Busy Birds

The birds are certainly busy in Malvern at the moment (as no doubt they are all across the country of course). There is a constant buzz of activity in the garden, be it gathering nesting material or just a feeding frenzy over the food we put out. The sparrows in particular have been keen on last year’s artichoke flowers for nesting material. It’s amazing how much they can stuff into their beaks, ending up with  ludicrously oversized moustaches!

Sparrow nesting material

In true Too Lazy fashion, we had left the old flowers standing thinking they would provide seeds for birds and maybe shelter for overwintering insects. We hadn’t realised they would make such good nesting material, but clearly the sparrows knew better. We’ve seen them plucking at the flowers in all weather, even when the high winds rock them about in the video below.

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We already knew the blue tits had been checking out the bird box, so it was really nice to see this one taking nesting material in, although he or she did seem to be struggling a bit to get it all through the hole!

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Birds of all sorts have been eating us out of house and home in the garden, hopefully building up their energy reserves for nesting. The blue tits regularly perform for the trail camera, but it was nice recently to get footage of the starlings and sparrows who have tended to be more camera shy. Being able to see the starlings close up like this you can appreciate what beautiful and colourful birds they really are – not just the plain black they can sometimes appear from a distance.

Starling on suet

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The sparrows gather round the suet feeder in groups of up to about 8, although they can rarely manage to squeeze more than 3 or 4 on it at any one time.

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There are still several species that have so far refused to be filmed although we see them regularly in the garden – Great Tits, Coal Tits, Goldfinches and of course the Sparrowhawk. Chris was out in the garden the other day, bent over a flower trying to get a shot of a bee, when the sparrowhawk swooped over him and grabbed a sparrow right out of the bushes. Chris carried on photographing the bee, oblivious to the action behind him! The trail camera was of course in the garden, but also pointed in the opposite direction. I could only watch frustrated from the living room, no camera within reach!

 

Out and About – Hartlebury Common

Once again we ventured forth from our sofas and hit the outside world in search of adventure – or more precisely moths! We’d heard that Hartlebury Common in North Worcestershire might have Emperor Moths – large day flying moths that we’ve always wanted to see. Hartlebury Common is an SSSI, consisting of lowland heath and supposedly good for Emperors.

Hartlebury Map

Needless to say after several hours tramping about in intermittent sunshine, there were no signs of the regal Emperors. Fortunately Hartlebury  provided other wildlife of interest. Insect-wise there were lots of bees feeding on the gorse and broom. A single Tortoiseshell butterfly provided fleeting hope that we’d spotted an Emperor; but a Bloody-nosed Beetle (Timarcha tenebricosa) stopped us in our tracks as he trundled across the path. When Chris tried to gently move him to one side, he secreted his trademark blood red liquid from his mouth, which made identifying him later a hell of a lot easier! You can see the “blood” droplet in the second photo.

Bloody Nosed Beetle Bloody Nosed Beetle on its back

The gorse bushes also offered up a Gorse Shieldbug (Piezodorus lituratus) – a species we’d never seen before, so nice to bag another one.

Gorse Shieldbug at Hartlebury (6)

The birds were abundant and singing all round us. A green woodpecker taunted us all morning, but remained steadfastly out of camera range. A tree creeper posed on a tree trunk just long enough for us to spot him, but not long enough for us to focus and get a photo. Fortunately a wren was slightly more accommodating, although a bit far away to get a really good shot.

Wren at Hartlebury

A pair of Jays made the trip all worthwhile though. I’d previously only seen glimpses of these beautiful birds, so to see them as clearly as this made my day.

Jay at Hartlebury 2

Jay at Hartlebury

A chaffinch also posed perfectly on an old tree stump.

Chaffinch at Hartlebury (2)

The final bird of the day was either a Chiffchaff or a Willow Warbler. Apparently the two are very similar and the best way to tell them apart is by their songs. Of course we were so intent on taking photos, that we didn’t really pay much attention to the songs. Back at home and listening to sample bird songs on “tinternet”, Chris thought we’d heard a Chiffchaff and I thought it was the Warbler. So if anyone can confirm the bird by appearance alone and settle our argument, that would be great.

Chiffchaff (11)

Having never before stood under a pylon (slightly incongruous in the middle of the Common), I thought I’d attempt an arty shot – not sure I’ve really got the hang of art though!

