Out and About – Lea Quarry, Wenlock Edge

One of the goals for 2017 was to see some new butterfly species. So yesterday we set out for Lea Quarry at Wenlock Edge, in search of the Wall butterfly. The excellent “Butterflies of the West Midlands” book recommended Lea Quarry as a hotspot for Walls in August, so off we went. As usual we nearly managed to get lost as soon as we left the carpark, thanks to someone removing an arrow sign from the path trail! Fortunately while we puzzled over which way to go, a very helpful butterfly spotter Roger (and his gorgeous Malamut dog), showed us the correct path and in fact led us straight to our targets.

Wenlock Edge is a narrow limestone escarpment and Lea Quarry is just as it sounds – a quarry.  From the path there are lovely views out over the Shropshire countryside.

The path runs along the Edge with the quarry to one side.

The butterflies congregated on a small rocky slope at the side of the path. The area may not have been very big, but it was full of butterflies – we counted 11 species. Most were common ones like Gatekeepers, Speckled Wood, Comma, Holly Blue, Meadow Browns and Whites.

There were a couple of large and fresh looking Peacocks which were jostling for position over the same flowers.

There was also one Small Heath, which was more unusual to us. It skulked about in the undergrowth a bit though and looked generally a bit tired, so we only managed this poor photo.

A Small Skipper was much more obliging, posing happily right in front of us.

Common Blues were reasonably common and the males were very blue! The poor female is of course the dowdier of the pair, but still very beautiful.

But the main attraction were the Walls. They’re medium sized butterflies and quite strikingly marked, yet were surprisingly difficult to spot unless they took off. They fly most when it’s sunny, so we were lucky the weather was kind to us and the sun shone down on the righteous! Roger pointed out our first ever one, but after that we were up and running.

We saw several basking on the bare rocks. Unfortunately they do have a tendency to take off as soon as you approach with a camera, but we did eventually get a few decent shots of them like this.

I did eventually manage to get a few photos of a Wall on a flower – only because I was trying to photograph something else and the Wall landed on the flower right next to me though – but hey, you take what you can get! I didn’t realise until I looked back at the photos, just how beautiful the undersides of the wings are too.

The stony bank was busy with insects of all kinds besides the butterflies. Common Blue damselflies were drifting about all over the place – even photobombing one of our Wall photos.

Chris also spotted this much larger Darter dragonfly (Common or Ruddy – I can never remember which is which?)

Bees and hoverflies were making the most of the summer flowers. The hoverflies were particularly numerous and included this striking Large Pied Hoverfly (Volucella pellucens).

We could hear grasshoppers/crickets almost constantly – chirruping away enthusiastically in the sunshine. It was towards the end of our visit though before we actually saw one, when it hopped out onto the path. The relatively short and thick antennae indicate it was a grasshopper rather than a cricket, and that’s about as far as my ID got. But thanks to Neil, it has now been identified as a male Meadow Grasshopper.

So the Wall takes our lifetime tally of butterflies to 43! Very happy with that, but already looking forward to adding to this. We’re probably too late to bag any other new ones this year, as we’d need to travel serious distances probably. But with a bit of luck next summer, we might manage to creep a bit closer to the magic total of 59 – the generally recognised number of British species. It’s almost certainly going to get harder and we’ll have to travel further, but it’s nice to have a goal and a great way to get out and about, so we’re not complaining.

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 16 – Plant Pots for Pollinators

It’s Day 16 of 30 Days Wild and this evening I’ve been Planting a Pot for Pollinators. This isn’t just me randomly planting up a pot with more flowers, but part of a nationwide scheme to encourage people to do their bit for pollinating bees, hoverflies and butterflies etc.

It’s being organised by the Butterfly Conservation Society – for more information go to: http://www.plantpotsforpollinators.org The aim is simple – to get as many people as possible to plant up at least one pot in their garden with flowers that are good for our insect pollinators.

If you go to their website you can download instructions, but basically all you need is a big pot, some peat-free compost and some flowers. There’s a list of 6 suggestions – calendula, catmint, cosmos, French marigolds, Shasta daisies and dahlias (but only the single flowered varieties as these have pollen that is easy for the bees to get at).  You can of course choose others, provided they are good for pollinators.

Of the 6, I bought, Cosmos (left), French marigolds and a Dahlia – all of which had bees on in the garden centre when I bought them – a good sign! I also supplemented these with some wildflower plants that I’d had sitting waiting to plant on for a while – Verbena bonariensis, Anthemis and Achillea.

