Spring Is In The Air (and in the Pond)

It is now a couple of weeks since the official start of spring, but it’s felt like it’s been a bit slow actually happening. But having looked at some of the animals we’ve seen in the last few weeks, maybe spring is slowly, tentatively, making itself known after all.

So first up, one of my all time favourites and the first bee of the year – the Hairy Footed Flower Bee. As is so often the case with these, I heard it before I saw it – a male buzzing energetically around the primroses. No sign of any females yet, I think they emerge slightly later.

March also sees the start of the annual Garden Moth Scheme. It’s been a particularly cold and wet start so I’ve not had a huge variety, but numbers are slowly picking up. Here’s a nice trio of the Orthosia genus – a Common Quaker, Clouded Drab & Twin-spotted Quaker.

The moths may be trickling in, but the butterflies have been very slow – not seen a single one in the garden yet this year. But we went for a walk in nearby Priory Gardens a week or so ago and spotted quite a few. A bright yellow Brimstone (way too fast to get a photo), several Commas and at least half a dozen Small Tortoiseshells – all basking in the sunshine.

One thing I’ve been particularly looking forward to is the arrival of frog spawn in our allotment pond. We put the pond in too late last year to get spawn laid, but this year we were good to go and the frogs didn’t disappoint. Here’s a quick video using the new GoPro camera. More froggy updates to follow in the next blog post as the tadpoles develop.

 

We didn’t see any frog spawn in the ponds at Priory Gardens, but there was plenty of bird activity. A couple of moorhens and lots of ducks, including this splendid looking mallard. There’s something about watching ducks on a pond in the sunshine that is not only really relaxing, but feels very spring-like to me.

The previous blog post was all about the peregrines up on the hill, but they weren’t the only birds we saw that day. This male bullfinch looked to be enjoying the spring sunshine sitting on a wild cherry tree (cherry blossom buds being one of their favourite foods apparently).

We also spotted jackdaws that had found some crevices in the rock face to nest in. The hole didn’t look that big, but they were taking quite sizeable twigs in there, so perhaps it opened out inside.

I don’t know if this dunnock was sensing spring or just feeling a bit odd, but it was behaving very strangely. It spent about 10 minutes sitting on top of the hedgehog house (not a safe spot since the neighbour’s cat often sits there), fluffing up its feathers repeatedly and shuffling about. It looked almost as if it was incubating eggs but there was no nest there (I did check it hadn’t laid anything). It stretched its neck out a few times and gaped its beak as well. I know dunnocks have some weird mating habits, but there didn’t seem to be another dunnock around for it to impress with the behaviour. Whatever it was doing it got fed up eventually and flew off into the bushes quite normally. If anyone can shed any light on the behaviour, it would be very much appreciated.

The dunnock may have been behaving strangely, but it was perfectly obvious what this blue tit was up to – gathering nest material. I saw someone suggest recently that you could provide nesting material by tying two hanging basket frames together to form a rough ball and filling them with moss and the like. Apologies to whoever’s idea it was, as I can’t remember where I saw it to be able to credit them properly – but it was a great idea, thank you. We had some old hanging baskets kicking around the garage and the “lawn” is full of moss,  so this was an easy idea to achieve. And the blue tits seem to appreciate it as almost immediately they started taking great beakfuls of moss and flying off with it.

Once it had got a beak’s worth of moss it would then stop on a twig to rearrange the moss a bit more tidily (presumably so it could see where it was flying), before taking off.

If only these blue tits had taken the moss back to the lovely nesting box with camera in that we’ve now had up for 2 years in exactly the spot where they used to nest! But no, they must be nesting elsewhere and all we’ve got on the nestcam is a spider’s web! Still at least we know they are nesting somewhere and that we’ve helped a little bit.

And finally spring must surely be on its way because our hedgehog is back! Whether it is Fat Sam from last year emerged from hibernation or a completely different hog, I have no idea. But it looks big and healthy and has a good appetite.

None of these signs of spring maybe big newsworthy events,  but sometimes it’s spotting the small things in life that gives the most pleasure. And we’re certainly very happy that spring is finally on its way to Malvern.

