The Darling Bugs Of May

Apologies for the title, couldn’t resist a bad pun! After the quiet winter and early spring months, all the insects are suddenly emerging in May. It feels like our garden is gearing itself up again ready for the 30 Days Wild in June. Everywhere I look there is something buzzing (everywhere except the bee hotel I’ve put up which is of course silent!)

May wouldn’t be May with out the arrival of the May Bugs in the moth trap. These huge beetles can apparently be a pest for farmers, but I love seeing them. They are fascinating animals and I can still remember my amazement the first time I found one in the moth trap a few years ago. (Chris wasn’t so excited when I woke him up to show him my find!)

One of the areas particularly buzzing at the moment is a patch of poached egg flowers that I’d sown last year. I’d forgotten about them, but they all popped back again this year and look fantastic. I’d grown them originally as I’d read they were good for hoverflies – not sure about that but the bees love them!

Most of the bees are plain old honey bees (very welcome all the same of course).

There were also a few of these very small furrow bees Lasioglossum sp. It’s virtually impossible to get this one to species level without killing and examining it, which I’m not prepared to do, so it will have to remain a sp.

This next bee is one of the yellow faced bees – Hylaeus sp. Unfortunately since I didn’t manage to get a shot of its face, I also can’t identify this one to species. But since I’ve not recorded any other Hylaeus, I’ve counted this as bee species number 30 for the garden!

This next one did get identified to species (not by me but by a kind soul on facebook) as Osmia caerulescens – the Blue Mason Bee. This was also a new species for the garden, making 31 in total now over the last 2 years!

The bees weren’t the only ones enjoying a poached egg. This beetle (some kind of click beetle I think) spent a long time perusing the flowers.

This Hairy Shieldbug didn’t move much, just seemed to be using the flowers as a vantage point to survey the garden!

And of course my favourite – the Swollen Thighed Beetle had to get in on the act, displaying his fat thighs nicely.

The poached egg plants weren’t favoured by all the bees; some preferred other flowers like this Early Bumblebee on the alliums

and this Common Carder bee on a campion.

Somewhat inevitably the new bee hotel that I put up in the spring has been virtually ignored by all the bees. But at least it provided a resting place for this shieldbug.

The hoverflies were supposed to be interested in the poached egg flowers, but like most things in the garden, they never do what I expect! This little marmalade hoverfly preferred this small yellow flower to the slightly brash poached eggs.

This large fat bumblebee-mimicking hoverfly (Merodon equestris) preferred just to perch on the leg of the bird table. Even when I had to move the bird table to a different part of the garden, the hoverfly followed it over – no idea why?

After a very quiet spring moth-wise, May has finally brought an increase in their numbers to the moth trap. The moths of winter and early spring are generally fairly subdued looking, so it’s always nice when some of the more interesting species start emerging. I love this Pale Tussock with its lovely furry legs.

The Buff Tip is a regular visitor to our garden – it has the amazing ability to look just like a broken twig.

The hawkmoths are the biggest of our native species. Over the years we’ve had Elephants, Small Elephants, Eyed and Poplar Hawk-moths but never a Lime one. So I was thrilled when not one but two turned up last night!

With more moths emerging, more of their foes have emerged too. This beautiful but deadly (if you’re a moth of the wrong species) wasp Ichneumon stramentor parasitizes moth caterpillars.

As well as all of the above, there have been plenty of beetles, flies, caddis flies, daddy longlegs and other insects buzzing around this May, I just haven’t managed to take any photos of those. Something for another blog post maybe. But finally one of my favourite images from the month, a ladybird, even if it is a Harlequin rather than one of our native ones.

The Duke of Prestbury Hill

Flushed with the success of finding the Grizzled Skipper the previous weekend, we headed out again on Sunday in search of our next target butterfly – the grandly named Duke Of Burgundy. The nearest place we could find with a colony of Dukes was Prestbury Hill near Cheltenham – a fantastic site that we’d already visited at other times of the year.