 

It only took 5 minutes to fill the pot with compost and stick the 6 plants in. With hindsight I could probably have squeezed a couple more in and I may well do so at the weekend. Even if I don’t buy more, hopefully those that are there will bush out to fill the pot up a bit more. Hopefully the mix of different colours and shapes will attract a variety of pollinating insects.

So here is the (sort of) finished article, nothing fancy, but hopefully the bees will appreciate it. Ideally I would have liked to include some photos of insects actually on the pot, but since I did this after work, it was getting a bit late and there was not much buzzing about. Assuming I get something on them, I will add more photos when I can.

Having planted a pot, the website encourages you to plot your pot on their map. Butterfly Conservation hope to cover the UK in pots for pollinators. So being a good citizen scientist, I plotted my pot on the map. It is reassuring to see that ours isn’t the only one in Worcestershire!

Of course our garden being a weedfilled paradise for insects, you could argue that it didn’t really need another pot of flowers for pollinators. But you can never have too many, so why not? And by participating in a scheme like this, we are hopefully helping to spread the good word.

 

 

30 Days Wild – Day 11 – Demoiselles and Damsels

It’s Day 11 of 30 Days Wild and I was out and about in search of some of my favourite insects.  This wild June weather is starting to get a bit annoying though – the wind doesn’t seem to have stopped blowing here for days – not ideal especially when you’re trying to take photos of something as flighty and ephemeral as a dragonfly!

Windy weather aside, it was a lovely day and I headed out to one of my all time favourite places – The Knapp & Papermill Nature Reserve on the other side of the Malvern Hills. I know I visited this reserve last year for 30 Days Wild, but I just couldn’t resist going again.

I hoped to see one of my favourite insects, the Beautiful Demoiselle and also if I was really lucky maybe a kingfisher. Well I got one out of two!

The reserve has a stream (Leigh Brook) running through it and does get kingfishers, just not while I was there today. The wildlife trust has built a screen overlooking a suitable patch of the stream, so that if you’re lucky you can watch the kingfishers unseen.

Beyond the screen is the water surrounded by trees and a vertical bank the other side – ideal kingfisher habitat. But just because you’ve got everything a kingfisher might want, doesn’t mean they’re going to turn up on cue. It’s still a really nice spot to wait and relax, watching the brook flow by.

Fortunately I had more luck on the insect front. I spotted demoiselles and damselflies almost as soon as I set foot in the reserve. Even without the insects it would have been lovely though. As you enter there is a pool surrounded by gorgeous flag irises.

Further into the reserve there are little pathways going off the main track, taking you on your own magical mystery tours.

Up the second of these I tried, I found these orchids – they may only be the Common Spotted ones, but they are beautiful nonetheless.  I was happy to have found 2 or 3 orchids, but when I rejoined the main track, I came across a meadow absolutely full of them – even better!

As well as the meadows and the stream, the reserve has large areas of woodland and old orchards – all of which were full of birds – none of which would pose for the camera! A whole flock of long-tailed tits swooped into a tree right in front of me, there must have been at least a dozen and yet I still couldn’t get a better picture than this.

After 20 more minutes of fruitless birdwatching, I swapped back to the macro lens and concentrated on the insects. The Beautiful Demoiselles were flitting around like tropical birds – it still amazes me that you can get such beautiful insects as these in Britain. There seemed to be more males, although that may just be because they are flashier and easier to spot. The males have stunning blue wings with an emerald green body.

The females have more of a bronze colour to the wings, with a white spot near the end. I think last year we got better photos of both, but then it wasn’t so windy!

There were loads of them and I could have watched them all day. I did try and take some short video clips, but I don’t think they really capture them properly. The first clip just shows a male flexing his wings, but then a bright blue damselfly photo bombs in the top left corner!

Demoiselle & damsel

 

I’ve tried to be clever with the second clip as I accidentally discovered a slo-mo feature when I was reviewing the clips. So this one shows the same male taking off for a short flight and the flight bit is in theory slowed down so you can see his aerial acrobatics better. Think I may need to practice this technique a bit more though!

Demoiselle

 

Besided the demoiselles, I saw two species of damselfly. The bright blue ones were most numerous and turned out to be Azure Damselflies.

