30 Days Wild – Day 22

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_22Day 22 of 30 Days Wild and it’s Wednesday, which means pub lunch with my Dad – today it was the delightful little town of Presteigne just over the Welsh border. It always feels like we’ve stepped back in time when we go there – Presteigne seems to run at a gentler, slower pace of life than anywhere else.

Anyway, don’t know if it was the Presteigne effect or what, but I decided to go back in time and explore Dad’s garden looking at things like I did when we were kids. My sister and I spent an awful lot of our childhood knee deep in mud and water in the stream that ran alongside our garden or just generally mucking about outside. The joys of a 1970s childhood!

We grew up in Herefordshire in a small village in a house that had been built on an old orchard. Our garden still retained quite a few apple trees which, when we were kids, were still quite productive – we even earned money occasionally picking the apples and selling them to a local farmer; we probably only got a few quid, but as children it seemed like we’d made a fortune! Now (more years later than I care to calculate) most of the trees have gone – mainly fallen in high winds as they got too old and brittle. There are a few left, like this cider apple one, which is still fairly sound and producing apples.

Apple tree

Apples

Several of the others though are little more than tall hollow stumps. This one had bits of wool around the hole, so unless the local sheep have started climbing, I think the hollow trunks are being used for bird nests, which is great.

Hollow apple tree

Several of the trees have clearly been choked by ivy growing up them. It’s probably a good job they weren’t like this when we were kids, or we’d have tried to climb them. (I’m old enough and heavy enough now not to consider this today!)

Ivy on tree

All the apple trees are covered in mistletoe. It is a little family ritual still that every year we pick big bunches of mistletoe from the apple trees for Christmas – there’s something lovely about growing your own Christmas decorations!

Mistletoe

I was really pleased that the elderflower was in bloom in the garden. This too brought back childhood memories. We used to fill buckets with the flowers then turn them into “Elderflower Champagne”. No idea whether it was actually alcoholic, but we drank it as children (may explain a lot about my later life!) It was quite explosive – I seem to remember being woken in the night by bottles exploding in the kitchen on a fairly regular basis. As smaller children we used to make elderberry “pies” – basically a bowl of mushed up elderberries that no-one would eat.

Elderflower

The bottom of the garden is a bit overgrown (just how I like my gardens). One plant that is doing particularly well is Cleavers – or as we called them as kids – sticky buds. Childhood days in the garden always ended up with both us and the cats coming back inside covered in these.

Sticky Buds

Dad’s garden is always full of birds and today was no exception. As I walked down to the bottom, a buzzard flew out of a tree – he’d clearly spotted me before I spotted him. Needless to say he was too quick for me to get a photo. I had more luck with a pheasant that was wandering by the stream, but they don’t feel like much of a challenge.

Pheasant

I could hear lots of the birds this afternoon in the garden, but there’s one that really evokes childhood for me. It’s nothing fancy or rare – just the sound of pigeons cooing at each other.  You can hear them on and off all day. Even now if I hear them in my own garden and close my eyes I am transported back to my parents’ house – for me it’s always been a very comforting sound.  One thing I noticed while trying to get a recording of them today, was that there’s a lot more traffic going past Dad’s house than there was in the 1970s – I suppose that’s inevitable, even though his house is pretty much out in the sticks. So it took several goes to record them without too much traffic noise in the background.

 

They say smell is a very evocative sense when it comes to recalling memories. Dad’s garden has a lot of old fashioned roses – ones that are actually scented and smell like roses should. They are big, blousy varieties – one of which Dad took from his mother’s garden back in the 1960s! Sniffing them today reminded me of the garden in summer’s past. Roses today from shops just don’t smell like this.

Roses

Roses 2

The stream that runs alongside the garden was one of the main sources of entertainment for us as children. The stream is still there, although it’s a bit harder to get to now. Of course it could just be that the middle-aged me is less flexible climbing through fences than the childhood me was! It is only a small stream that feeds into the River Lugg and it’s possibly not the most picturesque (the various deposits from the farm next door add to the ambience shall we say!), but for me it will always be a special place.