Prestbury Hill reserve consists of 2 areas joined by a section of the Cotswold Way. We started off at the top of Masts Field which has amazing views out over Cheltenham and for miles around. It also has a convenient bench near the top for lunch. While we were sitting there, a pair of kestrels were hovering almost at eye level in front of us. Although they were more or less stationary in the air, they were still really difficult to get decent shots of, even though the one seemed to be staring right back at us.

We spotted our first Duke almost immediately as we entered the field – it’s not often we get so lucky. Considering it is one of Britain’s most threatened butterflies, it seemed almost too easy! It’s quite a small butterfly, looking like a miniature fritillary.  In fact it used to be called Mr Vernon’s Small Fritillary – I’ve no idea who Mr Vernon was, nor why it is now named after a duke! (if anyone knows I’d love to find out?)

His Grace (I’ve googled the proper term for addressing a duke!) is small but perfectly formed, with lovely stripy antennae and pretty orange and brown/black patterned wings.

The males are territorial and like to display themselves on prominent leaves or grasses. The Duke of Burgundy is really unusual in that the female has 6 legs, but the male only has 4.  So I reckon the one in the photo below must be a male – showing off!

Although we saw quite a few Dukes on the day, I didn’t know at the time about counting the legs, so don’t know if any of our Dukes were actually Duchesses!

The other butterfly we’d hoped to see at Prestbury on this visit was the Small Blue. I had glimpsed one once before, so it wasn’t a new one for the list, but we wanted to get a proper look. Again we were lucky and there were plenty of Small Blues around. They really are what it says on the tin – small and blue! They are Britain’s smallest species of butterfly and are absolutely tiny. Once we got our eye in though, we found loads at Prestbury. They’ve got a beautiful dusting of pale blue scales on the upperside of the wings, while the underside is almost all blue with a few black spots.

We even found a few pairs mating (so unlike the Dukes we can at least be sure we were seeing males and females!) The only trouble with them being so small and so shiny blue on the underside is that it makes it really difficult to photograph them – especially with the inevitable bits of grass blowing across the shot!

Prestbury is great for butterflies of lots of species so it was really nice to spot this Brown Argus and a lot of Dingy Skippers. I do feel sorry for the Dingy Skippers with their lowly sounding name next to the Duke of Burgundy!

I also couldn’t resist taking photos of one of  my favourite moths – the Mother Shipton. I do at least know the origins of this name – the moth is named after a 16th century Yorkshire witch because its marking are supposed to resemble her with an eye and hooked nose and chin!

And finally Spring was clearly in the air for these beetles. I’ve no idea what they are, but they looked so shiny and green against the yellow buttercup, I just couldn’t resist.

 

 

Jubilee Bells

Every May I look forward to the bluebells appearing along Jubilee Drive in Malvern. Actually I start looking forward to them in April and find myself doing drive-bys on the off-chance that they’ve arrived early and the fear that I might miss them. Waiting for the bluebells is like waiting for the first strawberries in the garden or the first Orange Tip butterflies in the hedgerows. They’re all such pure pleasures, nothing showy, no monetary value, no prizes. And none of them ever disappoint, they all just make me happy! So please excuse me gushing over them, they are just so damned lovely.

They have been pretty much at their best over the last few weeks, so my drive-bys have turned to desperate hunts for parking spaces, as I make my now annual attempt to get decent photos of them. They grow in great swathes along Jubilee Drive and you’d think it would be easy to take photos, but somehow the pics never seem to do them justice. I can never seem to capture their full glory. I guess like so many things in nature they are best just witnessed for yourself. I usually give up after a while and just stare at them, enjoying the spectacle and the smell of thousands upon thousands of bluebells.

Inevitably I take hundreds of photos, most of which are rubbish, but here are a selection of some of the slightly better ones. There’s not a lot else I can say, other than if you get the chance to go and see bluebells where you live, then make the most of them before they disappear for another year.

