Bees, Bats, Butterflies and Birds at Bridge Cottage

We’re just back from a holiday in Exmoor and as usual have returned with hundreds of wildlife photos, having spent the week in our usual glamorous manner. Most people probably take swimming costumes, flip flops and suncream on holiday; we took a moth traps, bat detector,  underwater camera and trail cameras! We stayed at a lovely cottage by the River Barle in Withypool, Somerset – an absolutely idyllic location, with plenty of wildlife potential.

Our holiday coincided with the start of 30 Days Wild, so the perfect excuse for wildlife watching, not that we ever need an excuse. The cottage had loads of bird life including sparrows nesting around the guttering. A pair of blue tits were nesting in the apex of the shed. They were really devoted parents bringing food constantly despite the rain (hence dishevelled photo below) and removing the faecal sacs to keep the nest clean.

There were plenty of mayflies hatching while we were there and the swifts made good use of them flying low over the water and snatching them out of the air. Best of all we could hear a cuckoo calling every morning around dawn. The sound of a cuckoo combined with the sound of the river is a great way to wake up in the morning.

Not surprisingly the abundant insect life attracted bats too. We got the bat detector going and were rewarded with clicks and chirp noises that sounded different to our usual Pipistrelle bats at home. The clicks were closer to the 47-48kHz frequency than the 45kHz we get at home, so perhaps these bats were either Daubenton’s or Natterers? Unfortunately we didn’t manage to record the noises to be sure and it was too dark to actually see the bats.

The first day we arrived at the cottage we had glorious sunshine and a warm night – perfect conditions for an evening glass of wine in the garden and to put the moth trap out! We couldn’t believe the abundance of moths we got in the morning. Many of the moths we caught were species we’d seen before but never in such numbers – buff tips, white ermines, brown silver lines – all species which we see occasionally in Malvern, but rarely more than single individuals. There were 2 species though that we’ve never seen before – Nut Tree Tussock and Campion – nice to add to our life lists of species.

As usual an Elephant Hawkmoth stole the show, but it did have competition from this stunning Puss Moth!

The River Barle which ran past the garden had sparkling clear water (every day except the last day when heavy rain had clouded it).  One of the first things we noticed were several dead Signal Crayfish both in the water and on the river bank.

These are an introduced species and are causing serious problems by outcompeting the native crayfish and by tunnelling into river banks leading to erosion. There are projects to actively remove them from rivers like the Barle, so it could be the dead crayfish we saw were part of this.

On a cheerier note, there were lots of presumably native minnows swimming in shoals near the river bank. So armed with our waterproof GoPro camera, I heroically waded in with my wellies. A slight miscalculation between height of wellies and depth of water, led to some wet feet, but at least I managed to video the minnows!

The river also had numerous tadpoles, who remained hidden in the plants near the bank during the day, but emerged into a sheltered inlet in the evenings. They were much darker than the tadpoles we get back home in the pond, so they may be toad tadpoles rather than frogs.

 

The cottage garden was well planted with plenty of shrubs and flowers for wildlife, including some gorgeous lupins that the bees absolutely loved.



One even got so carried away it forgot where it was and landed on my hand.

We saw a few butterflies in the garden, including our first Painted Lady of the year, but the highlight had to be this – a Green Hairstreak. To see these little beauties previously we’ve had to travel to nature reserves, so to have one virtually fly up to us in the garden was amazing. So amazing that I fumbled with the camera and only managed one rubbish photo – but it is just about recognisable as a green butterfly!

So we can highly recommend a stay at Bridge Cottage in Withypool for anyone interested in wildlife – there’s certainly plenty of it. The village itself was charming with a pub, shop and café – what more could you want from a holiday?

We did of course venture out while we were in the Exmoor area in search of more butterflies, but I’ll cover those in subsequent blog posts – watch this space!

 

 

 

 

 

Mammals in our Garden

Great excitement in the Too Lazy world this week as our mammal tally for the garden increased by 25% from 4 to 5!  Our initial 4 were mice, grey squirrels, pipistrelle bats and of course hedgehogs.

An awful lot of our trail camera efforts are directed at filming the hedgehogs. We’ve filmed them eating, drinking, nesting and in this case having a good old scratch!

