Easter Pick & Mix

A bit of a mixed bag around the garden today, with Chocolate Mining Bee (Andrena scotica, 459) adding to the medley of mining bees that are present at the moment. A few Amara ground. beetles were to be seen in the sunshine; this one appears like a Common Sun Beetle (Amara aenea). Next a couple of spiders. Zebra Spider (Salticus scenicus, #460) is usually a common enough species of jumping spider, but I didn’t find one last summer, so it was nice to catch this one in the sunshine by the front door. The not-so-long-legged harvestman is Phalangium opilio (#461); found while doing some gardening,

Esperia sulphurella (#457)

Esperia sulphurella is a prettily-marked daytime flying moth that typically emerges in April/May. The larvae of this species live in dead wood - perhaps in this case the nearby the dead Elder stump. This is my first new moth species since November, hopefully the first of many to appear as the weather warms up. I really do need to find myself a moth trap…

#457 Esperia sulphurella

#457 Esperia sulphurella

Three New Weeds

I found this trio of new weeds around the garden this week.

Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta, #454), popping up between the paving slabs is an unassuming little weed with small white flowers and leaves shaped like watercress. The leaves are edible, adding - as per the name - a bitter taste to your salad.

Cuckoo Flower (Cardamine pratensis, #453) also goes by the names of Lady’s Smock or Milkmaid. One of the main food-plants of the Orange-tip Butterfly, it is often plentiful in Spring in damp meadows, but not so widespread in my rather dry garden. It’s closely related to the bittercress, both being members of the cabbage family, and is also edible. After flowering in spring it produces seeds then dies back until the next year.

Ivy-leaved Speedwell (Veronica hederifolia, #455) is c common garden weed, originating from Eurasia and by now spread widely as an introduced species. It has a blue form and a white form, the latter being the one in my garden.

Orange-tip Butterfly (Anthocharis cardamines, #438)

Some beautiful Spring colours today. Orange-tips are my favourite butterfly, turning up regular as clockwork in the garden each April. They are the first of the butterflies that do not hibernate as adults, but emerge in Spring from their chrysalis, to appear. Often they just flutter straight through, so it was nice to get this shot of male enjoying my (Spanish) bluebells. Typical food-plants for the caterpillars include Cuckoo Flower or Lady’s Smock, my most recent addition to the list at #453.

I also couldn’t resist this photo of a Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale, #21) flower; another shot of beautiful colour from a wild corner of the garden.

Refugees from the Shrubbery

I came across these two refugees from my weekend work clearing out more shrubs from my overgrown borders.

The beetle is a Vine Weevil (Otiorhynchus sulcatus, #451). Quite an impressive looking beetle, but also a devastating garden pest. The beetle’s larvae are the problem, as they eat the roots of plants over the autumn & winter, often killing them. This is especially the case for plants growing in containers. The RHS website (https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=234 ) dedicates a page to advising how (at no small effort) to eradicate these weevils. Probably it was a mistake to release this candidate for gardeners public enemy #1 back into the wild.

The spider, Clubiona terrestris (#446), is sac spider, so named because of the sac-like web it makes. Living in the leaf litter it seems more likely to be a gardeners friend. This family of spider has 8 eyes arranged in two rows on its face.

As well as these new species for the list, I added a fly-over Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos, #450) and saw a very welcome first Swallow of the year over the village.

Redcurrant Blister Aphid (Cryptomyzus ribis)

Red curled leaves on a currant bush are a sure sign of the #447 Redcurrant Blister Aphid (Cryptomyzus ribis). The aphids themselves are supposed to be a yellowish colour, but the nymphs on the underside of these leaves are bright green. I’ll have to check later to see what the adults look like; however the other species of greenfly that likes currants doesn’t cause the red leaves. Happily, despite the damaged leaves, these aphids are considered fairly harmless for the health of the bush and the fruit crop.

Mourning Bee & Mining Bees

The Spirea is in flower and yesterday, while the sun was shining, its white, scented blossoms attracted a variety of pollinating insects, including all three species of mining bee that are currently in and around the garden.

With a body looking like a ginger pipe-cleaner, the female Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva, #4442) looks quite different to the paler male (see Thursday’s blog). Early Mining Bee (Andrena haemorrhoa, #445) has a fox brown coloured body too, but a darker less fluffy thorax. Finally the grey-coloured Ashy Mining Bee (Andrena cineraria, #61) is also visiting the Spirea flowers.

Back to the first photo, this is something a bit different. All black with white spots on its thorax, it’s a Common Mourning Bee (Melecta albifrons). This so-called “cuckoo bee” is a kleptoparasite of the Hairy-footed Flower Bee ((Anthophora plumipes)). It lays its eggs in the nest of its host, the larvae hatching before the host’s and consuming the competition as well as the stored pollen, ready to emerge as adults the following spring.