A Grizzly Day Out

Yesterday we went out on our first butterfly bagging expedition of the year – our target the Grizzled Skipper. Using the excellent        Butterflies of the West Midlands book as our guide we headed down to the Doward in South Herefordshire. The woodlands of the Doward are part of an Area of Outstanding Beauty – always a good starting point for any day out!

The butterfly guide book had described the best route to take to see the Grizzled Skippers, start at the main entrance to the White Rocks Nature Reserve. In our usual disorganised way we managed to head off in completely the wrong direction and somehow started at the other entrance. This was no great disaster though as it took us into the woodland which was carpeted with wild garlic (you could smell it in the air) and looked stunning.

Our accidental route also meant that we stumbled across King Arthur’s Cave. The Doward lies on limestone rocks and the cave goes deep inside them (not that we ventured very far ourselves). It has apparently been used by humans since Palaeolithic times, with everything from flint tools to mammoth bones having been found in there.

We carried on our erroneous path and came to a stunning view point looking over the River Wye.

By this time we’d twigged that we were on the wrong path, so tried heading back up hill, stumbling upon a large quarry as we did. It was baking hot in the quarry, so I stayed at the edge while Chris (who had been sensible enough to take a hat to keep the sun off his head) ventured in to look around. While I loitered by the gate, I spotted what I thought was a small moth darting about.  Closer inspection revealed it was actually a Grizzled Skipper – we’d found one by shear chance after all! I’d never realised that they would be so small, or so fast – it could disappear very quickly.

Out first ever Grizzled Skipper wasn’t unfortunately a pristine specimen, looking a bit ragged at the edges, but it was what we came looking for, so I took loads of pictures.

He or she looks a bit more respectable from the side as you can’t see the missing bits of wing.

Flushed with success (and the heat of the quarry) we decided to head back to the car and start again on the proper route. Not too surprisingly on the proper route it was a lot easier to spot the skippers. We quickly found about half a dozen flitting around a sparse area of ground. They were so quick though it was difficult to track them – I think all 3 photos below were of the same slightly slower specimen.

It is still relatively early in the “butterfly season”, but we did spot a few other species around the bluebells – a female orange tip and a large white.

The Grizzled Skipper is a delightful little butterfly, but it unfortunately becoming increasingly rare.  There are not many sites around us where we could have seen them, so we were very lucky to be able to add this species to our butterfly tally. Species number 39, only 20 more to go, but I have the feeling they are going to become increasingly difficult to find!

Hedgehog Awareness Week

Today marks the start of Hedgehog Awareness Week – an annual event focussed on all things hoggy, organised by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. I’ve been saving up hedgehog related news for a few weeks now, in readiness for Awareness Week and I’ve got a surprising amount to report!

The big news for me personally was that I handed my notice in at my previous job and had planned to have a bit of time off. That was until I spotted an admin job going at the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) – it was just too tempting to resist.  I applied and am absolutely thrilled to say I got the job! It’s only 2 days a week which is absolutely perfect for me as it gives me plenty of time to be not weeding the garden! So here is my new place of work:

The next big piece of news is that Meadow our foster hedgehog has now been released into the Too Lazy To Weed garden. I took him back to be checked over by Viv at Malvern Hedgehog Rescue before we released him. This is him in the cat basket on the way there.

Viv checked his weight (he’d actually put on a lot of weight as apparently the catfood he’d been on for the last few weeks was a bit rich for him – I’ll know better next time) and then gave the go ahead for him to be released into our garden. He’d been with us since January and in a way I was sorry to see him go, although obviously it was the right thing to do. We waited until dusk, then put the cat basket out under the apple tree where there was plenty of cover for him and just let him come out whenever he was ready. (I was tempted to have the Born Free theme tune playing the background but resisted) This is him emerging from the cat box and taking his first steps in our garden.

Meadow release

I left the trail cam out for the next couple of nights and sure enough he appeared, making a beeline for the food I’d put out. I’m fairly sure it’s him in these next 2 clips as it’s a pretty big hedgehog so I reckon that’s our boy!