Stream

We used to spend endless hours fishing for minnows and sticklebacks, which we’d then keep in an old paddling pool. With hindsight the poor things probably didn’t enjoy the experience very much, but we (and the cats) were enthralled by them. So in honour of my childhood I borrowed a kid’s fishing net from my sister (who also kindly took a photo of it when I realised I’d forgotten to do so). It was quite a deluxe model compared to the ones we had as kids, which just had plain canes and nets that were always getting torn and having to be repaired!

net

Grabbing the net, I scrambled through the fence and down to the stream. Standing there, net in hand, peering into the water I was 10 years old again. Happy Days. And much to my surprise (and his) I caught a stickleback. A Spineless Si of my very own (if you didn’t watch Springwatch last year you won’t know what I’m on about here), except this one did indeed have spines. He didn’t look very impressed by the experience though.

Stickleback

Stickleback 2

This Spined Si was of course released back into the stream as soon as I’d photographed him (no overheated paddling pool for him!) and I hope the whole experience wasn’t too traumatic for him.

Of all the things I’ve done on 30 Days Wild – I think fishing in the stream today, with a cheap plastic net, catching a stickleback, is probably the best. It’s easy to view your childhood with rose tinted spectacles, but I do truly think we were very lucky to grow up where we did and how we did. It was things like this, that left me with a lifelong love of nature and set me on the path I’ve taken for the rest of my life – all thanks perhaps to a few small fish.

Bramble 30 WEEDSAnd to finish as always the latest weed in my 30 Lazy Garden Weeds – the Bramble, seen here with a Honey Bee making the most of it. We have a dense thicket of brambles at the end of our garden, separating us from the neighbours. When the brambles are in flower they are abuzz with bees. And of course in the late summer we are rewarded with a plentiful supply of blackberries – the beauty of organic gardening is we don’t need to worry about there being any chemicals on these – although I do make sure we only pick those out of reach of cat’s scent marking the garden!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

30 Days Wild – Day 21

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_21Can’t believe it’s Day 21 of 30 Days Wild already! Not only that, but we’re beyond the longest day of the year so winter is officially on its way! Fortunately it didn’t feel like winter today and I went for a really nice relaxing walk to Melrose Farm Meadows nature reserve. Well I say I went on a walk there, I think I may actually have got lost and been wandering round some random field instead – but it was still very nice.

SignMelrose Farm Meadows is a small reserve consisting an old orchard and 2 small meadows. I definitely found the entrance as I saw this sign, but I think I maybe took the wrong footpath as I ended up in a big field with few trees – certainly not an orchard. As you’re supposed to keep to the paths here, I didn’t want to risk straying into the wrong bit, but I do at least think I know where I took the wrong turn, so I’ll hopefully find the orchard next time. Doh!

MeadowAnyway, wherever I was, the sun was shining and there were plenty of butterflies, so it was a result in my book! The fields were full of wildflowers which I think included Knapweed, Ragged Robin (although this might have been just a ragged Knapweed), Self Heal, as well of course as the usual buttercups and cow parsley.

Knapweed

Ragged Robin

Self Heal

Wild RoseThe hedgerows were full of brambles and wild roses, both of which were attracting large numbers of bees and hoverflies. There was one particularly dense thicket of brambles, that was also covered in butterflies, jostling with the bees for position. I thought at first they were all Meadow Browns, but then I spotted a darker one which turned out to be my first Ringlet of the year. Shame about the thorn from the brambles obscuring part of the butterfly though!

Ringlet

The fields themselves were full of Meadow Browns. At one point with the sun shining, they were floating up and down over the grasses as far as I could see. It was an incredibly peaceful thing to watch and was sort of how I feel meadows should be – bathed in sunlight with butterflies flitting lazily around. It felt like a taste of bygone times.

Meadow Brown

Speckled Woods tended to stick to the hedgerows rather than the open fields and I saw several patrolling the brambles.

Speckled Wood

A couple of Large Skipper butterflies were darting around the field too – they have a much faster more erratic flight than the Meadow Browns and were harder to get a photo of.

Large Skipper

The highlight of the afternoon though was spotting my first Marbled White of the year. As is always the way, I had the wrong camera lens on when it first appeared, then there was grass in the way, then I got greedy and tried to get too close and of course it flew off. So these less than perfect photos were the best I could manage.

