Big Lazy Review of the Year

Can’t believe 2016 is all but over. It’s been an awful year in many respects (depressing national and international voting outcomes, various terrorist atrocities, plus the loss of some truly great people), but our garden has provided welcome relief throughout. We may live in the middle of Malvern, but the garden is quiet and peaceful and the wildlife never fails to cheer me up. So here’s a bit of a round up of some of the highlights from 2016.

The year began with one of the many “citizen science” projects we try to participate in – the Big Garden Bird Survey. Throughout the year we also took part in the Big Butterfly Count, the Garden Bioblitz, the Garden Moth Scheme and Moth night as well as submitting assorted records for bees, ladybirds, dragonflies and even a glow worm.

30DAYSWILD_ID1 blackThe biggest project was taking part in the Wildlife Trusts 30 Days Wild Challenge. This ran throughout June and I managed to blog about something “wild” we’d done each of the 30 days. I was really chuffed when the blog made it to the final short list for the 30 Days Wild Blogger Awards. We didn’t win, but that didn’t matter as I had such fun doing it.


Scarlet TigerMoths were, as always, a big part of my year. The trap was out once a week throughout the summer for the Garden Moth Scheme. In the end we recorded 211 species in the garden – a new record total, which included many firsts for our garden. All beautiful, but none more so than this Tiger.

Purple Emperor 12One of my resolutions from last year was to see more butterfly species. We may not be able to attract any more species to our garden, but when we were Out & About we managed to bag 10 more species – way more than I’d hoped for. This takes our lifetime tally to 38 – only about 20 more UK species to go! Every one was a delight, but ultimately you can’t beat the Purple Emperor!

ivy-bee-7Last year we recorded 12 species of bee in the garden, which I’d thought was pretty good. This year we made it to 25! There may even have been more, but some require microscopic identification and as I don’t want to kill any, that was out. The final bee of the year was this Ivy Bee – new to Britain this species is gradually spreading north, so we were really excited to find it in our garden. Chris even got one of his Ivy Bee photos published in the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust magazine!

woodpecker-2One major innovation for the garden was our Trail Camera. Wish I’d bought one of these years ago as they are brilliant! We’ve been able to watch blue tits using the nest box, catch the squirrel stealing the bird food outside and mice stealing it in the garage, as well as watching the birds themselves feeding up close. We discovered we’d got Siskins and a Woodpecker that we’d never seen and followed Stumpy the magpie.


hedgehog-fredOne particular joy from the trail camera has been being able to watch our hedgehogs. We rescued 2 baby hedgehogs one boiling hot day in July, who were then cared for by our local hedgehog rescue lady. One of them (Fred) was returned to us and we watched him trundle around our garden with another older hog. We’ve now got 2 hedgehog houses and have learnt a lot about their behaviour from watching the video footage. Fingers crossed Fred and his friend survive the winter.

KestrelAs well as watching the wildlife in our garden, we were out and about quite a bit in the summer. We are lucky here to have so many wonderful nature reserves within easy distance. As well as the various new butterflies, we’ve seen slow worms and glow worms (the latter only as a larva unfortunately), kestrels, deer, puffins (admittedly we did have to go a bit further for these) and of course some beautiful countryside.

2016-12-31-14_39_48_315Last year I set out some wildlife resolutions and surprisingly we’ve actually managed to achieve some of them (wildlife resolutions are clearly much easier to follow than the ones about losing weight or cutting back on the Prosecco!) We did see more butterfly species, I did have a go at beetle trapping (not a huge success, but at least I tried), we did replace some of the naturally thriving weeds with specific butterfly/bee loving wildflowers. I even managed to identify the bats that come to the garden in the summer (Pipistrelles) thanks to another new toy, my bat detector.

We didn’t however manage to dig a new pond and the old one is getting increasingly silted up. I also haven’t got round to the new moth tattoo, although I have made some enquiries with various tattooed lorry drivers who come to my work as to where they got theirs done. (much to their bemusement I expect!)

So New Year’s resolutions for 2017?

  • The new pond has to be top of the list, before our frogs and newts give up on us totally.
  • Get video/photos of the blue tits fledging this time (assuming they nest in the garden again). Although we filmed the adults feeding, we somehow managed to miss the babies emerging, so really want to get that this year.
  • Try to bag a few more butterfly species – targets will be Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary, Duke of Burgundy and Grizzled Skipper, but more if we can manage.
  • Try and find Ivy bees at a few more sites. Don’t think there are many records for Herefordshire yet, so hopefully we can head over to my Dad’s and add a few more dots to the map.
  • Start compiling records for hoverflies in our garden – I know we get lots, but we’ve never really had a proper go at identifying them all. I feel a new obsession coming on!
  • 30 Days Wild for 2017.
  • Maybe that tattoo!

