Clouded Yellows & Big Butterfly Count

For one reason or another I’ve not had the chance to blog this last month, despite it being full on Butterfly Season. So to make up for lost time, this blog post is a bit of a catch up on all things butterfly in the Too Lazy world. Firstly we’re still in the midst of the Big Butterfly Count – one of the biggest citizen science projects in the world.

As I type this there have already been over 74000 counts and there’s still a few days to go. So if you haven’t done it already, get along to https://www.bigbutterflycount.org/ and find out what it’s all about.

We’ve done several counts in both the garden and down the allotment. The lottie produced, not surprisingly a lot of “Cabbage Whites” – in reality a mix of Large, Small and Green-veined Whites. In the garden, our first common blue of the year obligingly turned up in time to get counted. Similarly it was nice to count Painted Ladies and a Red Admiral to add to the tally of Whites, Gatekeepers and other garden stalwarts.

A trip to Trench Wood in early July was prompted by reports of large numbers of Purple Hairstreaks coming down and settling low enough to get photos. Seemed too good an opportunity to miss. Trench Wood is always a delight and this year was no exception. The wood was full of the usual Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers and Ringlets, plus plenty of Whites and White Admirals.

The ever gorgeous Silver-Washed Fritillaries were also out in large numbers, tropical looking as they bombed around the open rides.

My target species for the day – the Purple Hairstreak – didn’t disappoint. Almost as soon as I left the carpark they were visible along the path, settling comfortably on the bushes either side. The reports I’d read hadn’t exaggerated – there were too many to count and I’ve never seen them settle so well at a reachable height!

A quick trip to the nearby Guarlford Straights gave me the chance to see some lovely butterflies practically on my doorstep. Common Blues were probably the commonest species, flitting about the dry grass in the sunshine.

Amongst the Common Blues I found at least one fairly fresh looking Brown Argus. It’s only a couple of years since we saw our first ever one of these, so it’s still a bit exciting to spot one.

Small Coppers were also reasonably common. Athough none would pose nicely with their wings open, I found the underside of the wings to be just as beautiful in a more subtle colour pallet.

Finally the high spot of the last few days was a trip to Venus Pools in Shropshire. It’s a small reserve (with as the name suggests, some pools) run by the Shropshire Ornithological Society, but it’s also really good for butterflies. In particular, Common Blues were everywhere – they should be renamed Abundant Blues! We’ve never seen so many in such a small area, including several courting couples like these.

Amongst the Common Blues, were the occasional Brown Argus and Small Copper.


Also present were Painted Lady, Small Tortoiseshell, Large, Small & Green-veined Whites, Speckled Wood, Gatekeeper & Meadow Browns. But the real reason we’d driven 50 miles was reports of Clouded Yellow butterflies. For two weeks prior, we kept seeing gorgeous photos of Clouded Yellows at Venus Pools on social media. Having never seen one, this seemed the perfect opportunity. We spotted our first one almost immediately – unmistakeable bright yellow, but very, very fast. Only once did one stop long enough for us to grab some quick photos.

So not the finest pics, but recognisable enough to count as butterfly no. 47 on our quest to see all the British species. Well worth the 100 mile round trip! So all in all this last month has been a butterfly filled delight. Fingers crossed all this hot weather won’t spell trouble for the caterpillars and next year’s butterflies.

 

 

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

 

Big Butterfly Count

Big Butterfly CountYesterday was the start of the 2016 Big Butterfly Count. One of my favourite “citizen science” projects; we’ve been doing this in the Too Lazy garden for a few years now. All you have to do is sit for 15 minutes and count the butterflies you see (only record the maximum number of a species you can see at any one time, so you don’t count the same individuals twice). You can do as many counts as you like in as many locations over the 3 week period the count runs.

So this afternoon I sat in the garden and counted the butterflies. Not a huge number; it was a bit of a dull day as so often seems to happen when the Butterfly Count is on. But I did see 5 individuals of three species – Large White, Meadow Brown and Ringlet. Best of all I saw a pair of Ringlets mating. This bodes well for future little Ringlets (would that make them Ringletlets?) in our garden.

Mating Ringlets

The meadow brown just whizzed through the garden and the Large Whites were way too flighty to get photos as usual. They may be one of the commonest species, but I find them the hardest to photograph.

So maybe not a spectacular start, but then the count isn’t about recording the highest numbers of butterflies. It’s about gathering long term data to assess the health of the UK’s butterfly populations. So my 5 butterflies still provide useful data.