As I was heading back to the car, I spotted some Large Red Damselflies including this mating pair. The male is the one on the left and he has grasped the female on the right by her neck. They flew around the pond attached to each other like this for a few minutes while I watched. At some point the female will curl her body up and round to meet the male’s and then they will mate, but they didn’t get that far while I was spying on them!

I absolutely love this reserve, it is worth going to see the demoiselles alone, but there is so much more besides. It is tucked away in a small valley off an already off the beaten track road and always feels like such an oasis of calm.

 

30 Days Wild – Day 7 – Birdwatching Surprise

Day 7 of 30 Days Wild and I was at my Dad’s house in rural Herefordshire. I spent the morning doing a bit of cleaning in his kitchen and while doing so, observed that his garden was full of birds (clearly I wasn’t 100% focussed on my cleaning duties!) Since I’d got the camera with me it seemed the ideal thing for today’s bit of wildness – a spot of birdwatching in his garden. First of course we had to have our pub lunch – there are certain priorities in life after all! Needless to say by the time we got back and I got myself set up in the garden, all the birds had decided they’d got better places to be!

In the morning there had been several large black birds (too far away to see if they were crows or jackdaws) going in and out of this hole in an old apple tree. They must have been too smart to do so while I was watching, as not one appeared while I waited, although I could hear them in the trees nearby. I might take my trail cam down and leave it pointed at the tree sometime, but in the meantime I drew a blank.

In the morning I had also seen magpies, wrens, robins, blue tits and pigeons – in the afternoon – zilch, zippo, nada! Then just as I was about to give up on them all –  a total surprise. I was leaning against another old apple tree (Dad’s house was built in an old orchard) when a Gold Crest suddenly appeared just a few feet in front of me. By the time my brain registered what it was, it had already spotted me and started to move, so I only managed this one rubbish shot. You’ll probably have to take my word for it that he was indeed a gold crest, since the key bit – i.e. his crest, is hidden by a twig. Still his appearance made up for the absence of everything else. I grew up in that garden and don’t ever remember seeing a gold crest before, so it was a real treat.

Loitering under various trees did have the unplanned benefit of letting me admire the tree canopies. There is a beautiful large copper beech tree overhanging Dad’s garden and the leaves were stunning from below (or indeed from any angle).

The birds may have been a bit contrary today, but fortunately a few insects were a bit more obliging. I spotted several pairs of these adorable little Woundwort Shieldbugs, all feeling the love in one of Dad’s flower beds. Not a species I’d come across before and smaller than other species I’ve seen.

A rather striking fly – the grandly named Pellucid Fly (Volucella pellucens) is one of Britain’s largest flies, but was a welcome sight given the lack of birds to photograph.

Although the garden was once part of an orchard, most of the apple trees have got too old and fallen. Those that are still there are covered in ivy and mistletoe. The hedges are full of hawthorn and other native plants, notably elderflower. All great habitats for wildlife. Seeing the elderflower in bloom reminds me of my childhood and the smell takes me right back.

I think I’ve seen a few other people on 30 Days Wild making elderflower champagne. We used to make this as children too, so I picked a load and took them home. This is as far as they’ve got at the moment. I’ll have to dig out a recipe and hopefully turn  them into something drinkable over the next few days – fingers crossed.

So as is so often the case with my 30 Days Wild acts, things didn’t go quite as planned. But who cares – a pub lunch and an enjoyable hour or so spent in Dad’s garden, listening to, if not seeing a lot of birds. There are worse ways to spend your day!

30 Days Wild – Day 4 – Garden Bioblitz Part 2

It’s day 4 of 30 Days Wild and I spent the morning taking more photos of the wildlife for our Garden Bioblitz. I’d started the bioblitz at about 09:30 yesterday, so I was trying to cram in as many more species as I could before 09:30 this morning. This wasn’t helped by the fact that my camera has packed in (I hope temporarily) so I was having to use Chris’s camera and swap lenses back and forth.

The day started at 04:30 to beat the birds to the contents of the moth trap. I had hoped for a good haul to boost my species tally, but the trap was fairly quiet – possibly because it had been quite windy last night. Still there were some nice moths including a few of these beautiful and distinctive Angle Shades – virtually impossible to mistake these for anything else, which I like in a moth!

Star of the moth show was the Elephant Hawkmoth making a timely debut for the year in our garden. I’ll never tire of these stunning moths with their bright pink bodies. If you were to make a toy moth, I reckon this would be it.

