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

30 Days Wild – Day 25

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_25

 

Day 25 of 30 Days Wild and I was up at the crack of dawn to empty the moth trap (thrilled by the way to get my first ever Shark moth, but I’ll do a moth blog another day). Since I was up and about on a Saturday morning long before the other half surfaced, I decided to spend an hour or so watching our wildflower “meadow” to see what if anything was using it. I did blog about our mini meadow a week or so ago, but I focused then mainly on the flowers, so this time I thought I’d look at the insect life. After all the whole point of it was to attract the insects.

So I watched for about an hour until the skies opened and it started chucking it down – I am a fair weather naturalist, so I retreated indoors at that point. I did pop out again later when the sun came out again and snapped a few more just to finish off.

So not too surprisingly the bees were the most abundant visitors and several species as well which was great. The Phacelia flowers were probably doing the most business, including both a Red and a Buff Tailed Bumblebee. I love the way the red one has co-ordinated his pollen sacs with his red bum!

Red tailed bumblebee

Bee on Phacelia

But the borage too was getting a fair few visitors. I think this is probably a Tree Bumblebee coming in to land.

Bee on Borage

I did at one point start to get “bee envy” when I noticed that this plant (no idea what it is?) in the neighbours garden was actually getting more bees than my patch. But then since it overhangs our fence, many of the bees were technically in our garden – so I’m counting them as ours!

Bee next door

The bee highlight of the day was spotting this one on the chamomile flowers. It looked a bit different to others I’d seen so I stuck the photo on Facebook and someone kindly identified it as Colletes sp. for me – another new genus for the garden, taking our total to 23 this year. Colletes are known as the Plasterer bees, because of the way they line their nests with a secretion a bit like plaster!

Colletes sp.

The next group of visitors was the hoverflies. I saw at least 3 species on the mini meadow (although there were plenty of others around the rest of the garden). Afraid I don’t know the species for these 3 yet, although the bottom one looks like it might be another bumblebee mimic.

Small Hoverfly

Small Hoverfly 2

Large Hoverfly 2

The Swollen-thighed Beetles of course couldn’t miss a photo opportunity and were flaunting their generous curves at every opportunity.

Swollen thighed

There were various other small beetles usually nestled right in the middle of the flowers and impossible to get a decent photo of. But this one decided to land on my arm and after a bit of contorting I managed to get a photo of it. Must have thought my lily-white skin was some kind of giant flower – a disappointment no doubt!

Beetle on arm

Spotted these interesting flies on one of the thistle leaves. There was a pair of them – possibly a mating pair – and this one kept sort of stepping back then raising and lowering its wings at the other one. Perhaps some kind of mating ritual or signalling. There is a group of flies called Signal Flies, so perhaps that is what these were?

Signal fly

On the more gruesome side of things, the teasel leaves had formed mini pools at the point they joined the stem. These pools were full of dead and decaying insects – a bit like those tropical pitcher plants that drown animals then live off the nutrients! I don’t think the teasels were going that far, but other things were – there were clearly larvae of something (midges perhaps) in the water that were feeding off the dead insects. Sorry the photo doesn’t really capture that, with hindsight maybe I should have used some fancy polarising gizmo on the lens?

Mini pools

The final gruesome twist to my otherwise idyllic hour, was spotting this crab spider with his unfortunate victim – one of my beloved bees! The bee was still alive and I did consider rescuing it, but then I thought “What would Chris Packham do?” – almost certainly not save it! The crab spider has to eat too and it looked like he’d already got his fangs into the bee, so it was probably a goner anyway. Wasn’t expecting to witness “nature raw in tooth and claw” quite so vividly today!

Spider with bee

My hour by the flowers was very relaxing. The birds got accustomed to me sitting there and after a while came back to the bird feeders nearby, unbothered by my presence. A frog even started moving in the undergrowth near my feet. I guess I must be naturally very good at sitting still doing nothing for an hour!

 

Lavender 30 WEEDS

And finally the weed for the day of my 30 Lazy Garden Weeds. Lavender – not a weed in the conventional sense, but it does keep seeding itself all over the garden and I have even been forced on occasion to weed some of it out (shock horror!) The smell and the colour are of course lovely and the bees go nuts for it. It’s just coming into flower about now. I did try a few years ago making Lavender essence – not a great success, I ended up with a jar of dingy looking liquid that somehow smelled of lavender but not in a good way. I tried a few drops in a macaroon mix and they ended up tasting like soap! But apart from my culinary failures, it is a lovely plant that would be welcome in most gardens.