Marbled White 2

Marbled White

Marbled Whites have always been one of my favourites. When we first started butterfly watching they were the first species we actively went out looking for. I can still remember how excited we were when we spotted our first one at Knapp & Papermill reserve – at the time I thought we’d never get a decent photo of one. Looking at today’s efforts, it seems nothing much has changed there!

Clover 30 WEEDSAnd finally today’s weed in my 30 Lazy Garden Weeds – is the Clover. If you want a pristine garden lawn then I understand that clover is probably the enemy. But why would you want a pristine lawn when you can have one full of flowers and wildlife. The bees like the clover, so it’s fine by me. Clover is actually very good for the soil – it fixes nitrogen, so is good for green composting. Clovers famously have 3 leaves, unless of course you are lucky enough to find the elusive 4 leaved clover – a real prize when I was a child to find such a thing.

30 Days Wild – Day 20

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_20Day 20 of 30 Days Wild and it’s the mid summer solstice – extra time to do something wild! It’s also the start of National Insect Week – a celebration of all things insect related. I could have marked the summer solstice by staying up all night, but since I’ve got work tomorrow, it seemed more prudent to celebrate National Insect Week instead!

NIW_Logo_FBWe’re lucky in that we get loads of insects in the garden, so I thought I’d have a look this afternoon and see how many of the different groups of insect I could find. Insects are an incredibly diverse group, but all have an exoskeleton, 3 pairs of legs and a three part body. It’s amazing how you can take that basic body scheme and turn it into such a wide variety of shapes and sizes!

So in no particular order here are some of the insects I found in the garden this afternoon. First up the ants, surely one of the most populous insect groups on earth. I’ve no idea what species this is, forming an ant hill in our lawn, but we’ve got an awful lot of them!

Ants

Flies may not be the most popular or the most attractive group of insects, but they are fascinating when you look at them close up like this. (Photos like this do always remind me of the Jeff Goldblum film The Fly though!)

Fly

Hoverflies belong in the same group (Diptera) as the fly above – they are all considered True Flies. We get loads of hoverflies in the garden, although of course few showed their faces tonight because I was looking for them. Some are small and skinny like this Sphaerophoria species.

Hoverfly Sphaerophoria

While others are bigger and chunkier like this Common Drone Fly (Eristalis tenax), which looks more like a bee.

Eristalis tenax

Aphids or greenfly are not true flies and are certainly the bane of many a gardeners’ life. But they all have their place in the food chain, being fodder for amongst other things the ladybirds.

Aphids

I couldn’t resist posting this photo below of a Woolly Aphid – I didn’t see one today, this was taken a few weeks ago during the Bioblitz – but it is so darn cute close up, I just had to include it.

Woolly aphid

Crickets and grasshoppers are just starting to appear again in the garden. This grasshopper was pinging about our very weedy drive when I got home today.

Grasshopper

Shieldbugs like the one below are in the same super group of insects (Hemiptera) as the aphids, although they don’t look anything like each other.

Shieldbug

I had hoped a butterfly would make an appearance, but none obliged this afternoon. So the Lepidoptera today are represented by the only moth I could find – this Mint Moth. In the summer we have loads of these fluttering around the herbs – they don’t restrict themselves to just mint!

Mint moth

Of course I had to include a bee photo. Although there were plenty flying around this afternoon, it was a bit windy, so I had problems with the flowers blowing around as I tried to take photos. I think this is just about recognisable as a Buff-tailed Bumblebee though.

Bumblebee

Beetles make up the group Coleoptera and again are hugely diverse. I found this one in the pitfall trap this afternoon.

Beetle

So that’s all the insect groups I could find today in the garden. Not bad although there are of course lots of others not represented – dragonflies & damselflies, earwigs, ladybirds (although these are a type of beetle), froghoppers, lacewings, caddisflies – the list goes on. Over an average summer we’ll see examples of most of these in our garden – you just need to look and it’s surprising what you can find.