I put a specimen of each moth in the fridge (it does no harm but keeps them calm until  you can photograph them) and went back to bed for a couple of hours. 8 o’clock though and I was back up photographing said moths, then scouring the garden for more wildlife. I hadn’t managed to photograph any birds yesterday, so I topped up the feeders and waited expectantly to see what would show up. As usual the sparrows were the first to show, landing on last year’s teasels to check things out before heading to the bird table.

The starlings and jackdaws came next, followed by the blackbirds and pigeons.

There were several no shows for birds that normally frequent the garden – no sign of the robin, wren, collared doves, great tits or gold finches. A blue tit just appeared in the last minutes to scrape into the bioblitz total. For the last few days I’d been seeing a big black bird, bigger then the jackdaws, so was disappointed initially when it didn’t show for the camera. But then I downloaded the trail camera which had been running for the last couple of days and there he was – a carrion crow.

The trail cam also picked up a couple of hedgehogs – one of which looks like our old foster hedgehog Meadow – i.e. it was a big chunky looking hog!

There were of course bees in the garden, although being a busy bee myself chasing everything else around I didn’t actually manage to get that many photos of them. But here are two favourites – a Buff-tailed Bumblebee and a Common Carder Bee.

There was also this bumblebee mimicking hoverfly (Merodon equestris).

Our snails were also being sneeky and hiding away over the last 24 hours – several species that I know we get refused to show. Fortunately both the White Lipped (top) and Brown Lipped (below) appeared out of the Pendulous Sedge to get their photos taken.

I also found three species of slug including this large yellow one and the stripy ones which I think are Iberian slugs.

I spotted this tiny nymph of the Speckled Bush Cricket, when I saw its antennae poking over the edge of a buttercup. Unfortunately the buttercup was blowing about in the wind a bit – hence the less than perfect focussing!

While turning over stones, I disturbed loads of woodlice. The top one is a Common Striped Woodlouse and the ones below that are Common Rough Woodlice. The bottom pinky one may just be a variant of the latter, but I hoping it might be a 3rd species – just waiting for someone on i-Spot to confirm one way or another.

 

Beetles are the largest insect group in the world, so it would have been a bit weird if I hadn’t found any in the garden. My favourite Swollen-thighed beetle of course appeared, but so did this lovely shiny Black Clock Beetle.

This tiny carpet beetle was making the most of the flowers.

One group I’ve never really studied is the centipedes/millipedes. This beauty turned up under an old piece of wood. I’ve yet to work out the species though (suggestions gratefully received).

So that’s a selection of our bioblitz species for 2017. As always I ran out of time, so didn’t manage to root about in the pond, or look for ants, flies, grass moths and a host of other things. It was also a bit disappointing that no butterflies or shieldbugs or ladybirds appeared in the last 24 hours, but then that’s the way it goes. The bioblitz is just a snapshot of what you can find in the garden over a day. I love that it gets me looking for groups that I don’t normally study (easy to get in a bit of a rut with the bees and moths and butterflies and forget the others sometimes) – always good to broaden my wildlife horizons.

I’m still identifying photos and gradually uploading them to the i-Record website, so I won’t know the final tally for a while yet. So far I’ve only managed to load 32 species, which apparently puts me 10th on the bioblitz league table. Sounds good until I realised the person in the top spot at the moment has 167 species – I’ve got a way to go yet!

 

The Darling Bugs Of May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and this Common Carder bee on a campion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finchy Firsts

Yesterday there was a real feeling that spring was in the air. I know it’s technically still winter, but the day felt hopeful. The sun even made a (brief) appearance after what seems like weeks of grey skies here in Malvern. The primroses and crocuses were all out bringing a little cheer to the garden.

primroses

crocus

I had hoped there might be a few bees out and about, but was very happy instead to see my first hoverfly of the year. Eristalis tenax (also known rather unkindly as the Common Dronefly) was rather obligingly sunning itself on some large leaves. I’m very much a novice when it comes to hoverflies, but a very helpful man on Facebook ID’d it for me, with the top hoverfly tip that it is the only one like this that has enlarged hind tibia – which is probably the equivalent of fat calves on its back legs!

hoverfly-eristalis-tenax

I have been missing taking macro shots over the winter, so it was really nice to see at least one insect. I’ve tried the moth trap a few times over the last few weeks, but it has been completely empty each time – I need a mothy fix soon! The Garden Moth Scheme starts again in a few weeks, so I hope things pick up before then.

