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 30 – Night and Day

I’m running late with the blog, so this is for yesterday’s Day 30 of 30 Days Wild! I’d thought it would be nice to push the 30 days to the limit and be looking at wildlife right up to midnight on the last day. So the plan was to set the trap for moths, the trail camera for hedgehogs and sit out looking for bats. As it turned out, with a few glasses of G&T and our friend to talk to as we sat outside, midnight came and went and it was 2:30am before we packed up. Not surprisingly then it’s taken a while to get going on the blog today!

All week we’ve been seeing bats in the garden, swooping around hoovering up our plentiful insects. They’ve come really close to the house as they circle around a large buddleia. But last night of course as we sat there waiting for them with bat detector in hand – none at all! It was a bit windy, but other than that the conditions seemed OK, but they were a no-show. Somewhere in Malvern someone else was probably enjoying “our” bat show! So all I can really say is that we normally get pipistrelles, which click on our bat detector at about 45 kHz.

Similarly with the hedgehogs, all week we’ve had a pair snuffling round the garden at night. It’s been great to be able to show our human friend our hoggy friends. So I was sure we’d pick them up on the trail camera last night – but again nothing! This absence can probably be explained though by our gin-swigging presence in the garden until 2.30. If I were a hedgehog I probably wouldn’t want to listen to 3 humans laughing loudly at their own jokes and clinking glasses either! So I’ve no video to show from last night, but fortunately I can do one we filmed earlier in the week (in true blue peter fashion) of our resident pair. It looks like the larger male is trying to woo the smaller female – with very little success!

So that left the moth trap to deliver the goods for our nocturnal nature-fest. But even the moths were few and far between (maybe that was why there were no bats?) A few came while we were still sitting there, but refused to actually go in the trap. This pretty green Common Emerald fluttered about and two Swallowtail moths entertained us by flapping somewhat ungracefully around us for a while. One of the Swallowtails was even still there in the morning.

My first Mother of Pearl of the year sat on the outside of the trap but didn’t go in – hence the shadowy photo lit up by the blue bulb from the moth trap.

There were a few Heart & Darts and a couple of other species in the trap when I emptied it this morning. None made for great photos apart from this Garden Grass Veneer.

There was one final mothy visitor – our friend spotted movement in the bushes this morning and found a Common Footman.

So our nocturnal safari of wildlife round the garden didn’t quite go as planned – when do things ever? But it didn’t matter at all. We had a thoroughly enjoyable evening sitting out in the garden until all hours, making the most of just being outside.

So that would have been the end of the blog post for Day 30, except that this morning as we photographed the last of the moths, suddenly the garden filled with butterflies (maybe wanting to get in on the act as Day Moths?). We’ve had hardly any butterflies lately but today we had 7 species fly in all within the space of an hour or two.

Every year we seem to get a pair of ringlets and sure enough they turned up today. One even chased off a Meadow Brown from his patch!

Then the first Red Admiral we’ve had for ages flew in and out, stopping to feed on the buddleia for a bit.

We also saw Large Whites, one Small White and a fleeting Comma. Two Small Tortoiseshells completed the day’s sightings. They fed on the buddleia (too high up for photos), the red valerian (waving about in the wind too much for decent photos) and thankfully one settled on the stationary table for an easy photo.

So it would have seemed rude not to include the day flyers with our night time ones. So what if it extended 30 Days Wild by a few hours – why wouldn’t you want to do that? In fact why wouldn’t you want to go a bit wild and get a bit of nature into your life every day? Stay Wild!

30 Days Wild – Day 29 – Fine Crop of Flowers on the Lottie

It’s Day 29 of 30 Days Wild and since I didn’t get home until quite late and it was raining when I did, the choices for today’s “wild thing” were a bit limited. Fortunately my friend was still staying and I’d promised to show her the lottie, so we headed up there to see what we can find. Although not everyone at the allotment site gardens organically, enough do that there are plenty of wildflowers to see amongst the deliberately planted plants.

First thing we spotted was Pineapple Weed (Matricaria discoidea). I’d never noticed it before but my friend identified it and got me to crush a flower – it really does smell like pineapples! Does what it says on the tin!

Next up was Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum), a pretty wild version of Geraniums.

Another new one for me was a member of the Bistort family, possibly Redshank, but my dodgy rainy photo wasn’t good enough to be sure.

Next one we were a bit more confident about – Green Alkanet. The blue flowers were almost glowing in the rain. All these plants (weeds in some people’s books) were growing along the path as we walked down to our plot.

These pretty daisy-like flowers were actually Feverfew. As the name suggests, this plant has been used in traditional medicine to cure all manner of things. Like the bindweed photobombing in the corner!