Pylon at Hartlebury

So Hartlebury Common may not have offered up any Imperial sightings, but there was plenty of interest to while away a few hours.

 

Out and About – Tiddesley Wood

The Two Lazy Gardeners went crazy today, got off our sofa and went out and about! It’s the beginning of Bluebell season here in Worcestershire, so we headed out to some woods in hope and expectation. The wood of choice for today was Tiddesley near Pershore – a Wildlife Trust run reserve.

Signpost

Bluebells were of course the main target, but lots of other spring flowers were about, such as these Lesser Celandines, Wood Anemones and Cowslips.

Lesser Celandine

Wood anemone

Cowslip

But of course the Bluebells were the stars of the show. Although they’re probably not quite at their peak yet, they were still stunning, carpeting areas of the wood in a beautiful purply blue. Photos never seem to really do them justice, but here are a few of our attempts.

Bluebell close up

Bluebells

Bluebells (10)

Bluebells (7)

The spring flowers brought out the insects too – sadly no butterflies yet, but the bees were making the most of the bluebells.

Bee on bluebell (1)

Red tailed bee on bluebell

 

Birds were of course abundant too, although very definitely camera shy. We saw and heard a lot (including woodpeckers in the distance), but the only one we managed to get a recognisable shot of was this Tit on a nesting box.

Tit on nesting box

The wood was exceptionally muddy underfoot after all the recent heavy rain. This had one unexpected benefit – we came across loads of tadpoles in waterfilled footprints on the paths.

Tadpoles

For all the bluebells were fantastic, the highlight for me was seeing a deer (a female Roe Deer I think) jumping through the wood right in front of us. Needless to say I was so surprised I didn’t even manage to raise the camera, let alone get a decent shot, so you’ll just have to take my word for it!

 

A Teasel’s Life

Bee

I don’t know how we originally came to have teasels – none of the immediate neighbours grow these giants, but the seeds must have blown in from somewhere (and we may not be popular as they blow out again each year!). They have become a bit of a fixture in our garden and a very welcome one for all sorts of wildlife.

They start off as fairly non-descript plants, forming low growing rosettes that look like they might turn into at most a thistle type of thing. They only flower in their second year, so I’m hoping the ones below, that I think overwintered, will flower this summer.

Baby Teasels

When they do put on their growth spurt, they are easily taller than me (I only manage a mere 5 foot 1 on a good day!) Their flowers are irresistible to the bees in the garden, which is the main reason we let them grow every year. These ones below are full grown ones from previous years

Bees on Teasels

Bees on Teasels 2

The stems and leaves provide homes for lots of other insects too, with water tending to collect at the base of each leaf.

We always leave them once they’ve finished flowering, as they still provide benefit right through the winter. For us humans they provide structure and interest in the garden.

Frosty teasel 2

The teasels themselves are packed with seeds that the birds love. Goldfinches are well-known teasel fans, but we’ve seen several other species such as this Coal Tit making the most of them too.

Goldfinch 1

Coal Tit on Teasel

Of course we do eventually have to chop them down, if only to provide space for next year’s crop. This year we decided to save some of the hollow stems and turn them into something useful – a Bug Hotel. The RSPB are running a “Give Nature a Home” campaign, so a pile of teasel stems and an empty squash bottle later and we have hopefully made one small home. With a bit of luck we’ll be able to post photos later in the year of some new residents.

Teasel canes

Bee Hotel

So that’s the life of the teasels in our garden – the plant that keeps on giving to wildlife – even when it’s chopped up into pieces!

 

 

Bumblebee Bonanza

Never realised before I started writing a blog how much I enjoyed a good bit of alliteration, but  find myself unable to resist calling this post Bumblebee Bonanza. I started writing this post a few days ago when we reached a tally of 8 bee species for 2016. Since then we’ve been spotting a new one almost daily and are now up to 12. As we’re less than half way through April, I’m hopeful of further species to come, but thought I’d better finish this post off before it gets out of control!

I should point out that although we spotted all these different species, many of them were only identified with the help of several very kind and expert people on various Facebook groups – the power of social media!

So first bee of the year was of course my favourite the Hairy Footed Flower Bee (Anthophora plumipes). Seen below in a fairly typical shot of female on the left doing her best to ignore the amorous male on the right.

Hairy Footed male and female

Next to show in the garden was the Honey Bee (Apis mellifera), in small numbers so far, but hopefully by the summer the garden will be buzzing with them as usual.