More information on the Big Butterfly Count at: http://www.bigbutterflycount.org/

 

One Year Older and One Year Weedier

Just realised Too Lazy To Weed is one year old today! 13th July 2015 I first dipped my toe in the world of blogging; at the time I wasn’t sure if I had enough to share from my perspective of lazy non-gardening and wildlife watching. But as I think I said in my very first blog post – there’s something going on in the garden all the time. And if not in the garden, then there are things to discover in the wonderful countryside around us.

I started blogging on a wet Monday in mid July – one year later and it is now a wet Wednesday in mid July; the weather at least hasn’t improved over the year. A few things have progressed though – I think we’re getting better at the photography; still by no means experts, but at least producing recognisable photos (apart from some dubious bee in wall ones below). I’ve learnt how to use a Trail Camera and Bat detector and both my moth and bee identification skills have improved a bit. The garden itself is looking increasingly wild and woolly – some of the weeds are now reaching triffid proportions and we lost the greenhouse for a while until I hacked my way back to it!

A year ago I was getting all excited at the prospect of the Big Butterfly Count and this year is no different. The Big Count starts again this weekend, so I  hope the weather perks up a bit. Quite a few of the blog posts lately have been about our trips out and about, but I thought for this anniversary post I should maybe focus back on what’s going on in the garden. The butterflies have so far been few and far between, but the bees have been out in force. The lavender is at its best right now and the bees absolutely love it.

Honey Bee 1

This week there was a particularly rare sighting in the Too Lazy To Weed garden – the lawnmower came out! This bee (a leafcutter) was perhaps so amazed it had to land on the wheel to have a closer look – a good excuse for me to stop work at least!

Megachile

I spent a lot of time at the weekend staring at our outside wall! We have a leafcutter bee (possibly even the one on the lawnmower above) nesting in there. I’ve seen on the internet wonderful photos that people have taken of bees emerging from holes in walls – all beautifully framed and in focus. Turns out it’s not that easy to do! The bee returned every 10-15 minutes so I was all set up with my tripod pointed at the hole. As soon as the bee appeared I clicked away, convinced I’d get award winning shots. Similarly as soon as it reappeared on its way back out I snapped away again. Not one perfectly focussed photo. Bees are apparently faster than either my camera and/or me. These blurry images were the best out of about 50 photos and an hour of my life staring at a wall!

Bee in wall 2

Bee in wall 1

One of my other bee recording efforts recently was to try and video them visiting the flowers in our mini meadow. We get plenty of bees there, so again I foolishly thought this would be easy. I set the trail camera up pointed at the flowers and left it for the day. As usual of course I’d forgotten to factor in the wind – blowing the flowers about and triggering the camera. 400 videos later of flailing flowers and I’d realised my mistake (I should have known this would happen, having had a similar problem with the bird feeder blowing in the wind earlier in the year). Amongst the flower flapping though the camera did at least manage to pick up a few bees – here are a couple of Buff Tailed Bumblebees enjoying the nectar buffet.

So one year on and I’m still getting just as much pleasure from watching the wildlife in our garden. Apart from the benefit to the wildlife itself of keeping an organic, natural (OK messy) garden, I think both Chris and I find it beneficial to our own wellbeing. Coming home from work and watching the bees on the lavender, or the birds stuffing themselves on the birdfeeder, or the bats swooping in the evening  (even if they are after my beloved moths!) is a great way of unwinding. Maybe everyone should have a lazy garden!

Citizen Science

With the Big Garden Birdwatch coming up this weekend, it got me thinking about the other forms of Citizen Science (Citizen Smith’s nerdy cousin!) that the other half and I get involved with from the comfort of our own garden.  For amateur biologists like us, these projects are a great way of indulging our hobbies and hopefully contributing something useful with the information at the same time. Most of the ones we participate in require no specialist knowledge (phew!), no specialist equipment and often very little time. Yet when enough people contribute, they can provide significant amounts of information that the scientists couldn’t get any other way.

BlackbirdThe Big Garden Birdwatch is one of the oldest projects and has been going for over 30 years, allowing the RSPB to monitor long term trends in our garden bird populations.  You just need to watch the birds in your garden for an hour and count the maximum number of each species you see. For more information go to: https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/discoverandlearn/birdwatch

Small CopperThe Big Butterfly Count is a relative newcomer, having only started in 2010, but already it’s become the biggest butterfly survey in the world. Last year over half a million butterflies were recorded in over 50,000 counts – you couldn’t pay for that amount of data!  For this project all you need to do is record the maximum number of each of the target species you see in just 15 minutes during the 3 weeks the project runs each summer. For more information go to: http://www.bigbutterflycount.org/