Foxglove 30 WEEDSAnd finally as usual another “weed” from our garden for my 30 Lazy Garden Weeds. This time the Foxglove. I was so pleased to find this growing under the apple tree this week. I’ve tried a few times to get them to grow in the garden – scattering seeds with no success. But this one seems to have seeded itself in here all by itself. Hopefully it will be the first of many. The bees love them and so do I!

 

30 Days Wild – Day 19

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_19It’s very appropriate that the Day 19 graphic on the left here has butterflies, as that is exactly what we went looking for this afternoon – the Silver Studded Blue to be precise.  This is a butterfly neither of us had ever seen before and there is only one place in the West Midlands where you can still find them – Prees Heath in Shropshire.  At first sight it’s not the most promising site, being sandwiched between two A roads, but looks can be deceiving. Butterfly Conservation have been working on it to improve the heathland and grassland for the benefit of the wildlife and it has obviously paid off.

Heath

The Silver Studded Blue caterpillars feed mainly on heather and Bird’s Foot Trefoil, both of which we saw in abundance today.

Heather

Birds Foot Trefoil

It was a dull and cloudy day, so we were a bit sceptical that we’d see any – so were thrilled when we saw first one and eventually probably a dozen or more of these little beauties. The “silver studs” are actually more of a shiny blue, but they are still absolutely gorgeous little butterflies. Whether it was the dull weather, or just their nature, but the ones we saw were surprisingly docile and let us get really close up for photos.

Silver studded Blue

Silver studded Blue 2

It was a bit of a windy day and the butterflies were blowing about a bit on their heather stems for photography. I did try to video one – here is a very short clip below.

It took a bit longer to get a photo of one with its wings open, but eventually one obliged.

Silver studded Blue open

The Silver Studded Blues have an interesting life cycle that involves their caterpillars being taken into ants nests by the ants and tended to by their hosts, who in turn get a sugary solution from the caterpillars. The female butterflies deliberately choose sites near the ants to lay their eggs. Not sure if the photo below is the right kind of ant nest, but there were certainly plenty of them about.

Ant nest

We only saw two non-blue butterflies the whole time we were there. We got a few non-brilliant photos of them and I’d assumed at the time that they were Meadow Browns. But when we got home and looked at the photos properly, I started to get excited that they might be Small Heaths, a butterfly we’d never knowingly seen before. Thanks once more to the good people of the Facebook butterfly group, this has now been confirmed. This means we ticked off two brand new species for our butterfly checklist today – fantastic!

Small Heath

Once we’d had our fill of taking photos of the blue butterflies (several hundred photos later!) we could take in some of the other wildlife around us. Prees Heath is known to have Skylarks and we could hear lots of what we think were these increasingly rare birds all around us. We saw them a few times high in the sky above the heather, singing their hearts out. Mostly they were way too high to get a photo of, but I did manage this poor shot of one hovering – at least I think it’s a skylark!

Sky Lark

There were lots of thrushes also singing away beautifully. Again we’re not sure, but we think this is a Song Thrush.

Thrush

The area was full of large black birds – I think Crows. They let me get quite close, probably because they were big enough and tough enough not to be bothered by a little woman like me!

Crow

The whole heath is riddled with rabbit burrows – you have to be quite careful where you walk not to twist an ankle. The rabbits of course were not as bold as the crows, but I did eventually get one bunny to sit still long enough to get his portrait taken.

Rabbit

So our trip today was not only a triumph, but double the success we had hoped for – two brand new species for the price of one – Silver Studded Blue and Small Heath! I doubt we’ll have many butterfly expeditions that will be this successful.

Hawkweed 30 WEEDSAnd finally today’s weed for 30 Lazy Weeds from our garden – the dandelion look alike. I think it’s either a Catsear or a Hawkweed. Whichever it is, it is clearly very popular with the garden flies. Flies may not be the most charismatic of our garden insects, but they are all food for something, so fine by me. The yellow Catsear or Hawkweed is brightening up the un-mowed areas of our so called lawn and if the flies are happy with it, so are we.

 

 

30 Days Wild – Day 18

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_18Day 18 of 30 Days Wild and we’re Malvern bound as the car is in for its MOT, so no grand excursions today! So I decided to spend a bit of time in the garden and review how my “wildflower meadow” was progressing. Meadow is probably a bit of an exaggeration as it is very small – more of a meadowlet on what used to be one of our veg patches.

