Two Ticks

I have seen Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula, #507) in the garden previously, but not since I started the list. So it was good to have a pair of them turn up and stop long enough for me to get a photo of the female. Surprisingly, according to BTO Garden Birdwatch data, there is a peak in bullfinches visiting gardens during June, so these were bang on cue. Sightings then drop right down through the late summer and autumn, and pick up a little in the winter and spring; June though is the top month.

The other tick is a tick, in this case courtesy of the cat. I believe it is a Hedgehog Tick (Ixodes hexagonus, #506), which is the commonest tick picked up by cats. It’s certainly a hard tick from that family. This big white one is likely full of blood; cat or hedgehog. I’m looking forward to seeing the hedgehog sometime; there are some around the village but as our garden is surrounded by walls, access is a bit of a problem..

Fairy Ring Mushroom (#505)

I don’t get many fungi in the garden, so it was a pleasant surprise to find a crop of what I believe were Fairy Ring Mushrooms (Marasmius oreades) popping up out of the lawn this weekend. I suppose the damp conditions are better for fungi than the dry heat of last summer. I would be pretty happy to have fairy rings in my lawn, so hopefully the mushrooms find the place to their liking.

505 Fairy Ring Mushroom.jpg

A Yellow New Year

Celebrating a year of my site with some yellow.

I was wondering what these plants were that were appearing in my rather small 1 meter square “wild meadow”. Now they’re in flower I can see they are Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor, #502), which germinated very well from a few seeds I found in my pocket after a walk in the Cotswolds last autumn, dropped on the ground and then forgot about. Yellow Rattle is an interesting plant as it is a partial parasite of grasses, its roots attaching to those of the grass and taking a big cut of the water and nutrients the grass has absorbed. This is very beneficial as it stunts the grass, keeping it low and enabling other meadow flowers also to thrive.

The small yellow/orange fly with spotted wings is Meiosimyza decempunctata (#485), so named because of the 10 spots on its wings. Its larvae live among the dead leaves on the ground. The other yellow fly is a Large Rose Sawfly (Arge pagana, #217); the first I’ve seen this year. Not surprisingly is was in my climbing rose.

500 Species - Azure Damselfly

I was hoping to reach 500 with something special, so here we have a female Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) that was hiding up in the flower bed this evening. In just short of a year I’m half way to reaching 1000 species. This is my first dragonfly in the garden this year, and my fourth species since I started the list. Azure Dragonfly is one of those dragonflies that’s often found away from water in hedges and woodland rides, and is probably the commonest of the blue damselflies in UK.

#500 Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella)

#500 Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella)

Nature Walk at Greystones Farm

This was my first visit of the season around the reserve at Greystones. Spring seems always a bit slow to arrive up there, but the meadows were starting to come alive. The Cow Parsley was in full bloom on the Iron Age ramparts; meanwhile orchids (Spotted, Southern Marsh and Early Marsh) were all in bloom, as were some nice patches of blue Vipers Bugloss. It was a bit windy, but even so very few butterflies and dragonflies to be seen.

Not a Bee - Narcissus Bulb Fly

It looks like a bumble bee, but the face and antennae are not quite right; in fact it is a type of hoverfly. The Narcissus Bulb Fly (Merodon equestris, #495) is another non-native garden pest, this time a long-term one, imported (no doubt with foreign bulbs) around 200 years ago, it lays its eggs on the dying leaves of daffodils and other bulbs, where its larvae burrow down to feed on the inside of the bulb. This one was in and among my daffs. Usually there is only one larva per bulb, but as it lives in the bulb for a year it has plenty of time to eat the heart of the bulb, including the developing flower bud. The emerging adults only live for a week or two, during May/June. Its bee-like appearance is thought to be a deterrent to would-be predators.

#495 Narcissus Bulb Fly (Merodon equestris)

#495 Narcissus Bulb Fly (Merodon equestris)

New Moths

Here’s a couple of new moths in the garden over the weekend. The Yellow-faced Bell (Notocelia cynosbatella) is a common micro-moth in UK, its caterpillars feeding on rose leaves. It’s thought that the moth is coloured to be camouflaged like bird poo.

Brown and bit nondescript, the other moth is a female Bee Moth (Aphomia sociella), a parasite of bees and wasps. Between all the bee flies, nomad bees, parasitic wasps and now the bee moth, it seems that bee’s nests attract a lot of unwelcome attention! The Bee Moth usually lays its eggs in an above-ground bumble bee’s nest, where on hatching its larvae live in the nest. They have some beneficial effect eating waste and debris around the nest, but also consume eggs and larvae of the host.