Honey Bee

The next confirmed species was the first of the bumblebees – the Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris). There have been quite a few of these buzzing about, but this slightly bedraggled looking specimen was the first one to slow down enough to get photographed.  It is a social bee living in colonies usually underground.

Buff tailed bumblebee

The 4th species, the Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) is an interesting new comer, having only been recorded in the south of England since 2001. Well it has obviously reached Malvern now! There is a scheme for recording sightings of this species, so he has been duly logged.

Tree Bumblebee

Another bumblebee to pop up in the garden this spring has been the Red Tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius). This is a big bumblebee, so you think it would be easy to get a decent photo. But although we’ve seen them regularly, they seldom sit still long and when they do, they seem to favour flowers at the top of the bushes out of reach of vertically challenged photographers! So the shot below is the best we’ve managed of this species so far this year – but you can just about see his red bum.

Red tailed bumblebee

The 6th bee species was the first of the mining bees to be positively identified – Andrena nitida – I’m not sure this one has a common name. Mining bees are solitary bees and there are a lot of British species.

Andrena nitida

The 7th species is from an interesting group known as Cuckoo bees – the one below is the Vestal Cuckoo Bee (Bombus vestalis). Cuckoo bees behave in a similar fashion to their namesake birds – they lay their eggs in the nest of other bees. In the case of the Vestal Cuckoo Bee, its chosen host tends to be the poor Buff Tailed Bumblebee. Cuckoo bees have no pollen sacs on their legs as they have no need to collect pollen for their young, as others do all the work for them.

Vestal Cuckoo Bee

The 8th bee is the only one we’ve not managed to get to species, but according to the good people of Facebook, it belongs to the Lasioglossum genus and is another mining bee. Lasioglossum species need either microscopic examination or at least better photos than the one below to get them to species.

Lasioglossum sp

The 9th bee is the smallest specimen so far – Fabricius’ Nomad Bee (Nomad fabriciana). This is also a cuckoo type of bee, laying its eggs in the nest of mining bees. It looks quite different to the other bees we had, to the point I wasn’t even sure it was a bee at first. The yellow spots on its orange abdomen (just about visible in our photo) identify it as Fabricius’.

Fabricius Nomad Bee

Bee no. 10 is the Ashy Mining Bee (Andrena cineraria). I could tell this one was a different species as it looked black and white. Determined to get a photo I spent a long time chasing it round the garden, before it finally gave in and settled on this leaf.

Ashy mining bee Andrena cineraria

11th species and another mining bee Andrena scotica. These are solitary bees, but nest in aggregates, so they effectively have communes, rather than being properly social like Honey Bees.

Andrena scotica

The 12th and final bee so far is the Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum). This fluffy gingery brown bee is a social one (although not sociable with me, I had to clamber through the undergrowth to get even this poor photo).

Common Carder Bee

So that’s our tally for the year so far. I know from previous years that there are at least 3 or 4 other species that we definitely get, so fingers crossed they reappear this year too. We garden organically at Too Lazy to Weed and I’d like to think this is contributing to the diversity of bees in our garden. That and of course the profusion of weeds!

Dunnock Dating

The dunnocks in our garden are clearly getting frisky. They’re normally quite shy birds staying out of sight in our plentiful undergrowth, but this week I caught them displaying in a quite amazing fashion. (Look away now if you don’t want to see parts of a dunnock that are maybe best left to the imagination!)

I caught this pair outside the patio doors while I lolled on the sofa – fortunately for once a camera was within reach. As I hadn’t been anticipating a photo shoot, conditions weren’t ideal – I had to try and focus over the coffee table and dodge the cat’s scratch post; both of which obscured my view a bit, but I didn’t want to move and alert the dunnocks to my presence. So apologies if the photos aren’t quite as sharp as I’d have liked.

Dunnock pair

I thought at first the pair were just rooting about for food – and indeed that did seem to be what the male was mainly interested in. But the female started behaving very oddly. I thought at first there was something wrong with her – she seemed to be repeatedly straining her rear end (cloaca as I’ve since found out) while fluffing her feathers at the male. He didn’t seem particularly interested in her antics – can’t say I blame him, it wasn’t an attractive dance she did! The photos show her rear end in various stages of flexing (I did warn you to look away!)