Back in March this is what the old veg patch looked like. We were rubbish at growing veg as we didn’t water or weed regularly enough, so we figured we might as well turn the patch into something more wildlife friendly.

Meadow before

And this is what it looks like today. Shame it wasn’t a sunnier morning for photographs, but it’s amazing what a difference a few short months have made.

Meadow

Meadow 2

The “meadow” is still maturing – some flowers are at their peak and fully open, while others are still a way off. I’m not great on flower ID, but even worse when the flowers aren’t actually out and I’ve only got leaves to go on. So I’m not sure of all the species we’ve got. But here are a few I can manage. The first is the Bladder Campion with its unusual “swollen” flowers. This is supposed to attract froghoppers, although I’ve not actually seen any on it. It’s fragrance is apparently stronger in the evening and attracts moths – I must check it one night.

Bladder Campion

I think the next is Phacelia, which as you can see is already attracting plenty of bees.

Phacelia

Bee on Phacelia

The Poached Egg Plant is a real cheery addition to the meadow. I bought this as I read on someone else’s blog (sorry I can’t remember who, but thank you whoever you were!) that it was particularly good for hoverflies. Not seen that many of them on it yet, but it’s only just come into flower and the weather’s not been great since then, but hopefully it will live up to its promise soon.

Poached egg plant

The corn chamomile has spread and formed a large patch which has been attracting hoverflies. Sod’s law being what it was though there weren’t any on it this morning – but if you sow it they will come!

Corn chamomile

The Borage is looking good and just starting to open its flowers and will hopefully be pulling in the bees soon.

Borage

The next two haven’t really opened up yet, but I think they are a Cornflower and some kind of Poppy.

Cornflower bud

Californian Poppy

The Nasturtium wasn’t really planted as part of the meadow, but I’ve left them there as they’re good for insects too. We had a go at companion planting with them a few years ago and as they tend to produce masses of seeds, they’ve been popping up everywhere since!

Nasturtium

There are a few other things poking up through the meadow, but I’ll have to wait until they hopefully flower to work out what they are. I’m really pleased with the results so far though, so much better than a scruffy, ill-maintained veg plot!

Poppy 30 WEEDS

And finally weed No. 18 in my 30 Lazy Garden Weeds is this Poppy. They are so delicate and ephemeral – each flower lasting barely a day, but that makes them all the more special. They pop up everywhere from cracks in the drive to the flower beds and remaining veg plot. Collecting seeds from their rattly seed heads reminds me of childhood – not that there’s really any need to collect the seeds – they’re doing a pretty good job of seeding themselves!

30 Days Wild – Day 17

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_17Day 17 of 30 Days Wild and it’s Friday again! It started off dull and grey, but by early afternoon the sun was out and the weekend beckoned. It felt like a great start to the weekend when I spotted this Large Skipper before I’d even left work – the benefits of working on an organic farm!

Large Skipper at work

SignI decided to stop off at one of the local nature reserves on the way home – Brotheridge Green, which was once part of an old railway line. I’ve been there a few times before, but this was the first visit for 2016. The reserve is basically a long narrow strip, formed from the railway cutting at one end and a railway embankment at the other. It’s always been great for butterflies and is another place that is really secluded and makes you feel like you’re the only one who knows about it! At the cutting end the path is bordered both sides by trees and wildflowers. As usual I could hear loads of birds, but my lack of birdsong skills meant I’d no idea what (apart from a pair of Bullfinches that I did actually see).

View down track

There were a few butterflies here in the sunny patches. A Speckled Wood, a Red Admiral and some kind of white – it may have been a Green-Veined but I didn’t get a good look at the underside to be sure.

Speckled Wood

Red Admiral

White Butterfly

There was the usual abundance of buttercups, cow parsley and what might have been Giant Hogweed (I gave it a wide berth just in case!), but also Deadly Nightshade – I gave that a wide berth too!

Nightshade

As the cutting opened up into the embankment, I got lovely views of the Malvern Hills. I also freaked out two squirrels (greys of course) who raced ahead of me in the trees. At one point it felt like I was herding squirrels, as every time I moved forward so did they.