Spanish Bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica, #16)

Bordered by large birch and beech trees, much of my garden is shady like an open woodland, and the bluebells really seem to like it. Sadly, I have the Spanish version (Hyacinthoides hispanica), rather than the native Common Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta). The non-native species has broader leaves, more upright flower stalks as the flowers form on both sides of the stem and a more open, less bell-shaped flower. They also lack a scent, which perhaps makes them less attractive to insects, though I do see bumble bees and bee flies visiting them. They are also much more fast-growing than the native bluebell, quickly spreading across the borders and given half a chance into woodlands, where they also pose a risk to the native species through hybridisation. I should I suppose pull them out and replace them by some native ones, but if I do I will wait until after they have flowered, as they are pretty.

#16 Spanish Bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica)

#16 Spanish Bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica)

Mining Bees and Bee Fly

In the sunny weather at the start of the week there was an encouragingly good amount of mining bees around the garden. Ashy Mining Bee (Andrena cineraria, #61) and Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva, #442) are solitary bees emerging early in the Spring and flying for 6-8 weeks. The females make separate nests in the ground, often many nesting in the same area. The Bee Fly (Bombylius major) is a parasite of the mining bees, especially the Tawny Mining Bee, laying its own eggs near the entrance of the bees nest so its larvae can predate those of the bee. The bees and Bee Fly do visit the garden flowers and are important pollinators. The mining bees seemingly preferring blossoms on the fruit trees, while the Bee Fly goes for flowers like Bluebell.

New Season, New Insects

Buzzing around or sunbathing on the walls or fences trying to catch some rays from the March sunshine, there’s many more insects buzzing around this last week. Most of them are very active, so I’m struggling to get photos. For instance yesterday we welcomed back spring with 4 species of butterfly in the garden (Peacock, Brimstone, Holly Blue and Orange Tip)., but none of them stopped for so much as a second. Similar story for most of the bees and hoverflies.

On to some things which were more obliging, I snapped Common Drone Fly (Eristalis tenax) on the wall and some of the many flies sitting on the fence and plants. Still some work to do to identify all of them, but a (very common, in fact) Blue Bottle Fly (Calliphora vicina, #432) was new to the list, as was Eudasyphora cyanella (#441) with its white collar and the Scavenger Fly (Scatopse sp).

Mint Moth (#69) was a visitor to the kitchen. So far there don’t appear to be many moths around; when driving at night they seem even less in evidence than during mid-winter.

Finally, noticing some damaged leaves on my hellebores, I found sap-sucking Hellebore Aphids (#431, Macrosiphum hellebore) making themselves at home on the undersides of the leaves. Fortunately not too many of them.

A Souvenir from Chedworth Roman Villa

While pulling up some gone-far-too-rampant shrubs from one of the borders last weekend I found lots of snails, including this shell from a Roman or Burgundy Snail (Helix pomatia). This is an edible snail brought to UK by the Romans and still to be found some places in the Cotswold. In the absence of a living specimen I think the shell is probably a souvenir from a trip to the National Trust’s Chedworth Roman Villa, as while they might have been living in UK for hundreds of years, so far this lazy snail didn’t manage to spread very far - unlike many of its mollusc relatives. Too bad! Chedworth by the way is a really nice place to visit for both archaeology and nature, more info here: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/chedworth-roman-villa/features/wildlife-among-the-archaeology

Yanking out overgrown plants, I also found a nice selection of Brown-lipped or Grove Snails (Cepaea nemoralis). These are pretty snails, varying in their colour quite a lot. Apparently they are also edible, but you would need a lot more of them than of their Roman relatives to make a meal.

Game in the Garden

I was woken up by this Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa, #435) calling loudly from the top of the fence in the morning sun, and dashed downstairs to get an into-the-sun photo. This lovely bird joins the male Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) that’s been around for the last couple of weeks. This isn’t the first Red-legged Partridge in the garden; they usually arrive once or twice a year, but always in the early Spring (March/April). Probably this is a male bird looking for territory and/or a mate away from its winter covey. The pheasant is likely on a similar mission, though often they do also spend the winter around the garden. I expect both birds will give up and move on to try another location fairly soon.

More Spring Flowers

The spring equinox has been and gone, and there are signs of early spring all around the garden. The bluebells are close to flowering, but already blooming nicely Common Dog Violet, Forget-me-Not and the first Plum blossons. Leaf-burst seems early this year, and among the freshly opened willow leaves a singing Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) is another harbinger of Spring.