Dunnock closed

Dunnock half open

Dunnock open

A quick bit of googling revealed that female dunnocks may mate with more than one male and that the males will peck at her cloaca to get her to eject the previous male’s sperm. This female seemed to be actively encouraging him to do so. I’d never heard of this behaviour, let alone seen it.  So you learn something new every day – even when just lolling about on your sofa!

Baby Blues (hopefully)

In the last couple of weeks the posts seem to have been colour themed, first red, then yellow and now blue! The big blue news is that the Blue Tits are nesting!! So excited to see them using the bird box (the old one of course – they’ve turned their beaks up at the new deluxe one!) The brief video clip below shows both adults flying in and one exiting again. I think at this stage they were still making the nest as we saw them with nesting material.

Blue Tits at Nest Box

The photo below is a still taken from the film. Hopefully things will go well for our pair and we can give updates on their progress – fingers crossed for a successful fledging and baby blue tits.

Blue Tit on Bird Box

The other big blue news is that our bluebell is flowering. It is bluebell singular and has been since it appeared in the garden a few years ago. The Malvern Hills themselves will soon be ablaze with  blue, but our garden has to make do with this lonesome individual each year.

Bluebell

The blue tones seem to be spreading round the garden too, with the emergence of several other blue hued flowers. These pretty little Violas are springing up all over the place in the shadier areas.Viola

And today I spotted these tiny Speedwell flowers hidden amongst the grasses. Not the easiest to photograph as they are so damn small. I didn’t realise they were so hairy either until I downloaded the photos.

Speedwell

And finally, no blue post would be complete without Forget-me-nots. These bright little flowers have been a favourite since I was a child (many moons ago) and are a sort of unofficial totem for Too Lazy To Weed. They spring up wherever we haven’t weeded – so pretty much over the whole garden!

Forget me not

 

Jurassic Monster!

When you think of Jurassic, you tend to think of T. rex and possibly Richard Attenborough. Most of us don’t picture a minute micro moth, barely 2 millimetres long, but the Too Lazy garden has just that – Mompha jurassicella – a very long name for a very small moth. What’s exciting about this little moth, is that it is the first known record for Malvern.

Mompha jurasicella

We spotted it at the weekend on a primrose stem – which looks huge by comparison. You’d think being so small it would be easy to get it all in focus, but not so; it took 4 photos to get all the relevant bits sharp enough to identify it. Not that we managed to do that ourselves. Identification was courtesy of a very kind man on Facebook and an equally kind County Moth Recorder to confirm it.

Although this tiny moth has been recorded in Worcestershire, it is apparently the first record for the Malvern area, so we’re really chuffed with it. Being so small though, it’s likely lots of the local gardens have it, just that their owners don’t go grubbing about in the undergrowth looking for it! Does make you wonder what else is lurking amongst our weeds?

Hairy Footed Love

A week or so ago I blogged about the delightfully named Hairy Footed Flower Bee (Anthophora plumipes), having spotted a male one buzzing around the garden. They are quite a loud bee, so much so, that I’m starting to recognise them by sound (going to be by new party trick – identifying bees blindfolded!) The males emerge in the Spring a bit earlier than the females so for the first week they were all we saw. The male below is a typical buff gingery colour, with of course hairy feet!

Hairy footed male

The females emerge a bit later and we saw our first one about a week after the males appeared. They look like a completely different species, being dark pretty much all over, with golden hairs on their back legs. For some reason all the females we saw seemed to be preferring the pink varieties of primrose, whereas the males had been going solely for the yellow (sexual stereotyping in bees???) In the photo below the female already has a male admirer.

Hairy footed female

I’d got the trail camera set up in the hope of catching some bee action, and could see from a distance a group of males chasing a female. I thought the trail cam was pointed right at them, but needless to say it was slightly off. So I’ve got several videos showing bits of the chase, but none capturing it completely. Hopefully the one clip below gives an idea of the action though.

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To say the males were persistent would be an understatement. They harassed the long suffering female, who was only really interested in the flowers, not her admirers.

I did manage to take the freeze frame photo below from the videos – you can see one poor female, with a line of 4 males looking like they’re queuing for her attention.

Hairy footed pursuit

I also discovered that the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society are running a Spring bee recording scheme and the Hairy Footed Flower Bee is one of the species they’re interested in. So our amorous little bees have been duly logged. If anyone wants to log their own records, go to http://www.bwars.com/content/submit-sighting-anthophora-plumipes-hairy-footed-flower-bee