Spring Insects

This last week the insects seem to have been coming out in force in the garden. After the relative quiet of the winter, it’s great to hear the buzz of insects in the air again. Moths may not buzz, but it’s still really nice to have them appearing again too. March brought the start of the Garden Moth Scheme for the summer. After a few weeks of fairly plain looking moths (sorry Common Quakers, but you aren’t the most showy of moths), it was nice last weekend to get a few of the more beautiful ones – in fact the Pine Beauty and Oak Beauty.

Hopefully it won’t be too long before the really spectacular hawk-moths start turning up in the trap too.  Butterflies have been proving a bit more elusive than the moths; so far I’ve just seen a few Small Tortoiseshells in the garden, but not managed to nab any photos.

Wasps may not be popular with everyone, but when you study them close up, they really are stunning insects and they are already making themselves known around the garden this year.

In the last 2 weeks, we’ve already recorded 12 species of bee in the garden – a promising start to the bee season. First up was my perennial favourite – the Hairy Footed Flower Bee. The males appeared first, patrolling frenetically around the garden, seeing off anything remotely bee-shaped that got in their way.

The last few days, I’ve been seeing more of the females – distinguishable by their all black bodies with orangey pollen brushes on the back legs. Our garden has naturalised primroses all over the place and the bees love them.

Another favourite is the Tawny Mining Bee, in particular the females who have this bright red foxy looking hair all over them. I spend (some may say waste) an awful lot of time chasing these round the garden, trying to get the perfect photo to do them justice.

Not quite so showy and much smaller is the Red Mason Bee. We get these little bees every year, finding nooks and crannies in the brickwork to nest in.

The much larger Red-tailed Bumblebee is also on the wing now, although so far I’ve only seen Queen bees like this one (I think).


The strikingly coloured Mourning Bees have already been busy on the rosemary flowers. These are also a favourite, not least because of the obvious white “kneecaps” which make them a cinch to identify.

Buzzing like a bee, but actually a fly, Bee-Flies seem particularly abundant this spring. I’ve previously only ever seen the one below – the Dark-edged Bee-Fly. They seem to torment the male Hairy Footed Flower Bees by hovering around “their” primroses. They also seem curious about us and often hover in front of me as if they’re trying to work out what this huge being is?

But there is a second species of Bee-Fly – the Dotted Bee-Fly. I’ve been hoping to see one of these for years and have chased a lot of the Dark-bordered ones around fruitlessly trying to find one with dots on. Then I read on Twitter this week to look out for the white stripe on the abdomen – easier to spot when they are flying than the dots on wings whirring like mad. And so I was thrilled when using this marker, I finally spotted one – complete with dotty wings and white striped bum (white stripe is more apparent in the second photo below).

As for other groups of insects, well they’re all starting to appear too. Hoverflies are always fairly abundant, although tricky to get a decent photo of. This male (male because its eyes meet in the middle, so I’m told) Eupeodes was more obliging than most.

A single Cinnamon Bug so far, but easily visible against the primrose leaves.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Shield Bug family of insects. We’ve recorded 7 species in the garden in total, although so far this year we’ve only seen the green one and this Dock Bug.

Not had the time yet to go rooting about in the undergrowth looking for beetles, but did at least spot the first ladybird of the year. Slightly disappointingly I think it is a Harlequin, so not an ideal spot, but hopefully some of the native species will appear soon too.

Final photo for the blog, this crab spider lying in wait for a bee. I know they’re not actually insects, but having spotted him today posing so nicely on the red valerian, it seemed rude not to include him. I thought these spiders were supposed to be able to camouflage themselves, but this one doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job.

So that’s a round up of the spring invertebrates currently buzzing/flying/crawling around the garden. It feels like everything is springing into life at last and we can look forward to an insect (and arachnid) filled summer.

 

 

Spring in the garden

The Spring Equinox has been and gone already and I’ve been gathering video clips for weeks now with signs of spring. I blogged about the allotment last week, so this time it’s the turn of the Too Lazy garden proper. I’ve had the cameras out all over the garden and got so many videos it’s taken a while to sort through them; but here are some highlights from the last few weeks.

Our first hedgehog woke from hibernation and appeared on the trail camera at the end of February – quite early, but given the mild winter we’ve had, maybe not too surprising.

 

It wasn’t long before one became two and a second larger hedgehog appeared in the same part of the garden. This second one didn’t seem too keen to share the food with the smaller one and there were a few tussles the first night. I had hoped One-eyed Tim, one of last year’s hedgehogs, might have appeared by now, but neither of these are optically challenged, so I hope he’s just late coming out of hibernation.