Meadow the Hedgehog
Meadow the Hedgehog

Assuming it is him, he seems to be doing well and has obviously found somewhere safe to rest during the day and knows where I put food and water out each night. Live long and prosper Meadow!

I’d been putting the trail camera out in the hope of getting hoggy videos for a few weeks before Meadow’s release. Most of the footage was of course taken in the dark, but I got this one short film of a hedgehog in the very early hours of the morning in daylight (I think the camera’s clock was out by an hour or two though as it wasn’t this light at 04:30am). Hopefully he or she was just getting a last minute snack before hiding away for the day somewhere.

04150013

It’s never easy to distinguish the hedgehogs in the garden (apart from Meadow’s currently distinctive chubby form), so it’s difficult to know how many we get. But a lot of trail cam footage shows a pair of hogs, so we know we’ve got at least 2 (3 now with Meadow).

The first time two appeared together it looked like a fight! Don’t know if it was a territorial dispute between 2 males or an overly aggressive male and female, but the one managed to shove the other half way across the lawn.

hedgehog territorial

The following night though there were 2 hogs again. Not so aggressive this time, although the one did seem to be seriously annoying the other. They circled round like this for well over an hour – was it perhaps the start of mating, with the female playing hard to get initially. Have to admire his persistence if it was courtship, although he did seem to get distracted by the food bowl quite often!

Hedgehog circling

A few days after seeing the possible amorous antics on the trail cam, we spotted several areas of grass, flattened and twisted around – presumably the result of all the circling behaviour. You’ve heard of crop circles, we’ve got hedgehog circles!

So that’s all the news from our garden. If anyone wants to do something extra to support hedgehogs during Awareness Week, there are lots of things that can be done.

To support or encourage hedgehogs into your own garden, you can put out food (never bread or milk) and water. If you have a pond, make sure you install a ramp or some other means for hedgehogs to get out if they fall in. Make sure there are gaps in fences/walls so hedgehogs can come and go between gardens – they roam quite a bit during the night so ideally need a large network of gardens. Be super careful when mowing, particularly with strimmers which can inflict terrible injuries on hedgehogs.

If you don’t have a garden or at least don’t get hedgehogs in it, there are still lots of other ways of supporting them. You could join BHPS – your subscription will help support their work. Or you could simply Text HHOG17 to 70070 to donate £5 to the charity.

There are also hundreds of hedgehog volunteer carers around the country – you could do something to help your local one. Donations of cash or food or other general supplies are always welcome. Our local one is Malvern Hedgehog Rescue and Viv there does amazing work caring for up to 100 rescue hogs at a time. Her website has loads of useful information: http://www.malvernhedgehogrescue.co.uk/

Another great example is Little Silver Hedgehog run by Emma. Not only does she rescue & rehabilitate lots of hedgehogs, her blog https://littlesilverhedgehog.wordpress.com/ is full of useful hoggy advice. In addition she makes beautiful silver jewellery that she sells to raise funds for the hedgehogs – I treated myself to this cute pendant to celebrate getting the job with BHPS.

And finally you could always just tweet or post a message on Facebook (or go old school and talk to people) showing your support for these lovely animals – they need all the help they can get.

Bags of Bees and Blossom

I’ve not managed to blog anything in the last few weeks, but it’s not been for lack of things going on in the garden. Almost the opposite in fact – spring is here and so much wildlife in our garden is stirring, that I can hardly keep up with it!

The apple tree has been in full blossom the last few weeks. 2017 seems to be one of those years where the whole tree turns pinky white with flowers. Comparing this year’s photo (top) with 2016 (below), there is a huge difference in the amount of blossom. It is also in full flower a lot earlier – this year it peaked mid April, last year what little there was peaked in early May. Due to the mild winter or just a natural cycle?

With an apple tree full of blossom, you would of course expect a load of bees. What I hadn’t expected was this Girdle Snail sitting pretty in the middle of it all!