Another medicinal herb growing around the plots was this St John’s Wort.

It had been a few days since I’d been down to the allotment, so it was really nice to see how some of the deliberate plantings had come along. The runner beans were going great guns – hopefully we’ll get a good crop.

Really chuffed to see one of our sunflowers was out despite the complete lack of sun today.

As is so often the case we had a surprise on today’s walk – we found 3 huge puffballs. Thought at first they were footballs, but they were way better than that – giant fungi. Seen here with a foot for size comparison! If it hadn’t been so wet we might have been tempted to take it back to try fried puffball steaks.

So even on a unpromising wet work night, there was still plenty to see and enjoy if you get out and about. Get your wellies on and get out there!

 

 

 

30 Days Wild – Day 28 – Cruising down the Severn

It’s Day 28 of 30 Days Wild and I tried something totally different today. We have a friend staying, so decided to do one of those things I’ve been meaning to do for the 10 years we’ve been living here. My friend and I took a waterbus from Upton on Severn down to Tewkesbury (and back obviously). The trip is just over an hour each way, with a couple of hours to explore Tewkesbury in the middle.

As usual with any of our trips I set out with certain expectations, some but not all of which came to fruition, but then we saw other things that were total surprises. My friend and I sat at the back of the boat so we could look out for the wildlife. This was when I realised that being too lazy to check your camera bag was not a good thing. I must have still been in insect mode this morning when I packed, so took a macro lens instead of something for far away birds. So apologies for the following set of blurry photos – I could blame the camera, but really it is the numpty who forgot to change the lens.

We’d joked that it would be great to see a kingfisher, but didn’t really expect one. So when my friend said she’d spotted one I thought she was joking! But it was real! So here’s a blurry wrong lens photo from a great distance (since I was so slow to react thinking she was having a laugh).

I could have gone home happy after that, but of course we were on a boat! Fortunately the wildlife kept on coming. Next up was a couple of herons.

Also great to see another member of the heron family – a Little Egret.

The river banks were lined with lots of willows drooping into the water decorously. Really nice to see lots of Yellow Water Lilies in flower along the edges where it was relatively slow flowing.

We also saw some Common Reed Mace when we got to the dock at Tewkesbury. Not sure I’d ever seen them close up like this.

We saw several birds of prey, a kestrel, sparrowhawk and a buzzard; the only one of which I managed to get even a rubbish photo of was the buzzard.

Shock bird of the day was a cuckoo! I’ve heard them before but never seen one, today we saw but didn’t hear it! If only I’d had the right lens on.

The day was completed with lunch in a really old pub in Tewkesbury – nice pie and a ploughmans.

It was a really relaxing way to spend the day, pootling down the River Severn (and up a bit of the River Avon), bit of bird watching and a pub lunch. Shame that most of today’s photos are blurry due to the lens issue, but it didn’t spoil the enjoyment at the time. We weren’t the only ones to enjoy it – my friend’s dog seems to have found her river legs. She was the star of the boat, everyone loved her and why wouldn’t they?

 

 

30 Days Wild – Day 27 – Trench Wood

It’s Day 27 of 30 Days Wild and we’re back on the butterfly hunt, this time in beautiful Trench Wood, Worcestershire. Not looking for anything new as such, just hoping for sightings of some old favourites and Trench Wood never disappoints. The place was absolutely heaving with butterflies and insects of all sorts.

Most notable today were the ringlets – they were everywhere, we must have seen hundreds. I don’t think we’ve ever seen so many, every step we took seemed to scatter more off the path. It was lovely to see, as I’d been starting to worry that we’d not seen so many this year. There were mating pairs too (in one case a trio, with an overly enthusiastic extra male!) doing their thing in the sunshine.

Meadow Browns were also common, although not nearly as abundant as the ringlets.

There were plenty of skippers, most being Large like this one with its hooked antennae.

But there were also a few Small Skippers – distinguished by their orange tipped, clubbed antennae. This one is a male with a diagonal scent brand across the wing (thank you to Mike Williams on Facebook for confirming this).

Once again the White Admirals proved elusive. There were quite a few present, but as usual they refused to settle long enough for a decent photo – here’s my best but still poor effort.

The one we really went looking for today was the Silver-washed Fritillary and in this at least we were fairly successful. Initial sightings were just glimpses as they bombed past us, but eventually we tracked down a few more obliging ones. Chris got the best photos, not just because he is a better photographer, but because he is taller than me and they tended to land quite high!

Surprise “bag” of the day was a Purple Hairstreak. Chris spotted it and got just the one photo before it was off. A great find and addition to this year’s tally.