 

The garden birds, in particular the blue tits, seem to be feeling the spring in the air too. Blue tits used to nest in our garden, but for the last few years, they seem to have turned their noses (or beaks) up at it and although regular visitors, they must be nesting elsewhere. I did get hopeful when the old nest box we’d stuck on the apple tree seemed to be getting a bit of attention:

 

Unfortunately despite repeated visits to check it out, they seem to have found it lacking in some way. They may not be favouring our garden for their nest, but they’re not averse to making use of the nesting material we’ve put out for them. I’d filled an old hanging basket with hay and moss raked up from the lawn and the blue tits wasted no time helping themselves to it.

 

In the absence of nest box footage, I thought I’d make the most of the hay/moss collection and try and get some different shots of this activity instead. First I tried putting the GoPro on a branch above the basket, which worked reasonably well.

 

I then had a go putting the camera inside the basket cage itself. The blue tits weren’t bothered by it at all, so I got some half decent shots of them tugging at the moss to get the best bits.

 

Last month I succumbed to the urge to get yet another camera for the garden – this time one trained exclusively on a feeder. We can live feed it to the living room, which is great, although most of the time we end up just watching peanuts swinging in the breeze. But I did eventually manage to get a brief clip of the blue tits – once again happy to avail themselves of anything on offer in the garden (except the nest boxes).

 

The blackbirds made an early start gathering nesting material at the end of February – or at least the female in this video clip did, the male seemed more interested in making sure we got his best side on film!

 

The squirrel wasn’t doing anything particularly spring-like, other than checking whether the hedgehogs had left anything worthwhile; but I can never resist the squirrels, so here’s his few seconds of fame too.

 

The water bath seems to have been coming into its own again now spring’s here too. This blackbird was making the obvious use of it by bathing and of course lots of birds just drink from it.

 

But one magpie in particular has been using it for something a bit different. He or she has been eating bits of the cat food that I leave out for the hedgehogs. Most of it is eaten straight down, but some pieces are perhaps too hard, so it has been dropping them in the bird bath, presumably to soften them up a bit.

 

So there’s plenty of activity in the garden already this year and that’s without even discussing the insects that are all starting to appear too (I’ll save them for the next blog post). I love this time of year when everything is optimistic with the promise of the summer to come; perhaps the wildlife in the garden feels the same?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring & Surprises at the Lottie

Spring has well and truly sprung down on the allotment, bringing with it some old favourites, a new generation and a big surprise.

Being fair-weather gardeners we’ve not done much down the lottie over the winter, but when we have been down a pair of robins tend to follow our every move – always on the look out for a freshly unearthed worm.

I’ve been going down more frequently for the last couple of weeks to check on the pond – it’s frog spawn season! So I was very pleased when on 2nd March I spotted for the first clump of spawn in the pond. It could only have been laid a day or two before, making it about 10 days earlier than last year.

So out with the camera and the GoPro to record the start of a new amphibian generation.

 

By the 9th of March 3 more clumps of spawn had been laid – you can see the difference in size of the embryos and jelly in the photo and video below.

The GoPro did catch a blurry image if what I assume is a pair of frogs in a passionate embrace underwater. Having said that the smaller one does look a bit toad-ish to me, but there’s been no sign of any toad spawn in the pond so far. I read somewhere that 80% of toads return to the pool they were born in to breed, so it may take some years before we get any toad spawn.

In the hope of getting some froggy action on camera, I left one of the trail cameras running on the allotment for a few days. I ended up with a lot of videos of cats walking by, but eventually got this one – a stand off between a cat and a floating frog. Thankfully the frog has enough sense to dive when the cat makes its move.

I did have hopes of getting a fox on camera as I know we have them on the allotment. But what I did get next was a huge surprise – a badger drinking from the pond!

We’d no idea we had badgers down there, so this was a real bonus. It looks like another pair of frogs get spooked by the badger and also dive for cover. Needless to say the camera has been left down there in the hope of getting more footage – but so far nothing but more cats.

Hopefully in the coming weeks I can get footage of the frog spawn developing into tadpoles. Fingers crossed the newts return soon too and maybe even a toad or two. All this does show the  benefit of putting in a pond – this one only went in 2 years ago when we first got the allotment. We’d expected frogs and newts would use it and maybe birds would drink from it, but never dreamed that we’d get a badger. I guess “Build it and they will come”!