Thank you to all the people we met while out and about this year. We met some lovely people who helped us identify birds and butterflies and pointed us in the right direction when we were wandering aimlessly in search of this species or that. Thanks also to our local hedgehog lady Viv who does such an amazing job and let us have Fred back all fattened up and healthy. And thanks to everyone who’s been following the blog and to all the other bloggers that I follow and who are so inspiring. Wishing you all a happy, healthy and wildlife-filled 2017!

Apple Tree Life Cycle

I haven’t managed to blog much lately – the tail end of 2016 seems to have been way to busy (social whirl darhhhlings!) As the year draws to a close though, I feel a few reviewing posts coming on. One little project I started back at the beginning of the year was to try and document the life and times of our garden apple tree. I had originally planned to take a photo of the tree once a week throughout the year, but a) I kept forgetting and b) no-one would really want to look at 52 photos of the same tree! So although this post is full of photos, there’s hopefully a bit more variety.

Our apple tree is a medium sized, but fairly productive one, that gives us loads of delicious Discovery apples most years. At the beginning of the year though the tree was of course completely bare and remained so right up until the end of March.


A couple of weeks later in mid April and the leaf buds were just about visible and starting to open up.


Two more weeks and the leaves were filling out. I much prefer it when the tree is in leaf as it provides more privacy in the garden (not that our neighbours I’m sure have any interest in what we get up to in our garden!)


A mere 8 days later still and not only was the tree almost completely greened out, but the blossom was open too. The blossom seems to go on a two yearly cycle – one year it will completely cover the tree, the next year we don’t get very much – this year was one of the not very much years. It still looked beautiful though and was buzzing with bees for the short time it was out. The blossom never lasts long and this year it all got knocked off by a torrential downpour just a couple of days after this photo was taken.


Two weeks later at the end of May and the blossom was gone and the tree was fully green. The birds appreciate the cover provided by the leaves, although they never seem to actually nest in it.


By mid June small apples were visible. Although there hadn’t seemed like there was much blossom, we still had a lot of apples, so I guess the bees did a good job on what was there. On years where there is a huge amount of blossom, there can actually be too many apples. They crowd together on the branches, with not enough room to grow properly and many end up dropping off, so we don’t really get any more apples than on a poor blossom year.


By August the apples had turned the characteristic shiny red of the Discovery. The ones that get most sun turn the brightest red – they always remind me of the apple the witch uses to tempt Snow White!


We always end up with far too many apples for our own use, but Chris has a friend at work who makes cider, so he comes and clears the tree for us. Not only do the apples get put to good use, but it saves us having to pick up loads of rotting ones off the grass. So by September the apples were all gone and just a few of the leaves were starting to turn yellow.


By October the leaves were still all there but were definitely wearing their autumnal colours


A few windy days at the end of October and most of the leaves had gone by November.


And by yesterday the tree was back to square one – the only green left a few clumps of mistletoe that has recently colonised it.


As well as taking general shots of the whole tree, I tried to capture close ups of some of the individual parts. The leaf buds at the beginning of the year were brown and tightly furled but by mid April the young leaves had emerged, looking lovely and fresh green.



The blossom is of course effortlessly photogenic. It starts of a gorgeous deep pink before the flowers unfurl to almost pure white with just a hint of a blush. We’re very lucky to live in the Herefordshire/Worcestershire area, where in the spring there are orchards all around filled with apple blossom. It looks great on just our single tree, but when you see whole orchards in bloom it really is stunning.




The whole point of an apple tree (from a human point of view at least) is of course the apples.  The  young apples were green and had a downy fuzz (I’d never noticed the fuzziness before until I took these photos!) In May as the apples first form you could still see the remnants of the blossom flowers sticking out at the top.


As the apples matured they lost their fuzziness and turned shiny and red; the upper sides almost always turning red first as they got the most sunshine.


Most of the apples were of course turned into cider. They didn’t all get picked though and the few remaining ended up as food for wasps on the ground.


Every year I do pick a few for our own use before the cider makers take the main crop.


Discovery apples aren’t particularly good for storage, so you either have to eat them quickly or find some other use for them. Fortunately I’ve found they make very good mincemeat, courtesy of an excellent Delia (who else) recipe.


So the final stage in the life of our apples – jars of homemade mincemeat. It is nearly Christmas after all!