I’ve been monitoring the moths in our garden for a while now and last year took part in Moth Night in September.  Moth night runs for a different weekend each year with a different theme each time (this year it will be Hawk-moths). You can either run a moth trap in  your own garden or go to one of their public events. For more information go to: http://www.mothnight.info/www/ This year I’ve decided to go one step further and joined the Garden Moth Scheme. This project gets volunteers to put out moth traps in the garden once a week over the summer months and log their findings. Since I’ve been more or less doing this anyway, joining the scheme seemed like the logical thing to do. For more information go to: http://www.gardenmoths.org.uk/

Painted LadyIf you don’t want to get involved in anything too formal, some schemes just require you to log certain species as and when you see them. Butterfly Conservation runs a Migrant Watch for Painted Lady butterflies and Hummingbird Hawk-moths. These species are becoming increasingly common in the UK and may be indicative of climate change. You can help monitor this by simply logging any sightings of them (at home, work wherever you see them). Humming Bird Hawkmoth 3For more information go to: http://butterfly-conservation.org/612/migrant-watch.html

 

 

 

Azure DamselflyThere are schemes for all sorts of species – we’ve logged dragonflies and damselflies at http://www.british-dragonflies.org.uk/ and reptiles and lizards at http://www.recordpool.org.uk/index.php You name it there is probably a recording scheme for it somewhere.

Although I’ve always been interested in encouraging wildlife into the garden (hence the abundance of wilderness areas – honest that’s the reason!), it was taking part in a Garden Bioblitz a few years ago that really fired my enthusiasm. In a Garden Bioblitz you simply record all the species (plants and animals) you can find in your garden over a 24 hour period.  The first time we did it, the other half and I recorded 119 species – and that was before we had a moth trap! Hopefully this year we can improve on that. If you fancy having a go – http://www.gardenbioblitz.org/

In short (after rambling on longer than I meant to), if you’re interested in wildlife and observing it anyway, why not put those observations to good use and submit them to one of these schemes?

I’m a Lady!

Painted LadyThis gorgeous Painted Lady butterfly chose Sunday to make an appearance in the garden – in the nick of time to get recorded on the last day of the Big Butterfly Count – perfect timing! Like the hummingbird hawkmoths, these beautiful butterflies are also summer migrants from North Africa and in some years they arrive in their thousands. They only live for a few weeks so it’s amazing that they can emerge in Africa, fly over to the UK and still have time to spend a few days gorging themselves on the nectar in our garden!

Old Lady MothPossessing slightly less obvious beauty is this Old Lady moth, which coincidentally I was trying to photograph just as the Painted Lady came flaunting herself around the garden on Sunday morning. About the same size as the Painted Lady, the Old Lady is much more sombrely coloured and clearly less agile, as she flew off with a laboured flapping, as if she was really too heavy to fly. I say “she”, but of course this particular Old Lady could have been a “he” – I didn’t examine it that closely!

Can’t think why but I felt closer to the slightly batty old lady than I did to the bright young thing!

 

Out and About

Today has been a miserable wet day (the perfect excuse for not weeding!), but it’s given me the chance to sort through some of the photos we took doing a couple of Big Butterfly Counts out and about yesterday. After a cloudy start, the sun did eventually shine down on the righteous and we saw loads of butterflies. We even managed to spot the only two moths included in The Count – the resident Six Spot Burnett and the migrant Silver Y. Both species fly by day and are easy to identify – the Burnett with 6 distinctive red spots on a black background and the Silver Y with a white mark on its wings that’s supposed to look like the letter Y (although unless you have scruffy handwriting like mine, this may not be so obvious).

Six Spot Burnett Silver Y

We also saw two of my favourite butterflies; the Marbled White and the Small Copper. Unless your garden has sweeping grasslands, you are unlikely to get these at home, but they’re worth looking out for in the countryside. Last year we spent ages traipsing about looking for our first glimpse of a Marbled White; this year we’ve found a colony of them on a roadside about 5 minutes from home!

Marbled White Small Copper

Results Are In!

The weather’s not been brilliant, but we have managed to do at least one Big Butterfly Count in the garden already. Maybe not spectacular results, but 10 individuals of 6 species isn’t bad in 15 minutes. Getting their 15 minutes of fame were 4 Gatekeepers, 2 Large Whites, 1 Small White, 1 Ringlet, 1 Small Tortoiseshell and 1 Comma. The buddleia bush was not surprisingly a favourite for this season’s butterflies to be seen on, but our scabby old blue lounger proved popular with the Comma. Still plenty more time to get out and do a count – you’ve got until the 9th August.Comma Gatekeeper Large White Ringlet Small Tortoiseshell Small White