Apart from the stray molluscs though there were indeed plenty of bees. Honey bees were probably the most common. We get lots in the garden, I’d love to know if someone is keeping bees nearby (feel they owe us a pot of honey if they are!)

There have also been plenty of these small Red Mason Bees (Osmia bicornis)

and these slightly larger Buff-tailed Bumblebees (Bombus terrestris)

I usually only see these Ashy Mining Bees (Andrena cineraria) flying low around the grass, so it was nice to catch one up in the tree. I’ve got a soft spot for this species – probably because it’s one of only two Andrena species I can identify at a glance with its distinctive black and white colouration.

The other Andrena species I know easily is this female Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva). The females have this amazing bright red bushy appearance. I thought we had them in the garden last year, but never managed a photo to confirm. This year I finally snapped one, which made it the 27th confirmed bee species for the garden (actually now at 28, but more on that in another blog post).

As well as the above, I’ve also spotted Hairy Footed Flower Bees, Red-tailed Bumblebees and at least one other Andrena species making the most of the blossom. The final one that I actually managed to get a (bad) photo of was this Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum). These relative newcomers to the UK are one of our most frequent and distinctive bumblebees in the garden.

The Tree Bumblebees have also turned up in a most unlikely place this last week. Our next door neighbour was clearing out his garage when he moved a bag of waste fluff from the tumble dryer. Much to his surprise the bag was full of bees! A colony of Tree Bumblebees had decided that a bag of tumble dryer fluff was the perfect place to nest and they weren’t happy at being moved. I offered to take the fluffy bag of bees, but with hindsight I should maybe have thought it through first. I put the bag under a lean-to cover we’ve got, where we sit out if it’s raining.  Unfortunately this is probably where it’s going to have to stay. I can’t leave it out in the open, as the fluff will probably set like cement if it gets wet and I don’t want to entomb the bees in their nest. I also daren’t move it again as it might crush the nest. So we’ll have to share the lean-to with a bag of bees for the summer.

I then spent about an hour yesterday lying flat on the floor trying to get photos of the bees coming and going from the bag. As it happens they seem to be accessing the nest right next to a small smiley face sticker that’s somehow ended up in there amongst the fluff. It makes me smile every time I look at these photos!

Tree bumblebees
Tree bumblebees

The Tree Bumblebees aren’t the only ones to have been popping up in unexpected places. The new nest box that we put up back in January has unfortunately not attracted any nesting birds yet. But I was surprised to spot this large bumblebee bouncing about inside it a few weeks ago. I’d have settled for a bee nest in the absence of a birdy one, but after a few minutes clumsily wandering around, it buzzed off.

Bee in box

So it’s only April and we already have, quite literally, bags of bees in the garden!

Out and About – Grimley Brick and Gravel Pits

The weekend brought some gloriously sunny weather – forget spring, it felt like we had skipped ahead to summer. So we ventured forth, if not very far, to Grimley which is just north of Worcester. Grimley has several old flooded gravel extraction pits, which now form important wildfowl sites for the county. There are 2 main areas – each situated conveniently next to a pub!

The first pit we went to was off Wagon Wheel Lane. The Worcester Birding twitter feed had been full of news that an American wigeon had been spotted amongst our British wigeons. Having never seen a wigeon of any nationality, we hoped to see some. Having said that, it would probably have helped if we’d googled what a wigeon looked like before we set off! All we really knew was that they were ducks, so we snapped photos of anything vaguely duck like.  Fortunately when we got back and studied the photos, it turned out we had seen some of the British ones, although no sign of the elusive American. As with so many birds the male (top) is flashier looking than the relatively plain female (below).

Of course while chasing anything duck like, we inevitably got pics of a few other species. This lucky female Northern Shoveller was accompanied by at least 5 males.

Tufted ducks were bobbing about everywhere. I love the clean lines of the black and white plumage and the bright golden eye of the males.

