Normally the corvids don’t comer into the garden much. Jackdaws are always around the rooftops, but they only come down peck fat balls when the weather gets cold. This week I had a lot of fatty scraps from the kitchen to put out, and it attracted the attention of several birds. The rooks saw it first and six of them gathered in the trees around getting up the nerve to drop down to take something. They dominated the local jackdaws chasing them off when they came anywhere near, but while they came into the lower branches, they still wouldn’t come down to the food until a pair of magpies dropped in. The magpies grabbed tidbits and flew off several times, and eventually a couple of rooks gathered up the courage to try the food. They didn’t seem to like it much though, and in the end let the magpies have most of it.
As a nature lover and wildlife gardener I started wondering about the biodiversity in my Gloucestershire backyard and just how many species from plants to insects to birds to mammals live in or visit it. Much of the wildlife in my small, village garden has been present right under my nose for years without my really appreciating it. On the way I am learning a lot about different species and how to make a wildlife-friendly environment for them; also getting engaged more in conservation activities around the region. My garden species tally started from zero on June 1st 2018, the target is 1000 species - let's see where it goes.
Found this Winter Moth (Operophtera brumata) in the house today. It’s not rare, but as a moth that flies from November through January, it is unusual. The males fly up to the top of trees to find the flightless females, who lay their eggs in leaf buds. The moths are native to Europe, but introduced and becoming a pest in North America, where they lack natural predators.
The other new species is a moss I photographed on the roof the other day; Grey-cushioned Grimmia (Grimmia pulvinata). It’s a pretty common moss in fact, growing alongside Redshank Moss in silver fluffy clumps on the tiles.
Due to work commitments I’ve not been spending much time in the garden over the last weeks, so I was happy to add species #400 today - a Red Kite (Milvus milvus) that passed over the garden this morning. These are getting more and more common around the Western edge of the Cotswolds, and usually there’s 1 or 2 around our area. I wasn’t counting every fly-over until fairly recently, so this is the first I’ve seen actually over the garden since about September. Other birds are also coming to the garden feeders a bit more now the leaves are gone from the trees, but so far it’s still surprisingly quiet most of the time.
10 November seems quite late to find a frog out and about in the garden, but what struck me about this one is how fat it is. My first thought was that frogs must put on weight to get through the winter, but researching online it appears that while they do build up an energy store, mostly this is in the form of glycogen (carbohydrate) stored in the liver, rather than a fat deposit. Certainly glycogen is a more ready source of energy, which requires less oxygen to deploy - which is useful if you are hibernating at the bottom of a pond absorbing what little dissolved oxygen there may be through the skin, as many frogs do.
Hopefully the frog was healthy - it certainly seemed it. So, perhaps it is an adult female with developed eggs ready for the spring? Finding out online when female frogs develop their eggs was surprisingly difficult, but a detailed article on toads indicated that in toads mostly the eggs are developed during the late summer, with the weight of the ovaries reaching 12-15% of body weight during August-September. Assuming it works the same with frogs, and it does make sense they they would mostly develop their eggs prior to shutting down their metabolism for hibernation, then I hope this is a gravid female ready to spawn in my pond in March/April.
Borrowed a humane mouse trap from friends and caught this Wood Mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus, species #399) in the garden shed. Not very cleverly, I opened the trap in the kitchen and then had much fun with the boys re-capturing the mouse, eventually cornering it in a plastic bag, Very happy to add only my third mammal (after grey squirrel and pipistrelle bat) to the list.
The other star find was #398, a Horse Leech (Haemopis sanguisuga) that one of the boys noticed in the pond/basin at the front of the house. I’m not sure how it got there, but nice to find a totally new kind of animal in the garden.
Only one more species to reach #400.
It’s a bit of an ongoing theme on the blog, but once again the brown wheelie-bin is proving a great place to look for garden wildlife. These bugs were all found on the underside of the lid the other day, and duly released back into the garden. The sheer number of insects to be found at the compost-bin depot must be considerable! None of these bugs were new: Beech Shieldbug is numerous in the garden thanks to the mature beech and birch trees all around, but I’ve only had one each of the Hairy and Green Shieldbugs previously, so getting all three species of these beautiful bugs together in one bin-full of garden cuttings is pretty good going.