 

Profusion of Pollinators

It has been a mixed week for us, but one thing that is definitely doing well is the population of pollinators in our garden. I’ve been meaning to do an update on our “Plant a Pot for Pollinators” pot for a while now. I started this post yesterday morning, but it’s taken until this afternoon to finish, as I keep spotting things buzzing round the garden and dash out to take more photos!

When I planted the pot for pollinators back in June, the plants were all small and everything was neat and tidy (the only things in our whole garden that could be described thus). Now, just a month or so later, everything has gone a little bit wild and crazy and to  be honest is fitting in with the rest of the garden much better for it. The flowers are all overflowing the pot, but the main thing is that it is buzzing with life – result! Being organic and unkempt our garden is generally not short of a pollinator or two, but it’s nice having a pot specifically planted with colourful flowers for them. The hoverflies in particular seem to be making good use of the pot. I am very much a beginner when it comes to hoverfly identification and there are an awful lot of species. Fortunately with a helpful guide book and the even more helpful people on the hoverfly Facebook group, I’ve managed to establish that we’ve had at least 6 species visiting the pot over the last week. No doubt there have been more and hopefully I can add to that tally eventually.  But here, in no particular order, are the 6 hoverflies.

First up Britain’s most common hoverfly – Episyrphus balteatus aka the Marmalade Fly. The stripes on its abdomen are supposed to look like the orange shreds in marmalade!

Next up is one of the Syrphus species – difficult to get to species level without a microscope, so I’ll have to stick with the genus.

Another common one next – Eristalis tenax, one of the bumblebee mimics. Their larvae live in water and are commonly known as rat-tailed maggots. 

A much smaller more subtle one next Syritta pipiens – identifiable by the swollen segment on its hind legs.

The next one is colourful but delicate one – Sphaerophoria scripta.

And finally my favourite of this set of 6 – Chrysotoxum festivum. I love the markings on this one – they are known as wasp mimics for obvious reasons.

Of course lots of other things besides hoverflies have been using the pot. I couldn’t resist a photo of this cute little juvenile shieldbug sitting pretty in the middle of the flower.

Not everything is all sweetness and light though – this crab spider may have been tiny but it was definitely lying in wait for any unsuspecting pollinator to come close enough for lunch.

The star prize for visiting my pollinator pot goes to this Common Blue butterfly. We’ve never knowingly had them in the garden before, so I was thrilled that the pot had attracted one. It didn’t hang around –  hence the hastily grabbed photo, but just seeing this one insect alone makes it all worthwhile for me!

While on the subject of butterflies – it is Big Butterfly Count time of year. I’ve been doing counts both in the garden and down at the allotment, plus one at my Dad’s house. There’s still time to do a count if you haven’t already done so. Besides the one-off sighting of the Common Blue, we have also been getting Meadow Browns (in the meadow that’s supposed to be a lawn!) and Gatekeepers, plus the usual Whites, Holly Blues and the occasional Comma or Red Admiral.

Last time I checked the Big Butterfly Count website they’d received over 40,000 counts. Here’s a snapshot of their map for the Malvern area – good to see I’m not the only one who’s been counting around here.

Enthused by the pollinator pot, I went hunting round the garden for other insect attracting plants. We’ve got a fair sized patch of Knapweed which seems to have seeded itself in one corner. The bees were loving it. There were quite a few leaf-cutter bees which was great to see, but almost impossible to photograph. So I gave up and concentrated on bigger bees that were more slower and more obliging.

Aside from the usual bees, butterflies and hoverflies, I found this unusual looking insect. I had no idea even what group it belonged to, but turns out it was a Thick-headed Fly (Sicus ferrugineus). Unfortunately for our bees it parasitizes them, so not such a welcome visitor to the garden.

While stumbling around the garden chasing bees and flies, I came very close to treading on a frog. Fortunately his reflexes were quicker than mine and he hopped out of the way into our feral strawberry plot, but not before I managed to grab a photo.