Another species that was new to us was the Common Teal. We didn’t manage to get very close and from a distance we thought initially these were just mallards, until we spotted the creamy yellow rump. From our distant viewpoint it hadn’t been possible to make out the beautiful red and green plumage on the head, but thanks to the power of the zoom on the computer we could appreciate it back home.

Possibly the stars of the show for us on this trip were the exotic looking Great Crested Grebes – birds that we’d only ever seen on Springwatch before.  We got a fairly close up view of this one, although as with most birds it hid behind twigs to avoid decent photos.

There was a pair though doing what looked like a courtship display on the far side of the lake. They bobbed up and down facing each other. If they’d been a bit closer I’d have tried videoing it, but they were just too far away for that.

Love seemed to be in the air for a pair of swans too. One was already on the lake when another one landed further away. The first one spotted it and hurtled across the water – I thought at first it was an aggressive or territorial thing, but then they started entwining their necks around each other, so I guess they had other things in mind!

After a short pit stop at the Camp House Inn, we headed to the other set of pits nearby. First sight was this heron – I’d never studied one before and hadn’t realised just how large they were. We tried creeping closer to get a better shot, but as we were going across an open field, he spotted us straight away and flew off when he considered we were too close for comfort.

These lakes were clearly popular with a group of cormorants that were perched on fence posts in the middle and in trees. I still find it hard to get my head round seeing what I think of as sea birds this far in land!

As we headed back to the car we spotted some smaller birds. The first is definitely a reed bunting (which proves we are learning something as we didn’t know this before we went to Upton Warren a few weeks ago).

The second is either a chiffchaff or a willow warbler – you can apparently only differentiate them confidently by their song. We weren’t paying attention to the song, but having listened to both of them on the RSPB website, the chiffchaff song seems the more familiar, so this is maybe what we heard. Either way it was a very cute, tiny little bird that bobbed up and down wagging its tail a bit like a wagtail does.

As always while Chris concentrated on the birds, I kept getting side tracked by the insects. There were quite a few large bumblebees buzzing around and the pussy willow was provided much needed sustenance to several, like this Red Tailed Bumblebee.

While trying to get a decent photo of a buff tailed bumblebee, I spotted (no pun intended) this pair of 24 spot ladybirds. They were very small and the grass they were on was waving around in the breeze, hence the less than perfect photo. They were slightly less shiny than other ladybirds and look as if they have a fine covering of downy hairs, which would make them the 24 spot ones  – a new one for me.

When I was looking at the red ladybirds above, I hadn’t noticed at the time that there was a pile of creamy coloured ones right next to them. Again they are not perfectly in focus, as I obviously wasn’t focussing on them as I didn’t know they were there! These ones turned out to be 16 spot ladybirds – another new species.

And finally, because I can never resist a comedy photo – here is the very rare 4 winged duck and a rather splendid pair of owls on top of the Wagon Wheel Inn’s thatched roof.

Hedgehog Housekeeping

Just a short post today with an update on our foster hedgehog Meadow. We’ve had him now since early January and I’m very relieved that’s he survived the winter with us! We’ve been weighing him every fortnight and although he’s lost a bit of weight, he is still a very healthy 800g or so – plenty heavy enough to see him through to the spring hopefully.

Since we last weighed him he has become increasingly active and has presumably decided he’s had enough of hibernation. For the first 2 months our care duties had consisted mainly of checking each day that he had fresh water and food, but while he was asleep, there was little else to do.

Now he is an eating and pooping machine! His food bowl is at best empty every morning and at worst he’s pooped in it! The water bowl is regularly slopped about soaking the newspapers and he has generally managed to poop in every corner of the hutch! So every day he needs fresh food, water and newspapers and a general clean of the hutch. We never see him though (apart from when we take him out to weigh), he’s always buried in the hay when we look in.

Invisible he may be, but since he is clearly very active when we’re not around, I had a go with the old trail camera in his hutch.  There’s not much space to position it without disturbing him, but I managed to get it wedged by the roof out of his way and he seemed blissfully unaware of it. The field of view is pretty small since it is so close up, but I got lots of clips of him doing what he’s good at – eating and pooping and rearranging his bedding. He clearly doesn’t approve of my style of housekeeping (nor does my husband Chris probably, but that’s a different story) as he is constantly dragging the hay and/or the newspapers around to where he thinks they should be.