There may not have been many insects about lately, but there are always plenty of birds in the garden. Chris was (very unusually) up and about early and spotted a first for our garden – a lovely chaffinch. Despite the abundance of food I put out, this is the first time we can remember seeing one and definitely the first time either of us has got a half decent photo of one in the garden. Of course only he got to see it.

chaffinch

While he was still flushed with the success of the chaffinch – another first – a gorgeous male bullfinch arrived too! A few weeks ago I’d thought I’d picked up a fuzzy shot of a bullfinch on the trail camera, but it had been too far away and way too blurred to be sure. So it was great to get a proper shot of it; not only that, but it was actually in the same bush as the fuzzy trail cam image, so it sort of confirms the first one. Needless to say I missed the bullfinch as well as the chaffinch!

bullfinch

Determined to see at least some kind of finchy activity, I then spent an hour sitting behind a camouflage net in the garage peering through at the niger seed feeder. I was rewarded with a very brief glimpse and one dark and grainy shot of a goldfinch. Not a first as we get them regularly, but at least Chris missed this one!

goldfinch

Just need a greenfinch now!

Yesterday was also the first real chance to appreciate this in the sunshine – a present from my friends Helen & John.  Perfect thing for the Too Lazy garden.

wind-vane

Seeing the wind vane (I think that’s what it’s called?) made me dig out the camera to take a few pics of some other presents I’ve been lucky enough to get which reference the Too Lazy blog. Last month my friend Mhairi gave me this amazing embroidery that she’d made for me – it has everything – a butterfly, a moth, a spider and even a beetle.

embroidery

embroidered-beetle

Then there are the “moth balls” that my friend Bette gave me. In reality needle-felted balls with an Elephant Hawkmoth and a Moth Fly that she made herself using a couple of our photos for the designs.

moth-ball-1

moth-ball-2

And finally a knitted hedgehog from my mother-in-law bought for us for Xmas.

knitted-hedgehog

It’s great to get gifts like this that are so personal and relate to things we love. And it also means they must have been reading the blog – bonus!

 

 

Autumn Flower Power

The colours in the garden are gradually changing from the bright floral ones to the more subtle leafy ones. While we can appreciate the change in the dynamics in the garden, it can be a really tough time for the insects that are still around. The leaves may look fabulous, but they don’t provide the nectar and pollen that the bees and other insects need to keep them going. Fortunately as the other flowers fade away, one comes into its own – the strange sputnik-like blooms of ivy.

ivy-flower

I am a relative newcomer to the ivy fan club, having not really appreciated their contribution until this year. We’ve had ivy growing along the fence for a long time, but I’d never noticed any flowers. Turns out this wasn’t just my short-sightedness, but the fact that ivy doesn’t flower until it is mature. Young ivy leaves are markedly lobed like the ones below.

young-ivy

On mature stems the leaves lose their lobes and have a more undefined wavy edged shape, like the ones below. The flowers only occur where there are mature stems. So it may be that it is only this year that our ivy has been old enough to flower, rather than me being spectacularly unobservant!

shieldbug-on-ivy

The leaves themselves are of course hugely beneficial habitats for a host of species. Our ivy has lots of the shieldbugs (as above), which are well camouflaged and can hide amongst the foliage. The ivy in our garden is confined to our fence and the ground immediately below it. The ground cover provides refuge for our resident frogs and the occasional toad. In places where the ivy is more extensive, it can apparently be a really good roosting place for bats (my dream house would be a big old one, covered in ivy and home to flocks of bats!!)

Ivy is of huge benefit to autumn insects – when most other flowers have faded, the ivy provides much needed pollen and nectar. One insect has based its whole life cycle on it – the Ivy Bee (below) even times the emergence of the adult bees to coincide with the ivy flowering.

ivy-bee

The Ivy Bee may feed specifically in ivy, but lots of other bees make good use of it too. In my quest to photograph the Ivy Bees, I’ve seen lots of other bees making the most of the flowers. A large patch of ivy can be absolutely buzzing with honey bees like the one below.

honey-bee-on-ivy-2

This queen Buff-tailed Bumblebee was loaded up with pollen and may have been preparing to start a new colony.

