’s wings glistened in the sun, they changed from mid to light green.

Unfortunately this is the best photo I managed to get of this tiny beetle.

Upon my return to work, I noticed other insects flying about. Several small tortoiseshell Butterflies (Aglais urticae) were too quick for me to photograph, however I did capture Common carder bees (Bombus pascuorum) on Common comfrey (Symphytum officinale) and

a Cream Spot Ladybird (Calvia quattuordecimguttata)

Once again, another ladybird determined to get my attention by falling on my sunglasses while I wore them.

The Cream Spot ladybird has fourteen spots and survives winter in tree bark and Beech masts. Although it is usually found amongst hedgerows rather than gardens.

Wildflowers that were in full bloom last week were;

-Purple toadflax (Linaria purpurea),

-Field scabious (Knautia arvensis),

– Common stork’s-bill (Erodium cicutarium),

This plant is a good food source for Brown argus Butterfly (Aricia agestis) caterpillars, along with Meadow and Dove’s-foot Crane’s-bills (mentioned below). This butterfly is often found in southern chalk and limestone grassland but it can also inhabit places with disturbed soil like verges and coastal areas. In fact this plant was found on disturbed soil edging a field.

-Meadow crane’s-bill (Geranium pratense),

-Creeping cinquefoil (Potentilla reptans),

-Common poppy (Papaver rhoeas),

-Dove’s-foot Crane’s-bill (Geranium molle),

-Field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis),

-Common mallow (Malva sylvestris),

-Creeping woodsorrel (Oxalis corniculata),

-Birds-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) and

-White clover (Trifolium repens).

Found amongst lawns, this is a wonderful food source for the Common blue butterfly (Polyommatus icarus) and some bumblebees

Recent weather conditions have caused dryness within nature that normally exists during summertime. Water is already required and talk of conserving water has already begun to help prevent restrictions later in the year. I shall be interested to see how nature deals with this early warm dry weather, especially with less human disturbance due to lockdown. Will it be another great year for butterflies? I look forward to discovering more as we spring into summer.