Scratch And Roll

 

We did originally video the mice in our garage (who were helping themselves to the bird seed until we invested in proper storage containers). But since then mice have also cropped up on the supposed hedgehog videos, often cheekily investigating either the hedgehog feeding station or even the hedgehog’s house. We’ve not managed to work out for sure what kind of mice they are – probably either house or wood mice. If anyone can shed any light on the species, it would be much appreciated.

mouse in hedgehog house & feeding station

 

Grey squirrels are regular visitors to our garden too. Often attracted to our bird feeders and caught on camera doing acrobatics in the apple tree like this one.

Squirrel

This last month or so we’ve been finding quite a few hazelnuts, still in their green wrappers, dotted around the lawn. It was clearly the work of a squirrel and we finally managed to catch him on camera, bringing the nuts into the garden (no idea where the nearest hazelnut tree is though).

Squirrels

 

The bats have so far proved impossible to film. We obviously don’t want to use any intrusive lights or indeed anything that might put off the bats who regularly visit our garden. With all our natural vegetation (aka weeds), there are plenty of insects at night  – although I try not to think of the bats eating my beloved moths, I know they have to eat too! We have determined that our bats are most likely Common Pipistrelles as they echo-locate at a frequency of about 45kHz and other species who use that frequency are much rarer. The best I’ve managed so far is this brief video of the bat detector picking up some of their calls.

 

Finally this week we got a brief glimpse on camera of a much longed for 5th mammal species – a fox! We’ve seen them running down the street occasionally at night, but never knowingly had one in the garden. So it was a lovely surprise to download what I thought would be just hedgehog videos, to suddenly see a fox emerge from the undergrowth at the bottom of the garden.

Fox movie

So long as Mr Fox doesn’t have a go at our hedgehogs, he will be a very welcome addition to our mammalian fauna. I think it’s likely that we’ll stick with 5 mammal species in the garden for the foreseeable future. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever get a badger or rabbits and I’m hoping we don’t get rats (not that I mind them that much, but the neighbours wouldn’t be too happy with us), so unless we have more than one species of mouse, I think this will be our lot. But the 5 we’ve got are all more than welcome to share our little bit of Malvern for as long as they want.

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!

Hedgehogs courting

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 3

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_03Day 3 on the challenge and it’s Friday night. Having got up early yesterday for the dawn chorus, I’d gone for an activity at the opposite end of the day and stayed up late to hopefully catch some nocturnal action in the garden. Gone are the days when staying up late meant drinking or clubbing, now staying up late means getting the bat detector out and spying on hedgehogs. But it’s not a metaphorical school night, so that’s exactly what I’ve been doing – living on the edge!

All this week we’ve seen the bats dive bombing around the garden in the evenings – we can usually see them through the patio doors from the comfort of our sofas. So I thought tonight it would be a doddle to go out and record them. We have a Magenta bat detector, which we’ve used previously and determined that our bats are Pipistrelles, emitting their ultrasound clicks at around 45kHz.

Today has been a lovely warm sunny day, so it seemed ideal batty conditions in the garden. As it started to get dark I sat out with my detector and recorder – I was getting bombarded by moths, which seemed like a good omen, but there was no sign of any bats. I lay on the grass for quite a while – very relaxing as I could hear a bit of the evening chorus going on (felt like yesterday’s dawn chorus in reverse!) I did get a few “clicks” but didn’t actually see any bats  – they must have been swooping around next door’s garden behind the hedge. I stayed out for a good hour, but no joy.

So I’ve had to admit defeat for the night. But all is not lost – the bats will no doubt be back in the nights to come and I will try again. I did also get to spend a very relaxing hour watching the garden going to sleep. The warm evening bodes well for the moth trap which is now out, as it is Garden Moth Scheme night. I saw on Springwatch and various social media, that there is an influx of Diamond Back moths getting blown over from the Continent, so with a bit of luck I’ll get some of those.

In the absence of any batty recordings from tonight, here is one we recorded back at the beginning of May. I’m pretty sure the sounds match a Pipistrelle, but confirmation from anyone who knows about bats would be much appreciated.

 

Creeping wood sorrel 30 WEEDS

Day 3 of 30 Lazy Weeds and it’s Creeping Wood Sorrel or to give it the even better title – Procumbent Yellow Sorrel. We get the purple leaved variety a lot in our garden. It is a low growing plant with small but pretty yellow flowers. It does spread very easily and has a knack for growing in places where there doesn’t really seem to be any soil, like the one shown left. It’s small and often overlooked and some gardeners don’t like it because of its persistent nature. But I’d rather have an area covered in this, than bare earth – so as with so many “weeds” it is welcome in the Too Lazy Garden.