May Bugs

Finally a few new bugs in the garden these last few days. Tipula vernalis is a cranefly that emerges in the spring, unlike many of the Genus that appear in numbers in the late summer and autumn. Common Flower Bug (Anthocoris nemorum) was new to the list, as was a hoverfly Syrphus ribesii (separated from the very similar Syrphus vitripennis by leg colour). Representing the insectivores, the first Harlequin Ladybirds (Harmonia axyridis) were back, as was a Turf-running Spider ( Philodromus cespitum) and Brown Lacewing (Micromus variegatus) - all seen for the first time this year. Moths are not yet plentiful, so this Common Pug moth (Eupithecia vulgata) was a welcome addition to the list.

Finally a true “May Bug”, the Common Cockchafer (Melolontha melolontha), that was found legs-in-the-air by friends on their bathroom floor. These big bugs were formerly very common in UK and regarded as a pest (the larvae particularly), but insecticides in the 1960’s decimated the population. They are now making something of a comeback, so hopefully I’ll find one on my own patch one day.

Away from the bugs, the skies now have Swifts, Swallows, House Martins and the first Common Pipistrelle bats. A hunting Hobby (Falco Subbuteo) was new for the garden - I’ll be happy if it sticks around; the local hirundines less so.

Nomad Bees Afoot

After previous fun and games trying to get photos of nomad bees in the garden, this Flavous Nomad Bee (Nomada flava, #463) obligingly landed on my foot. With its wings folded you can’t see the red on its back very well, but the dark red plastic-looking marks on its thorax show nicely. The other nomad bee - new to the list - is Marsham’s Nomad Bee (Nomada marshamella, #481) with its black and yellow striped abdomen, the first yellow stripe having a black break through the middle. The pattern of yellow dots on the head is also distinctive. Both these bees are parasites of Andrena sp. mining bees.

Colour-changing Spider - Misumena vatia

This is a cool but freaky-looking spider that’s caught itself a big meal. The White Crab Spider (Misumena vatia, #480) can change its colour depending on the flower it is on. It hides on the flower pouncing on any unsuspecting insect and grabbing it with its strong front legs. It may not be able to do blue - not that it seems to have mattered much in this case - but like a chameleon it can change its colour from white to yellow or green in order to blend in. In the US it is called the Golden Rod Spider as it’s commonly found, coloured yellow, on Golden Rod later in the summer when this in flower and covered in pollinating insects. It’s not such a common species in UK, only found in the South of England, so I’m happy to have found one in my garden.

#480 Flower Crab Spider (Misumena vatia)

#480 Flower Crab Spider (Misumena vatia)

Thousands of Aphids

I’m not sure if it’s the cold spell weather we’re having or the season. but after all the activity around the early bees and butterflies there’s a noticeable lull in activity around the garden. One family of insects that is bucking this trend though are the aphids; there’s thousands of them everywhere and the predator species like ladybirds are not around in any kind of numbers sufficient to keep the numbers down. Who knows, maybe that’s by design - to let the numbers get up so that there’s plenty to eat for the rest of the summer. It’s very well organised if that’s the case.

The aphids I found lately are Gooseberry Willowherb Aphid (Aphis grossulariae) scrunching up the new grown leaves on the gooseberry bushes, Silver Birch Aphid (Euceraphis betulae) in amazing numbers on the undersides of the silver birch leaves, Geranium Aphid (Acyrthosiphon malvae) on the lower leaves of the wild geranium plants in the flowerbed and Herb Bennet Aphid (Macrosiphum gei) on the Herb Bennet that grows wherever it can.

One thing i learned about aphids is that certain species have a life-cycle involving two plants - the Gooseberry Willowherb Aphid being an example. It spends the winter and spring in the woody gooseberry bush, in the spring curling over the young leaves at the ends of each branch as the first generations of young grow. Presumably this is for protection against things like the blue tits and wren that I have seen feeding in the same bush. In the summer they decamp, at least partially, to willowherb plants, before returning to the gooseberry to pass the winter. Apparently several aphid species have a similar strategy; while it makes sense in terms of surviving the winter it seems incredible that a species would evolve to be dependent on two specific yet so different species of plant.

Seed Dispersal by Animals

Preparing the vegetable patch to sow some seed, I found two walnuts seedlings. The neighbourhood grey squirrels were busy all Autumn burying nuts from next-door’s tree, so it’s not such a surprise to find some of them sprouting in the Spring. I put the seedlings into pots to join the Horse Chestnuts from the previous year. I’m not sure if the conkers were brought in by squirrels or the kids, but in the end it’s the same process. Now all I need is to find a big enough space to plant out my growing collection of seedling trees. Neither tree is actually native to UK, both originally coming from SE Europe.