30 Days Wild – Day 20

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_20Day 20 of 30 Days Wild and it’s the mid summer solstice – extra time to do something wild! It’s also the start of National Insect Week – a celebration of all things insect related. I could have marked the summer solstice by staying up all night, but since I’ve got work tomorrow, it seemed more prudent to celebrate National Insect Week instead!

NIW_Logo_FBWe’re lucky in that we get loads of insects in the garden, so I thought I’d have a look this afternoon and see how many of the different groups of insect I could find. Insects are an incredibly diverse group, but all have an exoskeleton, 3 pairs of legs and a three part body. It’s amazing how you can take that basic body scheme and turn it into such a wide variety of shapes and sizes!

So in no particular order here are some of the insects I found in the garden this afternoon. First up the ants, surely one of the most populous insect groups on earth. I’ve no idea what species this is, forming an ant hill in our lawn, but we’ve got an awful lot of them!

Ants

Flies may not be the most popular or the most attractive group of insects, but they are fascinating when you look at them close up like this. (Photos like this do always remind me of the Jeff Goldblum film The Fly though!)

Fly

Hoverflies belong in the same group (Diptera) as the fly above – they are all considered True Flies. We get loads of hoverflies in the garden, although of course few showed their faces tonight because I was looking for them. Some are small and skinny like this Sphaerophoria species.

Hoverfly Sphaerophoria

While others are bigger and chunkier like this Common Drone Fly (Eristalis tenax), which looks more like a bee.

Eristalis tenax

Aphids or greenfly are not true flies and are certainly the bane of many a gardeners’ life. But they all have their place in the food chain, being fodder for amongst other things the ladybirds.

Aphids

I couldn’t resist posting this photo below of a Woolly Aphid – I didn’t see one today, this was taken a few weeks ago during the Bioblitz – but it is so darn cute close up, I just had to include it.

Woolly aphid

Crickets and grasshoppers are just starting to appear again in the garden. This grasshopper was pinging about our very weedy drive when I got home today.

Grasshopper

Shieldbugs like the one below are in the same super group of insects (Hemiptera) as the aphids, although they don’t look anything like each other.

Shieldbug

I had hoped a butterfly would make an appearance, but none obliged this afternoon. So the Lepidoptera today are represented by the only moth I could find – this Mint Moth. In the summer we have loads of these fluttering around the herbs – they don’t restrict themselves to just mint!

Mint moth

Of course I had to include a bee photo. Although there were plenty flying around this afternoon, it was a bit windy, so I had problems with the flowers blowing around as I tried to take photos. I think this is just about recognisable as a Buff-tailed Bumblebee though.

Bumblebee

Beetles make up the group Coleoptera and again are hugely diverse. I found this one in the pitfall trap this afternoon.

Beetle

So that’s all the insect groups I could find today in the garden. Not bad although there are of course lots of others not represented – dragonflies & damselflies, earwigs, ladybirds (although these are a type of beetle), froghoppers, lacewings, caddisflies – the list goes on. Over an average summer we’ll see examples of most of these in our garden – you just need to look and it’s surprising what you can find.

Foxglove 30 WEEDSAnd finally as usual another “weed” from our garden for my 30 Lazy Garden Weeds. This time the Foxglove. I was so pleased to find this growing under the apple tree this week. I’ve tried a few times to get them to grow in the garden – scattering seeds with no success. But this one seems to have seeded itself in here all by itself. Hopefully it will be the first of many. The bees love them and so do I!

 

30 Days Wild – Day 17

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_17Day 17 of 30 Days Wild and it’s Friday again! It started off dull and grey, but by early afternoon the sun was out and the weekend beckoned. It felt like a great start to the weekend when I spotted this Large Skipper before I’d even left work – the benefits of working on an organic farm!

Large Skipper at work

SignI decided to stop off at one of the local nature reserves on the way home – Brotheridge Green, which was once part of an old railway line. I’ve been there a few times before, but this was the first visit for 2016. The reserve is basically a long narrow strip, formed from the railway cutting at one end and a railway embankment at the other. It’s always been great for butterflies and is another place that is really secluded and makes you feel like you’re the only one who knows about it! At the cutting end the path is bordered both sides by trees and wildflowers. As usual I could hear loads of birds, but my lack of birdsong skills meant I’d no idea what (apart from a pair of Bullfinches that I did actually see).