 

A Day-Flying Moth Hunt

We’ve had some glorious weather here in Malvern this week; it really felt as if spring or perhaps even summer had arrived early it was so warm. Not only was the warm weather tempting softies like me outside, it was also apparently tempting some of the early day-flying moths to get out and about too. I’d seen reports of a particularly attractive moth – the Orange Underwing – being seen locally at Gullet Quarry, so this seemed the perfect excuse for a walk.

The not-too-attractively named Gullet Quarry is much prettier than its name suggests. With the sun shining and clear blue skies, the rocks were reflecting nicely in the water. Sadly due to some terrible accidents at the quarry, it is now fenced off and you can no longer get down to the water’s edge, so I had to view most of it from a distance.

I could just about make out a flash of yellow on the far side of the quarry – a Grey Wagtail flitting up and down catching insects. I tried zooming in on him (not very effectively) and only realised there was a pair of ducks sitting next to him when I downloaded the photos later! The wagtail is just about visible as a yellow smudge on the rock to the right of the ducks.

As I arrived it seemed like looking for a moth around the quarry was a bit of a needle in a haystack type mission, so I was amazed when one flew right passed me almost immediately. I set off in pursuit (incurring unfortunate contact between my boot and a large sheep deposit as I wasn’t looking where I was treading!) and tracked him to a high up twig.

He then sped off again and settled amongst the grass. Despite repeated attempts I couldn’t get a clear shot of him without a blade of grass in the way. But at least his lovely orange underwings are clearly visible. Mission accomplished.

Since it was such lovely weather I spent another lovely half hour pottering around enjoying the first signs of spring. A male Brimstone butterfly shot passed me, as usual way too fast to get a photo. Catkins were dangling all around and the gorse bushes were in full flower.

I wasn’t the only one watching the wildlife. High up on the rocks above the quarry, several crows were looking down, presumably on the look out for the next meal.

All in all it was a lovely short walk in the early spring sunshine,  whetting my appetite for the summer to come!

 

National Nest Box Week

It’s National Nest Box Week again (14th to 21st February), so no prizes for guessing what today’s blog post is about. The idea of Nest Box Week is to encourage people to put up more nest boxes for their garden birds. It’s coming up to the time of year when birds start thinking about finding a mate and then looking for a suitable nest site. So by putting up the nest boxes now, the new couples will hopefully have plenty of choice come the spring.

We did have an open fronted nest box on the fence last year, but had to take it down when the fence was replaced. So this weekend seemed the perfect time to put it back up again. Open fronted nest boxes are suitable for robins and wrens, both of which we get in the garden, so fingers crossed they fancy the new location.

We also had an old and slightly tatty nest box more suited to blue tits; it had seen better days, but we’ve stuck it up anyway on the apple tree in case our birds aren’t too picky!

We’ve still got the two blue tit nest boxes up on the garage wall, one with a camera fitted. So far the blue tits have refused to use these the last few years, despite using one previously in exactly the same location! We remain ever hopeful that this year will be the year we get footage of a nest!

Even if you don’t have a suitable space to put up your own nest box, you can still help by sponsoring one. Many wildlife organisations have schemes whereby you can sponsor or “rent” a nest box, giving the charities much needed funds to support their chosen species. Our local Worcestershire Wildlife Trust runs just such a scheme, so we’ve sponsored Nest Box Number 15 again this year. We supported the same nest box last year and got a lovely letter saying a family of blue tits had used it – result! Fingers crossed for more of the same this year.

National Nest Box Week may be aimed primarily at birds, but if you can, why not consider providing a home for other animals. Hedgehogs can benefit from extra places to hibernate, but they also need places to sleep during the day for the rest of the year. So although it may be too late for hibernation this year, a hedgehog house put out now could be used through the spring and summer as a day nest.

 

 

Nest Box No. 15

Way back in February, we took up Worcestershire Wildlife Trust’s Rent-a-Nest scheme. Having failed spectacularly to get anything to nest in our boxes at home, we figured we could at least support one at one of our favourite local nature reserves. So we chose a Knapp & Papermill nest box and were allocated Box No. 15. As part of the lease, we were to get a guided tour of “our” nest box in the spring. So skip forward a few months and a week or so ago, we met up with Garth from Worcestershire WT who led us on a very entertaining and informative walk to see Nest Box No. 15. Amazingly the sun shone down even though it was a bank holiday weekend and the public were out in force enjoying the nature reserve. It was great having Garth point out things on the walk that we would never have known were there – such as a Mandarin duck nesting quite high up in an old tree trunk!