At the beginning of this post, I said it had been a mixed week for us. The good news was that Too Lazy To Weed has been shortlisted for the 30 Days Wild Blogger Awards 2017. I’ve read quite a lot of the other blogs and there are some great ones out there, so I’m really chuffed that Too Lazy was shortlisted. It’s nice to think that this means there are other people who are interested in the same things that we are. Good luck to all the other nominees – just participating in 30 Days Wild was a win-win thing, so none of us can really lose.

The very sad news for us this week though was that we had to say goodbye to our beautiful old boy Bertie. He was the factory cat at Chris’s work for many years, but came to live with us (his retirement home) two years ago. A great big cat with an even bigger personality and we miss him terribly. xxx

 

30 Days Wild – Day 10 – Down the Lottie

Day 10 of 30 Days Wild and although it’s our wedding anniversary, I’ve spent most of the day down the allotment with my sister instead! We only got the allotment back in March, having e-mailed to be put on what I thought was an 18 month waiting list, only to get a plot 3 days later! Chris wasn’t too keen on the thought of all that weeding, so my sister and I are sharing the allotment instead. I have had to abandon the Too Lazy To Weed policy for the lottie, or all we’d actually grow would be weeds. Sis and I are sticking to our organic, peat free principles though, so ours is hopefully a wildlife friendly plot.

This is what some of the plot looked like when we started. Fairly overgrown with couch grass, bindweed and brambles, but it could have been a lot worse. Some of the empty plots are waist deep in weeds.

It is still very much a work in progress and probably always will be. No sooner have we cleared one patch, than the previous patch needs weeding again. And since we’re not using any weedkillers it is slow going, but worth it. Here’s the same bit a few weeks ago.

We inherited some apple trees, raspberries and currant bushes, all of which we’ve kept for the time being. The first major thing we did was put in a (very) small pond. Even one this size took some digging, which was a bit of a shock to my non-weeding/digging self. This is what the pond looked like just after it was put in.

And this is what it looks like now. The pond plants have established a bit and the water has cleared. We used one of those barley straw logs that clear the water naturally, it would have worked even quicker if a cat hadn’t kept fishing it out! There had been a large water barrel on the plot which had pond snails in, so we transferred those in.

We’ve already seen adult frogs using it – this is one from this morning.

We’ve also got at least one common newt that’s moved in and seems to be pretty much a full time resident now.

We’ve also had pond skaters and lots of midge larvae and a few weeks ago I got really excited when this red damselfly landed next to it.

We’re trying to be as environmentally friendly (and economic) as we can, so are using recycled stuff where possible. The cloches over our sweetcorn are old water bottles and we’ve turned other old bottles into plant pots that are hung on the fence.

This strange looking ring of fur may look like we’ve had some kind of ritual sacrifice, but is actually meant to keep the slugs off our courgettes. It consists of the hair clippings off my sister’s dog Pip – perhaps a bit odd, but we read it somewhere and thought we’d give it a go and it seems to be working.

We’re also trying out companion planting to distract the pests, so we’ve got marigolds amongst the runner beans, mint amongst the carrots and nasturtiums all over the place!

It must all be working because there are loads of bees, butterflies and hoverflies. We’ve put up a bird feeder too, so the sparrows are also doing well. We’ve even had moths – found this Small Magpie moth today trapped in the shed. A bit of chasing round with an old toilet roll and I caught him and released him – my good deed for today.

I do have to watch when I’m down the lottie that I don’t get totally distracted by the wildlife and forget to do the gardening. Today I spent an awful lot of time staking out a foxglove to try and get a photo of the bees going in and out. Unfortunately they’re so damn quick, this was the best I managed.

Finally no allotment would be complete without a resident robin. We have a pair that come down – I live in hope of getting them to trust me enough to take food from my hand, no luck yet.

By gardening organically we’ve accepted that some of our lettuce will get munched by slugs and some of the fruit will be eaten by birds, but there’s still more than enough for our two households.  This was today’s harvest – good to know that it is all pesticide and guilt free!

It is lovely and peaceful down the lottie and both my sister and I find it really relaxing. If I didn’t already know that getting in touch with wildlife and gardening organically was good for the soul, then taking on the allotment would have convinced me. Growing our own produce in a wildlife friendly plot – to me that epitomises the whole ethos of 30 Days Wild – and I couldn’t be happier!