So below are a couple of stills taken from the video showing him a) eating of course and b) dragging the hay around. Then there is a compilation of video clips taken over roughly a 24 hour period. Note his food bowl starts of clean and full of food and ends up empty and covered in poop and hay! But he’s a little character and we will miss him when we eventually get the go ahead for releasing him in the spring.

Meadow the hedgehog

Out and About – Upton Warren Wetlands

It’s March and we ventured Out and About properly last weekend for the first time this year. We’d joined Worcestershire Wildlife Trust a few months ago and decided to take advantage of this by visiting the Upton Warren Wetland Reserve.  It was so nice to get some fresh air and explore somewhere new. The reserve has a mixture of freshwater and saline pools (the result of previous brine extraction work), which attract a wide variety of birds. The reserve is pretty big, so we only managed to do about half of it on this first visit. It’s a fantastic site though, so we will definitely be back soon to try out the other half.

At the first hide, the Trust people had hung out a few bird feeders and we noticed a lot of small brownish birds that looked a bit like sparrows. Being novices, I had to ask the helpful gentleman who was in the hide with us what they were – I was a bit worried he might just say that they were sparrows, then I really would look clueless, but fortunately it turned out they were reed buntings. I had sort of expected reed buntings to hang about in the reeds and be difficult to see, but I guess why would they do that when there were easy pickings from a feeder?  Top one here is a male and the bottom is the female (at least I think it is, unless it turns out to be an embarrassing sparrow).

reed-bunting

reed-bunting-female

The reed buntings weren’t the only ones using the bird feeders; they had stiff competition from the bullfinches in particular, who in turn had to contend with the greenfinches.

bullfinch-bunting-2

bunting-and-bullfinch

bullfinch-greenfinches

All the dropped seed of course attracted the inevitable rats, including this particularly bold one. Not the most welcome visitor to a bird reserve, but it was interesting to see a rat that close up in broad daylight – a first for me.

We may have been watching the birds, but we were definitely being watched too. This Canada Goose seemed particularly interested in us and came right up close to the hide.

A portly looking moorhen was lazily scanning around for bird seed, while a coot cruised the nearby inlet.

There were quite a few regular mallards about, but then we spotted a duck that looked a bit different. Umpteen blurry photos later, we finally got one good enough to identify it as a Shoveler Duck. Turns out they are fairly common, but it was new to us.

There were a few cormorants about – weird looking birds. Even the RSPSB website describes them as reptilian looking, which seems a tad unkind!

By far the most common birds we saw were these black-headed gulls. At first we thought there were 2 species; but it seems the one with the full black head has already got its summer plumage, whereas the one with just a dark spot behind the eye is in his winter plumage still.

One species we were really pleased to see was the lapwing. We’d only ever seen these on TV (Springwatch most likely) and they are such characterful looking birds, we were really chuffed to find a small flock of them. They were a bit far away to get really good photos, although when they all took off we got a slightly better view.

It was only when we got back home and I was going through the photos of the lapwings that I realised Chris had accidentally caught some snipe in some of the photos too. I’m not sure we can really claim to have seen them, as we hadn’t noticed them there at the time, but at least we’ll know to look out for them next time.

Having lived by the coast for many years, one bird we were familiar with was the oystercatcher – never imagined we’d see them in the middle of Worcestershire though! We heard them at Upton before we saw them – that distinctive, fairly shrill call. A pair landed on a small island in front of us, easily recognisable with their bright red beaks and legs (I do like an obvious bird!) Again they were a bit far away to get really good photos, but later as we walked back to the car, there was one just standing in the field!

Without doubt the most beautiful bird we saw was this Little Egret, which Chris spotted as we walked between hides. Almost ethereal with its pure white plumage, we watched it for a few minutes before it disappeared into the reeds.