The creatures living under the plant pots don’t seem to care so much about the temperature, but are back enjoying damper conditions. Doing a quick check around under all the plants I came across plenty of worms, arthropods, woodlice and springtails, including some new ones for the list. #392 Common Cryptops (Cryptops hortensis) is a blind centipede with 21 pairs of legs. #394 Common Shiny Woodlouse (Oniscus asellus) is quite common, but one I’d previously failed to pick out from the multitudes of woodlice around the garden. Orchesella cincta (#395) is a well marked springtail, quite large as springtails go, living in a colony under one of the pots. There was also a new Rove Beetle, Tachyporus nitidulus (#396). Some of these creatures are getting too small to photograph or even see properly without a microscope.
We may be a couple of maples short of New England, but there are lovely Autumn colours in the garden this week from the Willow, Silver Birches and Beech around the garden boundary. Birds in the garden have dropped off quite a bit and the feeders are mostly quiet, but there has been some visible migration overhead, particularly of fieldfares, redwings and skylarks. When the weather turns cold again I expect the small birds will brave the neighbourhood cats and the regular sparrowhawk to come into the garden again.
Impressed with this colony of Giant Willow Aphids (Tuberolachnus salignus), species #389, hiding in plain sight on the underside of a branch in the weeping willow. They’re impressively big, at 5mm in length apparently one of the biggest aphids in the world, with a funny-looking “sharks-fin” in the middle of their backs. These aphids are most active in the winter, all-female colonies giving birth to live young clones (males are not found) right through to mid-winter, and in fact they disappear totally from the trees for 3-4 months in spring/summer, going no-one-knows-where. You would have thought the local blue tits would gobble them up, but it seems not - it’s thought they accumulate toxins from the willow bark that make them unattractive to would-be avian predators.
Dry days in summer weren’t the best time to study mosses, but now the air is damp the mosses are coming into their own, so why not have a proper look at them. (There’s also not so much else going on out there to distract me). Have to say that I found identifying these mosses pretty difficult, especially as most do not have sporophytes at present, but searching around to see how many different kinds I could find was fun. Hopefully the IDs are mostly correct? I concentrated on those at ground-level, growing on rocks, walls and of course taking over the lawn.
Two kinds of Feather-moss are widespread; Rough-stalked Feather-moss (#68, Brachythecium rutabulum) grows in dense clumps on some rocks and bricks around the site, whereas the Common Feather-moss (#381, Kindbergia praelonga) prefers either the lawn or peaty compost in a neglected planter. Intermediate Wall Screw Moss (#382, Tortula intermedia) is growing on the limestone rocks around the edges of the lawn and Silver Haircap (# 385, Bryum argenteum) is widespread in cracks between paving slabs.
The next two species are more restricted around the garden: Dwarf Haircap (#384, Pogonatum aloides) is established in undisturbed potting compost in a large planter, while Lesser Bird’s-claw Beard-moss (#386, Barbula convoluta) is restricted to growing on the shady end of one of the railway sleepers around my raised vegetable patch.
This seems quite a good selection of mosses; there’s also Redshank Moss (#273, Ceratodon purpureus) up on the roof, and another check of the mosses up there is probably in order some time. Checking the mosses as they develop during the year may lead to me finding more, or maybe (I hope not) reviewing identification of the ones I’m showing here. There are many, many more mosses out there that could turn up.
I suspect this Small White butterfly (#8, Pieris rapae) must have hatched from a caterpillar or chrysalis hidden among vegetables I bought at the market, as I found it in one of the kitchen cupboards. Cabbage White butterflies should spend winter as pupae, but likely this one emerged prematurely due to the relative warmth of our house. Red Admiral butterflies do hibernate as adults, so it’s less of a surprise that I saw one in the garden as recently as last week, on one of the sunnier days; however I don’t expect to see any more butterflies now until 2019.
It’s 5-6 Centigrade, but surprisingly there are still some insects about. The first is a rather pretty mirid bug - Pantilius tunicatus (#367) - that dropped in via my window last week. Recognisable by its reddish-above, bright green-below colours, this species is a late season bug, seen mostly in September-October, that prefers hazel, alder & birch trees. Common Drone Fly (# 379, Eristalis tenax) is a species which can also be seen all year round. It’s a common enough insect, so not sure how it took me so long to record it. This one was taking advantage of midday sunshine for a bit of sunbathing on a south-facing wall. Finally this lacewing popped up out of some vegetation I was tidying. I think it’s a Common Green Lacewing (#267, Chrysoperla carnea), same as many I found during the summer (though the dark spots down the side are a bit curious). This species hibernates over the winter, changing its colour to brown so as not to be quite so conspicuous to predators.