30 Days Wild – Day 4

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_04Day 4 of 30 Days Wild and today we took part in another event – the National Garden Bioblitz, thereby ticking off two targets with one activity (in true Too Lazy fashion). The aim of the Garden Bioblitz is to find and record as many species of plants and animals as possible in the garden in 24 hours.  Since we’re always identifying things we find in the garden anyway, a bioblitz is just a natural extension of that.

Garden BioblitzLast time we did this a few years ago, we recorded about 120 species; but that was before we got into moth trapping and bee identifying, so hopefully we can beat that this time.  I’m writing this late evening – we’ve been busy in the garden all day, photographing and listing everything we could find. I’ve still got loads of things to identify from the photos and then everything has to get logged onto the i-record site.

It has pretty much been the perfect day. It started at about 4:30 am when I got up to empty the moth trap (to beat the cheeky robin to the catch). Then went back to bed for a bit more sleep (always good), before resuming the challenge at a more reasonable hour. For once the sun shone on the righteous (questionable I know) and we had the perfect conditions for trawling the garden for photo ops. Pretty much the whole day was spent crawling about the garden with the cameras. We finished off by cranking up the BBQ and cracking open a bottle of Prosecco – the perfect end to the perfect day.

Elephant Hawkmoth 2During the day we tried every trick we could think of. Obviously the moth trap had been out over night and produced at least 20 species of moth – I’m still working through the photos, so this total may rise. Highlight was the always stunning Elephant Hawkmoth.

 

Diamond Back mothI was also really pleased to get several Diamond-back moths – tiny moths that migrate over from the Continent. They’d been mentioned on Springwatch and social media was full of people saying they’d had loads of them this week, so I felt ridiculously glad that Too Lazy’s garden hadn’t missed out. Moth envy is a terrible thing!

 

CJL_5328We also tried pitfall traps for the first time, using old plastic tubs buried in the ground. This produced this rather splendid (and still to be identified) beetle, plus a couple of woodlice and a spider (also still in need of ID). I suspect pitfall traps take a bit of practice in sussing the right location – we might try them again at other places in the garden.

We tried the “suspend an umbrella under a tree and wack the branches” technique as demonstrated by Chris Packham on Springwatch.  We only have the one mature tree (an apple) so this didn’t produce too much, but was interesting to try.

FrogWe dipped in the pond, which produced mainly duckweed, but also some leeches and water louse. It also meant we spotted one of our two amphibian species of the day – a Common Frog, watching us warily from his duckweed blanket.

 

 

NewtWe of course turned over stones and pieces of wood, which yielded our second amphibian – the Common Newt. We also found most of our molluscan species this way, both snails and slugs. We achieved a respectable 4 species of snail, but sadly the Girdled Snail, which I know we get in the garden, remained steadfastly hidden today.

 

Collared DoveThe rest of the day was spent generally bird watching and chasing various bees and insects round the garden.  I haven’t tallied up the birds properly yet, but we managed at least 10 species including this Collared Dove. At least 6 bee species put in an appearance, with possibly a new one – we spotted some kind of leafcutter bee carrying (not surprisingly) a piece of leaf – hopefully we can get an ID on it soon, although the photo wasn’t brilliant. DSC_3856Fortunately other bees were more obliging.

Only 2 butterflies showed their faces today – a Small White and a Holly Blue. Assorted insects made up the remainder of the animal count, while the plant count is at least 25 species, with probably a few more to ID.

We’ve spent the whole day in the garden photographing our wildlife and it will probably take several days more to go through all the photos and get them loaded so that they count for the Bioblitz. But it’s been a thoroughly enjoyable experience and has got us rooting about bits of the garden, that we may otherwise ignore. We won’t know the final tally of species for a couple of days, but I’ll post an update when we do. I’d recommend having a go at a Garden Bioblitz for anyone – you don’t need to be especially skilled – just take it to whatever level  you can manage. You’re sure to learn something new and hopefully enjoy your garden all the more for it. There’s still time to do it for this year – http://www.gardenbioblitz.org/ for more information.