We reached Nest Box No. 15, tucked away from sight and Garth cautiously peered in and confirmed that our box was occupied by a blue tit. I had a very quick look in and could just see a little blue head. Obviously we couldn’t take a photo of the blue tit inside the box as we didn’t want to terrify it with the flash, so all I can offer is a photo of the box itself. The entrance has been reinforced with metal to prevent larger birds getting in to predate the chicks.

We left Garth to carry on his walk and his butterfly count (part of a regular count he does for Butterfly Conservation) and pottered around the reserve on our own for a bit. We’d last been to Knapp & Papermill in the winter when everything was green and white with snow drops. Now, in spring, we had the same colour scheme, but it was wild garlic that carpeted the slopes amongst the trees. The scent was unmistakable, but fortunately we like garlic!

Butterflies were out in good numbers – lots of Orange Tips that were too fast to photograph, but also a few lovely fresh Green-Veined Whites who were a bit easier to track.

The reserve is one of the best sites we know of to see demoiselles, but it was still a bit early for these. But the pond near the reserve entrance provided our first damselfly of the year – a Large Red Damselfly.

So all in all a lovely way to spend a few hours on a bank holiday weekend. There are nest boxes (and bat boxes) all over the reserve, but apparently only about 25% are sponsored. Hopefully we can continue to sponsor a box in years to come. The money helps with the costs of maintaining the reserve and we get the pleasure of seeing a nest box that actually gets used – if only the Knapp blue tits could pass the word on to our own blue tits and get them to use our garden box too!

It’s a Frog’s Life

I’ve been virtually staking out our allotment pond since the middle of February, hoping for frog spawn.  As it turns out, it was probably a good job we didn’t get any spawn that early, as the heavy snow at the beginning of March would probably have wiped it all out. But in mid-March there were squeals of excitement down the lottie, when we spotted the first magical clusters. We had frog spawn! We’d put in the pond too late for spawn last year, but we did get several frogs and newts using it throughout the summer. So it was great that the frogs at least deemed it suitable for spawning in. No sign of any toad or newt spawn yet, but I live in hope. As I’d just got a waterproof GoPro camera a month or so ago, the arrival of the frog spawn seemed the perfect opportunity to test it out. So here’s my very first underwater video, taken on the first day we spotted the frog spawn – 11th March.

Frog Spawn

Since then I’ve been down the lottie regularly to check on progress. We can’t be sure exactly which day the frog spawn was laid, but I would guess it was only a day or two before we saw it. At first there was only one clump, but two days later there were three. So I’ve been trying to keep a video/photo diary of the development. I’m still getting the hang of the settings on the GoPro and also on getting things in focus, so apologies if the images are sometimes a bit blurry. So first up here are the eggs on Day 2 – pretty much perfectly round dots in their jelly bubbles.

No real changes were visible to the naked eye for the first week or so, but by day 11 they were starting to change shape. No longer perfectly round, the eggs were more like fat commas.

Two days later and the comma shaped were definitely elongating, with the suggestion of a tail.

By day 15 there were definitely mini tadpoles inside the jelly blobs. No sign of movement yet, but heads and tails were clearly visible.

Day 18 (28th March) and the tadpoles had started to hatch. Some were still in their protective jelly, but quite a few were clearly visible stuck to the outside of the eggs. These were all on the first clump of spawn we’d seen, the tadpoles in the other two clumps were not surprisingly a few days behind, having been laid later.

Day 20 and most of the first clump had hatched. They were starting to move a bit more now and had got a bit bigger so that gills were just about visible on some of them. They were still feeding off the jelly of the spawn.

Day 20

 

Day 24 (3rd April) and some of the slightly larger tadpoles were starting to move away from the jelly clump. Some of the tadpoles on the other two clumps of spawn were now starting to hatch too.

Day 29 and they were free swimming – the pond was alive with wriggling tadpoles. They were grazing on the algae growing on the sides of the pond and on the rocks.

I felt ridiculously proud of them that they had managed to make it this far, despite the rubbish weather spring has thrown at them! But they’re not out of the woods yet – as the next video shows there are still dangers lurking in the pond!

Day 29 8th April

 

Newts will eat tadpoles, so the chances are that not all of these will survive, but hopefully there are enough of them that some at least will make it. The newts have to survive too. With a bit of luck maybe we’ll get some newts laying eggs too – the newt in the video appeared to have a bit of a frilly ridge so is perhaps in breeding condition.

So that’s the progress so far in the first month of our tadpoles lives. Hopefully enough of them will survive that I’ll be able to do an update in a month or two’s time, as the tadpoles develop into baby frogs. Fingers crossed!

 

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.

Frog Spawn

 

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.

Blue Tit gathering nesting material

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.

First hedgehog of 2018

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.