A variety of moths were out and about too. Some tiny ones like this Nettle Tap,

others slightly larger like this Clouded Border,

and others simply stunning like this Scarlet Tiger and Five Spot Burnet.

Damselflies, demoiselles and dragonflies were all fairly common around the pond. I think we saw both Beautiful and Banded demoiselles, azure and large red damselflies and these two splendid dragonflies. The top one is a female darter (either common or ruddy) and the blue one at the bottom is a male Emperor dragonfly.

There were of course bees and hoverflies everywhere, but there just wasn’t time to do those as well today – so many insects so little time! But there were a few other things that took our fancy. This Long-horned beetle was stunning, although we hadn’t noticed all the tiny beetles around it when we took the photo.

And finally I got a photo of a Scorpion Fly – I’ve been trying to get one of these for weeks now. Only trouble is, every single one we saw was a female, so none had the distinctive scorpion tail which only the males have. So the hunt goes on!

So all in all another fabulous day out and probably one of our most insect laden ones to date. Day 27 of 30 days wild and we’re still finding things that surprise and delight!

 

30 Days Wild – Day 26 – Our Garden Bees

It’s Day 26 of 30 Days Wild and we have a friend coming to stay, so I somehow had to fit in something wild before the wine started to flow (on a Monday!). I’ve been concentrating quite a bit this month on the butterflies and am always looking at the moths, so decided it was time to have a look at our garden bees again.

I got up early to have a look round the garden before work. First thing I noticed, which really pleased me, was that something has finally been using our bee hotel! One of the canes is clearly blocked up with bits of leaf – so putting 2 and 2 together, I assume we’ve got a leaf cutter bee. It was beautifully sealed up; it looks like some of the leaves had been chewed up to make a paste to stick it all together. Another cane is also being used but has not been sealed up yet.

The other thing I discovered was I’d got up before the bees this morning! Normally when I get up earlier than this for the moths, the garden already seems to be buzzing with bees. Today nothing at all to start with, although it seemed like a perfectly decent day. Eventually a few started to appear on the lavender – first a Common Carder bee and then a couple of honey bees, but it was generally slim pickings this morning.

In view of the paltry selection of bees that I could find during this morning’s spot check, I decided to dig out my complete list for garden bees and review that. At the end of last year, our total for the garden stood at 25 – which I was pretty pleased with. It currently stands at 31, which is obviously even better! Admittedly not all of these have been identified to species, some have only got to genus level, but if it’s a genus we’ve not had before then whatever the species is, it must be a new one, so I’ve counted it. So here are the 6 new ones; they’re not all great photos, because often I only got a glimpse.

The first one is the Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum) which I think we did see last year, but somehow it got missed off the previous list. It’s a really pretty brightly coloured little bee.

Next up is Gwynne’s Mining Bee (Andrena bicolor). I find these Andrena bees very difficult to tell apart, but thankfully there are always some very helpful people on Facebook.

The next one I could identify myself – a Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva). They are so distinctive with bright ginger fur all over their bodies. I’m sure I saw some last year, but it took until this year to get a photo good enough to confirm.

The next one is a nomad bee, but it can only be identified as one of the Group E species of Nomada, unless you catch one and dissect it, which I don’t want to do.  We do get another Nomada species (N. goodeniana), but since that’s in a different ID group, this must be a different species.

Then we have the Blue Mason Bee (Osmia caerulescens). If I’d managed a decent photo, it would presumably have looked more blue!

And finally our 31st species of bee is some kind of Yellow Faced Bee (Hylaeus sp.). Unfortunately I didn’t manage to photograph the key bit – i.e. his yellow face, so can’t get it down to species. I’ll know next time to get a head shot.

So that’s my bee round up for Day 26. I’m really chuffed we get so many species.  It will get harder and harder though to increase the total, unless I want to go down the line of dissecting them, which I don’t. But maybe if we keep adding more bee friendly plants and more places for them to nest, we can stretch our tally by a few more yet. Fingers crossed.

30 Days Wild – Day 25 – Marbled Marvels

It’s Day 25 of 30 Days Wild and after recent visits to canals, wetlands and woodland, I thought a walk through a meadow might be nice. They’re usually good places for butterfly spotting, although it was a bit windy so getting good shots was going to be tricky wherever I went. Being a bit short of time today, I headed to one of our local ones and a particular favourite – Boynes Coppice just outside Malvern.

Boynes Coppice and Meadows reserve is made up of 4 fields, plus a wooded area and is rich in plant and insect life. It was nice and sunny as I arrived and the butterflies were bobbing about over the fields in great numbers. Initial thoughts were that it was going to be easy to get some good shots; that was before I realised the butterflies were in frisky mood and just wouldn’t stop moving!