Malvern Hills

The wider grassy strip here has always been particularly good for butterflies (I’ve seen Marbled Whites here before, but think I was a week or two too early today). And today I was rewarded with my first Meadow Browns of the year. There must have been half a dozen of them fluttering about in the late afternoon sunshine.

Meadow Brown

As I turned back, I spotted a flash of red in the grass – I think it was a 6 Spot Burnet Moth, although I can’t be sure as it was at an odd angle.

Six spot Burnett

The final insect treat of the walk was this amazing hoverfly that looked just like a bumblebee. I’ve since found out that it is Volucella bombylans var. plumata – there are apparently 2 variations of this bumblebee mimicking hoverfly, the one I found with a white tail and one with an orange tail – amazing creatures.

Hoverfly Volucella bombylans

My final brush with nature today was actually dinner! I’d got a load of the American Signal Crayfish from our fish supplier at work. I’d planned to get and BBQ them last weekend, but although we had the weather, they couldn’t get the crayfish. This week of course, I got the crayfish, but it was raining by the time I got home, so no BBQ, they had to be cooked indoors. These are the “invading” crayfish that are causing all sorts of problems for our native crayfish in UK rivers. Not only do they carry crayfish “plague”, but they damage the river banks and out compete our native crayfish for food and shelter.  So I’d like to think that by eating them, we are doing our own small bit to redress the balance.

Signal crayfish box

They are called Signal Crayfish because they have bright red claws that they use to “signal” other crayfish or in this case to signal Chris and his camera to back right off.

Signal crayfish

So today was a day of butterflies and crayfish. It was great to see 5 species of butterfly in one afternoon – don’t think I’ve seen that many since last year. It bodes well for the summer months to come!

Grape Hyacinth 30 WEEDS

And finally week 17 in my 30 Lazy Garden Weeds – The Grape Hyacinth. Not sure this would be classed as a weed, but they certainly grow like a weed in our garden. In early spring they seem to be everywhere. I always think they look particularly good in the evenings, they almost seem to glow. The bees of course absolutely love them and they must be a significant source of nectar for them early on in the year.

 

30 Days Wild – Day 16

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_16Day 16 of 30 Days Wild and I didn’t really have any idea of what I was going to do today. But as I got home from work a thunder storm started and I thought great, I can do a mean and moody storm post. The thunder was rumbling and the rain was pelting down, as I dashed about the house grabbing camera and sound recorder. Of course being the fickle thing that British weather is, it all stopped pretty much the second I stepped out the back door. The sun even came out, ruining my mean and moody plans!

So I decided to switch to Plan B and photograph my little area of “meadow” that I’d planted earlier this year. Although it was now sunny all the plants were of course looking soggy and a bit limp. I was struck though at how quickly the bees reappeared once the rain had stopped. Within minutes the soggy flowers were buzzing again with all manner of bees. Most of the bees looked dry and fluffy, like a bee should. They must have been sheltering somewhere during the downpour. But if there was a wet bee contest, I think this poor mite would win hands down. I couldn’t even tell what species it was, he was so bedraggled. Don’t know why he hadn’t had the sense to find shelter like the rest of them, but his bad hair day didn’t seem to stop him getting the nectar!

Bedraggled bee

Feeling inspired by the bees (both wet and dry) I thought I’d move on to Plan C – lots of nice bee shots after the rain. Again the weather intervened and it started drizzling – not enough for my moody storm post but enough to spoil any bee photography. Feeling in a bee kind of mind now though, I decided to check on my bee species tally for the year. I realised we’d now recorded 21 species of bee in the garden this year already. I’d blogged about bees previously when we’d reached 12 species, but hadn’t done an update since. So Plan D – today’s post is really an update on the remaining 9 species of bee from our garden to date. Should anyone want to read the original post on bees 1 to 12, you can find it here: https://toolazytoweed.uk/2016/04/13/bumblebee-bonanza/

So bee No. 13 was Gooden’s Nomad Bee (Nomada goodeniana). This striking looking bee actually looks more like a wasp with its black and yellow abdomen. All the Nomada bees are parasitic on other bee species – they lay eggs in the hosts nest and their grubs then destroy the host’s eggs and eat the food. So not quite the adorable image of a classic bee!