Part of the bio-blitz, especially in this season, is about checking some of the hidden corners of the garden for things that I might have missed before. Procumbent Pearlwort (#366) was lurking in a damp corner of the front yard, hidden by bamboo and one of my pond/basins. A tiny Wall Rue Spleenwort (#375) growing between the bricks by the dustbins, is only my second species of fern in the garden. A solitary Dwarf Bell toadstool (#376) emerging among the mosses in a neglected planter is my first new species of fungus this Autumn; hopefully there will be a few more in the next month or so. All three are quite small and insignificant, but they are part of the ecology of the garden.
It’s been fun watching the resident pair of Grey Squirrels (#94) these the last few weeks, as they go into overdrive hunting food to get through the winter. Caches of food, especially walnuts from next-door’s tree, are buried all around the garden. The squirrels are cute, but also very territorial, chasing off other squirrels who invade their turf. One pair of squirrels have a drey in the large beech tree bordering our garden, and another (probably one of their kids) has theirs in a neighbour’s silver birch, barely 20 metres away. Relations are not always cordial, but I didn’t yet see a fight, just lots of chasing, posturing and barking.
I’d been meaning to go up on the roof to have another look at the lichens for some time now, and as it was a nice sunny, still day and I had the ladders out already to clean the windows, yesterday was the day. This time I concentrated on the west-facing front of the house and I found quite a good diversity of species, adding 6 new species, bringing my count of lichens in the garden up to 10 species. I do not think I will be adding many more to that total. As a newcomer to lichens I do appreciate their subtle variations in colour & texture. My roof would be a much duller place without them.
From top left clockwise, species are identified as: Xanthoria parietina, Caloplaca oasis, Caloplaca dichroa, Collema crispum, Acrocordia salweyi & Protoblastenia rupestris.
Considering more than 4000 species of beetle have been recorded in UK, my garden tally of 16 species is not very impressive. I’m not sure quite why I get so few beetles, but anyway it was nice to get some good pictures of this ground beetle on a sunny wall (only the second such ground beetle I’ve found). Sadly it’s just on the list as Amara sp. (#352) as I didn’t yet get it identified to species level. I can’t yet confidently find a species to match the leg colour (all dark), shape and pattern of marks on the pronotum.
I’m lucky that around the area where I live there are many old orchards, often containing heritage strains of apples and perry pears. It was interesting to attend a FWAG meeting about orchard conservation, with a tour around an old and very large orchard in Conderton, Worcestershire. Lots of tips on how to care for your apple tree, and in my case, to prune them so I actually get some fruit! The orchard was full of birds; too early for fieldfares, but a large group of mistle thrushes, (my regular wintering one is also back in the garden this week), and a little owl living in one of the gnarly ancient hollow trees .
A nice selection of multi-coloured Harlequin Ladybirds (#124) coming out in the afternoon sun to look for a place to hibernate. Amazing that these Asian Ladybirds only got established in UK in 2004, because they are now all over the place, and in numbers.
Among the ladybirds, a Scentless Plant Bug (Stictopleurus punctatonervosus), species #357 for the list. This grassland species is also a fairly recent arrival, this time from Central Europe. Starting out from the Thames Valley, it’s now spreading out across Southern England.
There’s not so many new insects now the weather has cooled right down, so I was surprised to find this late-flying soldier fly, #355 Twin-Spot Centurion (Sargus bipunctatus), while pruning back some overgrown shrubs. You can’t see the two white dots by the eyes on this photo. This fly is typically seen during August-November, its larvae living in mature and rotting vegetation. It was really inactive, sitting on its leaf while I cut back branches all around it.
With a bit of Autumn sunshine and temperatures around 20 C, there’s a sudden burst of insect activity. Presumably this is the insects getting ready for winter. Another ichneumon wasp, looking very like Ichneumon extensorius to me. A first Common Plume Moth (Emmelina monodactyla) found in the kitchen window this morning. A rather fine Common Green Shieldbug (Palomena prasina), species #350 on the list. Finally a new Harvestman, Dicranopalpus ramosus, an odd looking spider originating in North Africa, but now spreading across Europe & UK. Apart from these there’s a few remaining Large White and Red Admiral butterflies about, bees and drone-flies on the Michaelmas Daisies, Cross Spiders on every bush and the resident Grey Squirrels are busy hiding walnuts from nextdoor’s garden all over the place. It’s a nice time to be around the garden.