All in all we had a great afternoon and although we were only there for a few hours, we still clocked up 18 species of bird, several of which were completely new to us. We heard another birdwatcher commenting that there was “nothing much showing” – he was no doubt much more experienced than we were and probably hoping for something unusual. Sometimes it’s good to be a novice, as we were absolutely delighted with everything we saw – lots of the birds were new to us, so it was all exciting and we were happy just watching what was there. For us there was plenty showing.

Patio Patch

The weather seems to have been interminably grey lately and not at all tempting for venturing out, so I’ve been observing a very local patch – the patio right outside our living room windows. Part of the reason for this focus has been my ongoing battle with our resident wren. I love wrens but this one seems determined to taunt me and thwart my every attempt to get a decent photo. So when I spotted him bobbing up and down outside our patio doors, I thought I’d finally stand a chance. Forty to fifty photos later and I had another large array of blurry shots (admittedly some of the blur may actually be due to the less than sparkling state of my patio windows!) These are the best of a very bad selection.

wren-on-patio-7 wren-on-patio-6

wren-on-patio-5 wren-on-patio-3

Since he returned to the same spot several times, I came up with another cunning plan – leave the trail camera pointed at the patio area. Although he did do his best to avoid the area in front of the trail cam, I did eventually get the few indistinct video clips edited together below.

Patio wren

I tried roping Chris in on my wren wrangling mission. The best he managed was this one of the wren running along the fence (gleefully mocking as he goes no doubt).

wren-running

The upside of my on-going struggles was that I ended up filming quite a lot of other animals on the patio, at least one of which was a surprise. I’d been putting some bird food down (to further tempt the wren), but clearly birds aren’t the only ones partial to bird food. This mouse appeared several nights in a row, making the most of the free buffet. This area is literally right in front of our patio doors, but of course at night we have the lights on inside, so can’t see the mouse outside. It does however explain why our cat is always staring out at night!

mouse on patio video

We’ve always had birds pecking about on the patio for insects, but with the bird food out, their numbers increased. Magpies, blackbirds, starlings, robins, blackcap (female only), sparrows and dunnocks all took advantage of the new food supply there and all got caught on the trail camera. Here are just a few stills taken from the videos.

patio-magpie

patio-starlings

patio-sparrows

Since the birds were getting accustomed to coming closer to the house, it seemed the ideal time to try out something I’d seen on another blog. Wildlife Kate had set up an ingenious feeding platform using just a plastic ladle and her trail camera (For Kate’s amazing blog: http://www.wildlifekate.co.uk/my-blog/4588864364). She got such great photos, I thought I’d have a go.  So with a bit of help from Chris (actually he pretty much did it all) I set the ladle up on a post in the middle of the patio. Kate had got a lovely selection of dainty little birds – for the first few days all I got were hulking great jackdaws, who were really too big and too close for the camera to focus on properly. Still I do quite like some of the photos – after all you don’t often get the chance to be quite so eye-to-eye with a jackdaw.

Eventually the birds did start getting smaller, probably attracted by the flapping of the jackdaws. First came the blackbirds and starlings.

Starling on ladle

Then eventually a great tit, the female blackcap and the sparrows. The sparrows mainly benefitted from all the food the jackdaws tended to knock off the ladle onto the ground beneath; but a few did venture up to feed directly from it.

One final, slightly weird photo of a starling landing. I love the way its wings appear surreally wavy (and slightly nightmarish), presumably because it was moving faster than the camera shutter could cope with!

Thank you so much to Wildlife Kate for her idea of the ladle cam, which was brilliant in its simplicity and yet so effective. Kate’s images are far better than mine and well worth a look, but this is something anyone with a trail camera can try for themselves.

So all in all I managed to attract quite a lot into my patio patch with very little effort. And the real beauty of it all, now that the birds (and mice) are confident coming this close to the house, is that I can watch it all through the patio doors – quite literally from the comfort of my own sofa!