View down track

There were a few butterflies here in the sunny patches. A Speckled Wood, a Red Admiral and some kind of white – it may have been a Green-Veined but I didn’t get a good look at the underside to be sure.

Speckled Wood

Red Admiral

White Butterfly

There was the usual abundance of buttercups, cow parsley and what might have been Giant Hogweed (I gave it a wide berth just in case!), but also Deadly Nightshade – I gave that a wide berth too!

Nightshade

As the cutting opened up into the embankment, I got lovely views of the Malvern Hills. I also freaked out two squirrels (greys of course) who raced ahead of me in the trees. At one point it felt like I was herding squirrels, as every time I moved forward so did they.

Malvern Hills

The wider grassy strip here has always been particularly good for butterflies (I’ve seen Marbled Whites here before, but think I was a week or two too early today). And today I was rewarded with my first Meadow Browns of the year. There must have been half a dozen of them fluttering about in the late afternoon sunshine.

Meadow Brown

As I turned back, I spotted a flash of red in the grass – I think it was a 6 Spot Burnet Moth, although I can’t be sure as it was at an odd angle.

Six spot Burnett

The final insect treat of the walk was this amazing hoverfly that looked just like a bumblebee. I’ve since found out that it is Volucella bombylans var. plumata – there are apparently 2 variations of this bumblebee mimicking hoverfly, the one I found with a white tail and one with an orange tail – amazing creatures.

Hoverfly Volucella bombylans

My final brush with nature today was actually dinner! I’d got a load of the American Signal Crayfish from our fish supplier at work. I’d planned to get and BBQ them last weekend, but although we had the weather, they couldn’t get the crayfish. This week of course, I got the crayfish, but it was raining by the time I got home, so no BBQ, they had to be cooked indoors. These are the “invading” crayfish that are causing all sorts of problems for our native crayfish in UK rivers. Not only do they carry crayfish “plague”, but they damage the river banks and out compete our native crayfish for food and shelter.  So I’d like to think that by eating them, we are doing our own small bit to redress the balance.

Signal crayfish box

They are called Signal Crayfish because they have bright red claws that they use to “signal” other crayfish or in this case to signal Chris and his camera to back right off.

Signal crayfish

So today was a day of butterflies and crayfish. It was great to see 5 species of butterfly in one afternoon – don’t think I’ve seen that many since last year. It bodes well for the summer months to come!

Grape Hyacinth 30 WEEDS

And finally week 17 in my 30 Lazy Garden Weeds – The Grape Hyacinth. Not sure this would be classed as a weed, but they certainly grow like a weed in our garden. In early spring they seem to be everywhere. I always think they look particularly good in the evenings, they almost seem to glow. The bees of course absolutely love them and they must be a significant source of nectar for them early on in the year.

 

30 Days Wild – Day 10

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_10Day 10 of 30 Days Wild and it’s our wedding anniversary! Seventeen (in)glorious years! 17 doesn’t seem to be one of those anniversaries where you buy something special – 2 for paper, 25 for silver etc., but Chris has just bought himself (sorry us!) a Pit BBQ, so I guess it’s become the BBQ anniversary.

ProseccoI had planned to eat outside this evening anyway – I’d ordered American crayfish (the ones you’re supposed to eat to protect out native ones) from our fish supplier at work, but sod’s law being what it is, they couldn’t get any this week. So it’s a burger instead – not quite got the same cache, but what can you do. I’m sitting typing outside while the coals heat up and it’s starting to drizzle – sometimes life just doesn’t quite live up to expectations. But it is at least warm drizzle and it’s Friday night and I’m outside, so not really complaining.

When we got married in Scotland all those moons ago, the dolphins in Aberdeen harbour appeared and put on a display that felt like it was just for us. 17 years later and we haven’t got anything quite so spectacular to help us celebrate, but I’m honestly just as happy watching the wildlife in our garden. There’s something special about knowing that the bees and the birds are all there in part at least because of our lazy attitude to weeding and organic approach to gardening.

Asparagus beetleWe decided to grill some of the asparagus from the garden, but first we had to remove its residents – the asparagus beetles. They are such striking beetles, it’s just a pity they have quite such a taste for our asparagus. Fortunately for them there was a lot of asparagus left that we’d let grow too big – so it was too tough for us to eat, but the beetles didn’t seem to mind.