Bindweed 30 WEEDSDay 4 of 30 Lazy Weeds and a truly beautiful if sometimes bothersome flower – Bindweed. The bane of many a gardener, but if you take the time to look at the flower itself, it really is stunning. Pure white and beautiful in its simplicity. Gardeners will plant similar looking flowers, but weed out these, which seems a shame. I know their stems do wind themselves round pretty much everything, but for me the flowers more than make up for this.

 

 

New Year’s Resolutions

Well 2015 is over and I reckon it’s been a pretty good year for the wildlife in the garden. The final tally includes:

  • Elephant Hawk-moth155 species of moth recorded in the garden, plus about 6 more seen out and about. Most of the 155 came to the moth traps, but a few were more adventurous and made it as far as the bathroom!
  • Common Blue28 species of butterfly bagged, of which 17 appeared in the garden at least once during the year.

 

  • Bee on buddleia12 species of bee in the garden (which reminds me I must do a bee post soon). At the height of the summer (such as it was) the garden was buzzing with bee activity.

 

  • Box Bug7 species of shieldbug in the garden, including a rarity for Worcestershire – the Box Bug (which remains the only wildlife to have used our new bird bath!)

 

  • Hedgehog3 mammal species in the garden (grey squirrel, hedgehog and regular if unidentified bats) plus one family of mice living in the garage.

 

  • Toad3 amphibian species (toad, frog and common newt) visiting our pond/bog and surviving attacks from our garden furniture.

 

  • SparrowhawkOne sparrowhawk (and consequently one less sparrow) in the garden. Numerous other small birds though eating their way through a small fortune’s worth of bird seed.

 

  • Blue Tit on Suet FeederOne family of blue tits successfully fledged from our bird box, after 6 years of it sitting empty. Fingers crossed for a repeat next year.

 

  • Swollen Thighed BeetlePlus numerous beetles (including my personal favourite – the swollen-thighed beetle), molluscs, ants, wasps, hoverflies and other assorted invertebrates.

 

  • TeaselsAnd finally of course to maintain the “too lazy” ethos – zero weeds were harmed in the making of this list!

 

So that brings me to 2016 and some New Year’s resolutions. As there is virtually no chance of me succeeding with any of my usual resolutions (cut down the drinking, lose weight, grow taller, read the classics, write a classic, stop fantasizing about George Clooney etc. etc. etc.) I thought I’d make an alternative list of things I might actually achieve.  So for 2016 I hope to:

  • Try and see at least 4 more species of butterfly – there are lots of great wildlife reserves within easy distance of Malvern, so hopefully we can bag at least some of the following: Grayling, Wood White, Purple Emperor, Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary, Silver-studded Blue and Green Hairstreak.
  • Have a go at beetle trapping. Having more or less got the hang of the moth traps, it would be good to expand our insect repertoire.
  • Dig a new pond – one that actually has water in, not just soggy mud.
  • Replace at least some of the overgrown weeds with more butterfly and bee flower beds.
  • Work out what species those unidentified bats are – it’s been bugging me for years!
  • Get that moth tattoo I’ve been toying with for ages!
  • Learn to photoshop convincingly so I can fabricate evidence of the above when I fail to achieve these resolutions too!

Wishing all lazy wildlife enthusiasts a happy, healthy and environmentally friendly 2016.

Mr Toad

ToadBig drama this weekend when we had to rescue a toad in the garden. That was the plus side, the down side was that it was ourselves we were rescuing him from! In a rare burst of activity, the other half decided to tidy away the garden furniture, which we’d left out in the pouring rain as usual. He moved the table to find this toad had been happily minding his own business beneath it. At first we feared the worst that we’d squashed him, as he lay there playing dead (who knew toads were such good actors). Thankfully he then revived a bit and we stopped our guilt-ridden wailing.  Fearing that he might have internal injuries though, the other half spent the next half hour constructing a vivarium to keep him in overnight – complete with buffet of freshly dug up worms. Fortunately the morning check revealed a perfectly healthy, if slightly annoyed toad, keen to return to the wild. So to the sounds of “Born Free” we let him go back into the garden wilderness. Live long and prosper Mr Toad!