The fields have a diverse flora and looked lovely today. They are deliberately managed to maintain this, being cut for hay only after the seeds have set.

The two most abundant butterfly species I saw today were the Meadow Brown and Marbled Whites, both of which were present in large numbers and neither of which stopped flying to start with. Occasionally I’d see one land, but always too far away for a photo (you have to stick to the path to avoid trampling the plants, so can’t go chasing through the grass to get closer to a butterfly).

Eventually though a couple of Meadow Browns deigned to land close enough for me to get some photos of both wings up and wings down.

The marbled whites proved trickier at first – there were plenty of them, but I couldn’t get close. As I walked along the path, I occasionally looked back to see several dancing in my wake; but if I turned back they all flew off again. Eventually though, either I got my eye in, or they got slower (probably the latter) and I managed a few photos. The marbled whites look great from any angle, having beautifully patterned wings both from above and below.

Of course the trouble with taking photos of butterflies on grassland, is the grass! Nearly every time they landed, there was a bit of grass in the way of the perfect shot – like this one below.

Occasionally though I would get a clear shot.

Towards the end of my visit is started to drizzle and that definitely did slow the butterflies down. As I headed back to the car I could see quite a few of them sitting out the rain resting on flowers. I was really pleased when I found two close enough to get in one shot; when I downloaded the photos I then realised there was a third butterfly in the same frame – a meadow brown at the top.

Since the butterflies were a bit less flighty in the drizzle, I tried for a close up shot. Still not easy as I had to hold the camera out as far as my arms could reach, so that I didn’t stray from the path. So by no means a perfect photo, but it does show up just how furry they are, something that is not so obvious when they are flying around.

There were of course plenty of other insects around besides the butterflies, like this Red-Tailed Bumblebee and a beautiful hoverfly.

I also spotted (no pun intended) this ladybird on a thistle. The photo is by no means great, but I liked that the ladybird was so shiny that you can see my reflection in his back as I’m hunched over trying to take his photo!

I love going to Boynes meadow, it is one of the most peaceful places I know. It is only a small reserve and most times I go, I’m the only one there – as I was today. It is set back off a road, that is itself set back off any busy roads, so you can forget about the rest of the world. The perfect place to unwind and enjoy those marbled marvels dancing above the grasses.

30 Days Wild – Day 24 – Canal Life

It’s Day 24 of 30 Days Wild and we were up Stoke on Trent way visiting Chris’ mother for her birthday. Stoke on Trent doesn’t immediately conjure up nature for me, but you don’t have to go far out of the town to get into some lovely countryside. We had lunch in a quaint little pub in the village of Cheddleton, where his Mum grew up; then went for a walk along the Caldon Canal.

The canal was built in the late 18th century to carry limestone to the potteries of Stoke. The section we walked along has been restored, so we strolled along the towpath and peered into the lock.

No canal would be complete without barges. There was one moored up that you could hire some days (sadly not today) for trips up and presumably back down the canal.

And while we strolled one passed us heading down towards the lock. It looked like he’d got a box of salad leaves growing on the roof!

As always we were on the look out for wildlife; surprisingly this was one of the few places I’ve been to in June that didn’t have dragonflies! It did have this rather splendid squirrel though, clambering about on the other side of the water.

No canal would be complete without the ubiquitous duck! This male was doing a lot of flapping about, trying to impress the female probably.

There was also a delightful family of moorhens. They’d got a nest that looked more like a raft – not sure what it was attached to, but it seemed solid enough for them to walk on. You can just about make out the 2 chicks in there.

We saw either the same family or possible their neighbours later on the walk. The chicks were tiny but still swimming strongly. Having watched the latest Springwatch series, we’d learnt that birds can be either altricial – born more or less helpless, or precocial – up and running almost straight away. I’m guessing moorhens come into the latter category.

The ground the far side of the canal was mainly open farmland with some wooded areas. Most of the wildlife we saw was that side, probably because we were all the other side. Chris spotted this chaffinch singing his socks off in the trees.

And we all saw a flock of goldfinches land on a grassy bank and start pecking away at seeds or insects. There were probably about half a dozen, but they were a bit spread out, so Chris did well to get three in one shot.

Spot of the day goes to this kestrel though that landed in a large, old dead tree – the perfect vantage point for scanning for prey across the fields. Not ideal photograph conditions against the white/grey sky, but he was still a beautiful sight all the same.

I’ve never been on a canal holiday, but always quite fancied it. The idea of pootling along watching the wildlife and of course stopping at friendly hostelries along the way certainly appeals. Judging by the amount of wildlife we saw in a very short walk, the views on a full barge holiday must be amazing. Maybe next year?