Small Snails

Lots of snails made it through the winter and have come crawling out of garden waste in the composting bin. Strawberry Snail (Trochulus striolatus) on the left, is one of the commonest snails in the garden, but the Girdled Snail (Hygromia cinctella) on the right is a new one for the list (#428). Girdled Snail has a distinctive white stripe around its keel and the shell is smoother than on the similarly-sized Strawberry Snail. It is yet another non-native species, originating in Mediterranean Europe and only discovered in UK in 1950 in Devon. From there it has slowly spread over much of the England, as it has also crawled its way across much of Central and Northern Europe.

Hawthorn Shield Bug (#427)

Starting to see a few insects around the garden now; this one was hiding up in the chard picked from my vegetable plot for dinner. Shield bugs over-winter as adults, so maybe it’s been there all winter? The Hawthorn Shield Bug (Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale) is quite common, and although it has a preference for hawthorns (which I don’t have in the garden), it also is found in birch and hazel trees. It is quite similar to the closely-related Birch Shield Bug, but differs in it’s more elongated shape and it’s burgundy-coloured, pointy shoulders. I’ve put both species side by side below for comparison.

Coral Spot Fungus (#423)

Strong winds brought down many twigs from high up in the large beech tree above the garden. Some of the dead wood had these hard, orange dots that had pushed up through the bark. These “pustules” are from Coral Spot Fungus (Nectria cinnabarina), a common saprophyte growing on dead wood of hardwood trees. Though it starts on the dead wood, it does eventually spread to healthy wood, contributing to the eventual decay of the tree. There were several small insects on the infected wood, many more than on the healthy twigs that had come down. I suppose the trees natural defenses against insects may be weakened by the fungus or (or probably and) the decaying wood has more food available to insects.

#423 Coral Spot Fungus (Nectria cinnabarina)

#423 Coral Spot Fungus (Nectria cinnabarina)

Spring Cleaning

Tidying out the shed this weekend didn’t turn up as many bugs as I was expecting. The shed starts to be quite rotten, especially around the base, so there is a lot of entry points for all kinds of creature to crawl in through. In the event though, apart from a few spiders and hibernating mosquitoes, there wasn’t so much to keep me from my spring cleaning. The spiders were mostly Black Lace Weavers (Amaurobius ferox, #103); I’m not sure where the other big spiders present back in the Autumn were hiding themselves. The mosquitoes, which were plentiful, were Common House Mosquito / House Gnat (Culex pipiens, #332). Happily neither one of them bites people much.

Elsewhere I disturbed a couple of toads that were getting intimate in the log store and found these primroses (Primula vularis), which were new for the list (#422)

Marvelous Mosses

Many of the mosses are looking good right now; nice and green thanks to the damper winter weather and in some cases sending out setae to spread their spores. The Wall Screw Moss is shooting out lots of long, straight setae with pointed capsules, while the Rough-stalked Feather Moss still has last-years dried hockey-stick like setae. #420 Silky Wall Feather Moss (Homalothecium sericeum) is one I failed to separate last year, though actually it’s quite plentiful in the garden, forming dense blankets on some of the limestone stones along the garden path.

#6 Sparrowhawk

I was happy to get this shot of 'Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) on next-door’s roof, as usually I only see them in flight, either soaring high over the garden, or bombing through on the hunt. This female is the first I’ve seen around the garden for several weeks, since a mail that hung around for a while back in November.. There were a few other new bird arrivals yesterday, such as a trio of Lesser Redpolls (a bit scarce this winter), a cock pheasant (a regular visitor most winters, but not this year),.a new female Blackcap, a small party of Redwings (the first for a few weeks) and group of Blackbirds present in the morning. Perhaps this is a sign of the season, and some migration going on.

#6 Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)

#6 Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)

Winter Bird Survey

Last weekend saw my final survey visit for the new BTO English Winter Bird Survey. This survey covers my regular Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) km square just outside Broadway, Worcestershire. Due to the recent warm weather it was more like an early Breeding Bird Survey, with resident birds like song thrush, robin, wren, chaffinch, linnet and skylarks singing everywhere. There were some winter redwings still around and a fly-over siskin, but due to the lack of leaves I saw more of the resident birds than I often do when I visit in April. Bullfinch, marsh tit and treecreeper are some of the less common residents on this square that were showing well. Lesser-spotted Woodpeckers are easiest seen at this time of year, but one seen calling and drumming on a dead tree is a rare sighting here or in indeed most other places in UK.

I liked doing the survey on my regular square and seeing different birds there, but doing the expected 4 visits was a problem as short winter days make it hard to do the survey around other weekend activities, especially in the pre-Christmas period. As it was I only managed the two visits in December and February, but I do think this was enough to accurately survey the wintering bird population on the site.