La Fête du Muguet

Giving a bouquet of Muguet or Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) on 1st May is a tradition in France. Mine in the garden are only just ready in time, recent cold weather having slowed things right down. Other flowers looking good right now are the Welsh Poppies (Meconopsis cambrica), Apple blosson (Malus pumila) and the only new species for a little while, Field Wood-rush (Luzula campestris, #471),, This is a Spring-flowering grass and common weed in lawns, which is also sometimes called Good Friday Grass. Insects are few, but when the sun shines butterflies soon appear (Holly Blue, Orange Tip and a Red Admiral today) and the first returning swift was overhead yesterday.

Three Flies

Not everyone’s favourite, but with the weather turning cold again other insects have taken a rain-check and disappeared, but the flies are still there. Flies are also an important part of the UK’s biodiversity, with over 7,000 species to be found - so plenty of scope for finding new species for my list. Such diversity does bring challenges with identification though - so it’s not easy. Going by www,naturespot.org.uk and other photos on the web the first two are closely related species of root-maggot fly. The first of them has been quite common around the garden during April, Hydrophoria lancifer (#448); while the second, with its different patterning and reddish-coloured thighs, is Hydrophoria linogrisea (#469). The third fly is a female Yellow Dung Fly (Scathophaga stercoraria, #127), much greener than its yellow coloured mate,

Lords & Ladies

I do like these plants; the red berries in the Autumn last for ages (they are poisonous, which helps) and the flowers are quite exotic-looking, They have an unpleasant smell to attract insects, more for pollination than for nutrition. Lords & Ladies goes by a whole host of country names such as snakeshead, adder's root, devils & angels, cows & bulls, cuckoo-pint, soldiers diddies, priest's pintle, Adam & Eve, bobbins, wake robin, friar's cowl, sonsie-give-us-your-hand and Jack-in-the-pulpit to name a few; many of them referring to the flowers’ likeness to genitalia Not surprisingly the plant also has a whole lot of folklore associated with it. While the berries are poisonous, the large, starch-rich roots used to be eaten as porridge - but they have to be prepared correctly to neutralise the toxins, so probably not something you will want to try at home.

Ladybirds

So far this spring I’ve seen several Seven Spotted Ladybirds (Coccinella septempunctata) and Fourteen Spotted Ladybirds (Propylea quattuordecimpunctata) - got to love those Latin names. The Asian Harlequin Ladybirds have not been present, so it’s been nice to see the native species. The small brown bug looks like Epuraea aestiva, joining the pollen beetles on the head of a dandelion.

Violet Rust (Puccinia violae, #470)

Seeing some leaves on Dog Violet starting to get deformed with discoloured blisters I was expecting to find some kind of violet aphid or mite, but the root cause turned out to be a fungus. After a few days the undersides of the impacted leaves develop brown/orange pustules which will release fungus spores. Strange to see such a disease form so quickly on fresh green Spring plant leaves.

Wild Geraniums

Two members of the geranium family growing like weeds in the garden. Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum, #22) grows in the cracks between paving slabs and rocks all around the garden, but this is first time I noticed the closely related Shining Cranesbill (Geranium lucidum, #466) with its smaller flowers and shiny, rounded leaves growing in overgrown gravel down by the shed. Quite a pretty little flower.

Flavous Nomad Bee (Nomada flava, #463)

These nomad bees have been driving me mad the last few days as they are pretty small (+/- 1 cm) and hardly ever land for more than a few seconds. They just cruise around and around the elder trees in the wild corner of the garden. Today I got a break as one of them got trapped in a spider’s web enabling me to get a decent look. They really do look like mini wasps, patrolling around like wasps too; but close up you can see red mixed with the yellow stripes on the body. This one appears to be Flavous Nomad Bee (Nomada flava), but the identification between this species and Panzer’s Nomad Bee is pretty difficult. Nomad bees are kleptoparasitic cuckoo bees of mining bees; in this case usually Andrena scotica (Chocolate Mining Bee). Apparently the males search our the host bee’s nests, which they scent mark, helping the females to locate the nests for egg laying. The nomad bee’s larvae kill the host’s and any other nomad bee larvae present, so only one bee larva remains in the nest to feed of the stored pollen & nectar, the adult wasp emerging the next Spring.