bumblebee

Some autumn butterflies will also make use of the ivy to build up energy reserves so they can hibernate over the winter. For weeks now I’ve been seeing other peoples’ photos of Red Admirals feeding on the ivy, but although we’ve had them fluttering around ours, they always seemed to land on the neighbour’s side of the fence, so I couldn’t get a photo! Finally last weekend I spotted this one in the churchyard in Bodenham and after a bit of chasing it settled down and let me take some pics.

red-admiral

Our garden ivy gets a lot of wasps – probably more of them than the bees. They seem to like resting on the leaves in the sunshine, between bouts of feeding on the flowers.

wasp-on-ivy

wasp-v-vulgaris-on-ivy

Hoverflies are also abundant on our ivy – here are just a couple – top a brightly coloured Eupeodes sp. and bottom an Eristalis sp.

hoverfly-on-ivy-3

hoverfly-on-ivy-2

Many other insects will make use of the ivy too. It is apparently an important source of food for many moths, although I’ve yet to successfully photograph one on ours. At the less glamourous end of the insect spectrum – the flies also enjoy a nice bit of ivy. This was one of the more attractive ones (I’d call it a Green Bottle, but no idea what its proper name is?).

fly-on-ivy

Once the flowering has finished, the ivy produces berries that are a valuable source of food for garden birds. The ivy berries last much better than some other fruit, so can provide food right through the winter, when hawthorn and rowanberries are long gone. Now that I have ivy flowers in the garden, I will hopefully get some berries – with a bit of luck I’ll be able to get some trail cam footage later in the winter of birds eating them!

Some gardeners consider ivy to be a nuisance, but for me the pros far out weigh the cons and now that I’m finally looking at it properly – it really is a beautiful plant!

 

Ivy Stakeout

As stakeouts go, this may not have been the most action packed and I doubt they’ll make a movie of this one; but the end result for me was all the excitement I needed! We’d been seeing loads of posts on social media about Ivy Bees (Colletes hederae). This species of bee was only discovered in Britain in 2001, when they were spotted in Dorset. Since then they’ve been spreading north and have reached as far as Staffordshire.  They forage pretty much exclusively on ivy flowers, so the adults emerge in time to match the ivy flowering in September.

As usual bee envy set in and we (well mainly I) wanted to see them too. There is a very large stand of ivy down the road from us, so when Chris went for a walk with his camera last weekend, he was under instruction to look out for ivy bees. And much to my delight, he found them! Of course now I knew they were in Malvern, I wanted to spot one in our garden too.  So this is how I came to be staking out the ivy in our garden today. It’s not a huge patch of ivy like the one down the road, but it is flowering, so I sat down to wait.

Since I wasn’t immediately inundated with the desired bees, I spent time observing the other insects. There was a surprising amount around considering it is now technically autumn. This grasshopper may have been missing one back leg, but it was making the most of the sunshine, sitting on top of one of the solar panels for the pond pumps.

grasshopper-on-solar-panel

There were also a few Green Shieldbug nymphs, of varying stages, meandering about the leaves at my feet, with at least one adult visible but out of photographic range.

shieldbug-nymph

shieldbug-nymph-2

I got a bit excited when I spotted something on the ivy flowers, but it turned out to be just a Common Wasp.

wasp-v-vulgaris-on-ivy

One of my favourite hoverflies clearly wanted in on the photo shoot too – this is Helophilus pendulus, which is sometimes known as The Footballer because his stripy thorax is supposed to look a bit like a football shirt!

hoverfly

There were quite a few bees about – such as this rather tatty looking Common Carder (top) and slightly fresher looking Honey Bee (bottom)

carder-bee

honey-bee

I was about to give up for the day, when a single bee landed next to the ivy.  It didn’t hang about long, so I didn’t get the chance for many photos, but at least I got enough to confirm it was an Ivy Bee – my stakeout had paid off!

ivy-bee-7

Although I was very pleased to have got a pic of our Ivy Bee, the photos Chris took last weekend were loads better, not least because they show the bees actually on the ivy! So here are a couple of my favourites.

ivy-bee-media-2

ivy-bee-media

The Bees, Wasp & Ant Recording Society (BWARS) have got a mapping project going to record the spread of the Ivy Bees, so our sightings both in the garden and down the road have been duly logged. If anyone else spots these distinctive bees, do please record them as well, so that they can build up a better picture of the current distribution. http://www.bwars.com/content/colletes-hederae-mapping-project