Nomada goodeniana

Next up bee No. 14 is the Red Mason Bee (Osmia bicornis). This one nests in pre-existing holes in walls, old wood, stems etc. and is supposedly a common one to make use of “bee hotels” – I’m not aware any having made use of ours though. They use wet mud to create cells for their grubs in these holes, which is presumably why they’re called Mason bees.

Red Mason Bee

No 15. is a Blood Bee of the genus Sphecodes. I think they are so named because of the blood red abdomen, rather than any gruesome blood sucking habits. Having said that they are also parasitic, but I guess no-one is perfect! There are apparently lots of species of Sphecodes and they are not only very small, but very difficult to identify to species level just from a photo, so I can’t pinpoint the exact one without capturing it,

Sphecodes female poss monilicornis

Bee No. 16 is the Orange Tailed Mining Bee (Andrena haemorrhoa). You can just about see the orange hairs at the end of its abdomen in the photo. We had a lot of these in the garden, burrowing into the dry ground around the strawberries.

Andrena haemorrhoa female

Bee No. 17 is the Common Mourning Bee (Melecta albifrons). This medium sized dark bee (I think they’re called mourning bees because they’re mainly black) is yet another parasitic one. We had quite a few feeding on the rosemary. You can’t really tell from the photo, but one of its identifying features is its white knees!

Mourning Bee

Bee No. 18 is the Buffish Mining Bee (Andrena nigroaenea). I love the fact that someone decided to call it Buffish rather than just Buff! I only saw this species once and fortunately happened to have the camera with me at the time. This species mainly nests in bare ground, although it will sometimes nest in soft mortar in walls – I hope this isn’t a sign that our garage wall here is crumbling!

Andrena nigroaenea

Bee No. 19 is the Garden Bumblebee (Bombus hortorum). This is a social bumblebee nesting in small colonies – at last a bee on this list that fits my “adorable bee” stereotype! These are particularly common in the garden right now.

Garden Bumblebee

Bee No. 20 is Barbut’s Cuckoo Bee (Bombus barbutellus). This one looks very much like the Garden Bumblebee above and for a good reason – it is a social parasite of the poor Garden Bumblebee – laying its eggs in the nest and allowing the host to feed and raise its grubs – real cuckoo behaviour!

Barbut's Cuckoo Bee (3)

And finally Bee No. 21 the Patchwork Leafcutter Bee (Megachile centuncularis). We spotted this one during the Garden Bioblitz a couple of weeks ago. It was flying under a plastic awning carrying a piece of leaf.

CJL_5302

Not easy to get a good photo like that so we caught it (I feel guilty we made him drop his leaf!) to get a better one. Unfortunately as soon as we opened the pot it flew off, so this was the best we could do. You can at least see the thick orange pollen brushes on its abdomen.

Megachile centuncularis

So those are the nine bees which, with those in the earlier post,  make up the full 21 species from the garden. I must admit I am really pleased that our little garden has attracted so many species. There may well be more – I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a few others, but either not been able to get a photo, or they’ve been too difficult to ID without dissection (which I don’t want to do). Just goes to show what providing a variety of habitats and nectar sources can do for your bee biodiversity!

Pendulous sedge 30 WEEDSAnd finally as always the latest weed from our garden for 30 Days Wild – Pendulous Sedge. This weed would seriously take over the garden if we let it. It forms large dense stands that are pretty much impenetrable. We’ve actually ended up using this to our advantage – using it almost like a hedge to separate areas of the garden. One group of animals that seem to love it are the snails. On a rainy night the Pendulous Sedge is full of snails (it’s probably full of them all the time, but they climb up and are more visible on a rainy night). I couldn’t resist posting this close-up of one of the snails looking like he was swinging on the sedge!