Even though it was not exactly a sunny evening, the bees and hoverflies were out in force. I particularly liked this Early Bumblebee, such a brightly coloured  little guy.

Early bumblebee

Managed to get photos of 2 species of hoverfly tonight – one large one (Narcissus Bulb Fly) and a much smaller one (Marmalade Hoverfly).

Narcissus bulb fly

Marmalade

Bought flowersChris had bought me a large bunch of flowers, which we took outside to decorate the table for the BBQ. They were big, bold, beautiful flowers, but for all the time they were out in the garden, none of the bees or hoverflies came anywhere near them. They clearly preferred our native weeds, as they flew right past the vase even though it was very close to the natural flowers. Again it sort of justifies our decision to have a “wild” garden, as we’d much rather have the subtler British flowers buzzing with insects, than the showier cultivated varieties.

Corydalis 30 WEEDSAnd finally as always the latest weed in my 30 Lazy Weeds from our garden – Yellow Corydalis. This is apparently a garden escapee that originally grew in the Alps, but has now spread round Britain. I probably shouldn’t like it as it is a non-native plant, but it’s hard not to like. I’ve always been attracted to plants with more unusual shaped flowers or leaves and the little yellow trumpets fit into this category. It grows easily in shade and unloved areas of the garden, so brightens up our driveway no end.

 

30 Days Wild – Day 9

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_09

 

Day 9 of 30 Days Wild and I managed to finish work early enough to get out and about. I decided to stop at a little nature reserve on the way home, but first I went strawberry picking. The season is just starting and the local fruit farm hadn’t even got their sign out advertising the strawberries. This meant the strawberry field (well poly-tunnel actually) was deserted apart from me.  It was lovely and peaceful and the lack of people meant there were lots of bird and bees about instead.

StrawberriesI took my punnet of strawberries with me to Boynes Coppice and Meadows Nature Reserve which was just round the corner. (No I didn’t scoff all of them, but those I did were very nice eaten in the fresh air!) The reserve consists of a series of meadows managed by Worcester Wildlife Trust. They have a wide variety of flowers and grasses and consequently attract plenty of insect life.

View

There were lots of hoverflies about – a group of insects I know nothing about, but once again the Facebook community identified a couple for me. The Common and the Large Tiger Hoverfly.

Helophilus pendulusHelophilus trivittatus (2)

Having chased Common Blue Butterflies round the last couple of sites I’ve been to, I was amazed to find a mating pair of them today. They even stayed put to let me take photos (I guess they had other things on their tiny minds!)

Mating common blues

There were bees everywhere and lots of different species – below (I think) are Honey Bee, Buffish Mining Bee, Hawthorn Mining Bee and Ashy Mining Bee. The whole meadow was humming with the sound of bees, although they were drowned out sometimes by the hoverflies!

Honey bee

DSC_4779

Andrena haemorrhoa

Andrena cineraria

There were a few small moths about, a Burnet Companion which I’ve seen before and a Common Yellow Conch which I hadn’t.

Burnet Companion

Common Yellow Conch (2)

The final two additions to today’s insect selection were a grasshopper (possibly a Meadow one) and some kind of huge sawfly. The sawfly really was a whopper, sitting on the gate, guarding the meadow!

Meadow Grasshopper

Xiphydria sawfly

I find Boynes Coppice an incredibly relaxing place to visit. It’s off the beaten track, away from traffic noise and quite often I’m the only one there (as I was today). You can sit on the path and watch the insects buzzing all around or just watch the clouds drifting by. I love these little nature reserves that feel like your own little secret retreat!

Aquilegia 30 WEEDS

Latest weed for 30 Lazy Garden Weeds is the Columbine or Aquilegia. I love the fact that Columbine comes from the Latin for dove as the flower is supposed to look like 5 doves with their heads together. We have a huge variety of these in the garden – everything from pretty much white, to deep purple. Some are two toned, some all the same colour. Some have additional layers or ruffles, others like this one are slightly more restrained. All of them though have got here under their own steam and generally seeded themselves around the place. They are great for bees, some of whom go in the conventional way, but others cheat and drill a hole in the top to access the nectar directly. Lots of the flowers in our garden have tiny holes where the bees have cheated!