Snail on sedge

 

 

30 Days Wild – Day 15

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_15Day 15 of 30 Days Wild and we’re half way through already! Today was a first for me – a Moth Breakfast! Fortunately the only thing that was actually consumed was a very nice Pain au Chocolat, but the moth demonstration was also excellent. Herefordshire Wildlife Trust had organised the moth breakfast and had put moth traps out the night before to give us a taste of what can be found on a typical night. By typical night it turns out that meant a bit of a wet one, but there were still plenty of moths to look at. I think about 12 of us turned up and were privileged to get the benefit of two moth aficionados for a couple of hours.

The breakfast was held at Herefordshire Wildlife Trust’s Headquarters on the edge of Hereford next to Lugg Meadows. A gorgeous old building (second oldest in Hereford apparently) in a beautiful setting.

WT House

TrapThe contents of various moth traps were examined avoiding the rain under a bright orange gazebo – hence the slight orange hue to some of my photos! Our two experts talked us through the moths and were really helpful answering all our questions. I’d really recommend going to one of these events if you want to get a taster of what moth trapping is all about. The photo below shows the abundance of moths found just on the tea towel that was used to cover the trap – let alone those that were actually inside it. Just about visible are Elephant Hawkmoth, Peppered Moth, Heart and Dart and Small Magpies.

Moth Selection

Other highlights were this gorgeous shiny Burnished Brass (my photo doesn’t do his glossy sheen justice – I blame the orange reflection from the awning!!)

Burnished Brass

Also this stunning Leopard Moth (top), Buff Tip and Blood Vein (bottom).

Leopard Moth

Buff Tip

Blood Vein

The undoubted headliners though had to be the Hawkmoths – in particular for me the Poplar Hawkmoths, as I haven’t managed to trap any of those in the garden yet this year.

Poplar Moth

There were several other species in the traps that I’ve never seen at all and I could feel moth envy taking over. Ghost Moths, Dog’s Tooth, Oak Hook Tip – I can but dream of catching these in the garden!

Once we’d finished oohing and ahhing over the moths, I decided to go for a walk. The Trust sits at the edge of Lugg Meadows – ancient meadows that date back to the time of Domesday. It would have seemed rude not to have a walk around while I was there. They are rich in plantlife – I love the way the plantlife is so rich it is partly obscuring the  Plantlife information board!

Lugg meadow sign

Lugg Meadows are famous for their Snake’s Head Fritillaries. Of course I was too late in the year to see those, but there was plenty else to admire. As with yesterday’s walk along the River Severn at Upton, today I was tormented by House Martin’s swooping past me hunting for insects. Once again they were so close and yet so far in terms of getting a decent photograph – believe it or not the dark blob in the middle of the photo below is the closest I got to capturing a pic of one!

Meadow

The River Lugg itself is for me a reminder of childhood. I grew up in Bodenham close to the Lugg and remember sunny days spent mucking about in the water down by the church. I’ve had a soft spot for the Lugg ever since – the River Severn is all very magnificent and grand, but the lazy Lugg suits me better.

Lugg

The trees along this section of the river show a clear flood line marking where the muddy water must have reached during the last floods. It is several feet above the current river level, showing how much this normally placid water must swell during flood conditions.

Trees with flood mark

The river banks were aflutter with Banded Demoiselles, so of course I couldn’t resist taking yet more photos – they are just so photogenic, I wish my skills did them justice.

Banded Demoiselle

While walking back I spotted a few snails that I’d never seen before. I think they are Amber Snails – assuming they are, these snails are common in damp meadows – which these certainly were today.

Snail

And finally as I got back to the Trust HQ I spotted these pretty little fungi growing in a pile of wood cuttings. They were pale and ethereal, glistening in the rain. No idea what species they were, but they looked like they were out of some kind of imaginary fairy kingdom.

Fungi

Thank you to the Herefordshire Wildlife Trust for a really great morning. It’s got me all fired up for more moth hunting and for a trip back to Lugg Meadows next year to see the Snake’s Head Fritillaries.

 

Petty Spurge 30 WEEDS

And to finish off as always the latest weed from my garden for 30 Lazy Garden Weeds – this time the Petty Spurge. These little green flowers pop up all over the garden, but particularly for some reason on our drive (I call it a drive, but you can barely squeeze a car onto it!) I presume the Petty bit is so called because it is small rather than petty minded. I like the unusual formation of the flowers – a sort of deconstructed flower arrangement!