Monday, 23 March 2015

Spring bugs emerging...

With work being busy at the moment I didn't have time to go very far for very long last week, though on the plus side, I was mostly working from home, so could at least enjoy a little of the beautiful spring weather we had during the week and also keep half an eye on what was going on in the garden in particular in the way of buglife.

One of several clumps of Narcissus in flower
It has been wonderful to see the garden suddenly come into colour in the last couple of weeks with lots of clumps of mini daffodils, as well as bright pink Camelias coming into flower. Having only been here a few months, this year we're still watching and waiting to find out what plants we already have in the garden (with many perennials only now starting to appear), and where we will have space to put some additional insect-friendly plants. A small pond is also planned - a good job for the Easter holidays! 

A lovely start to the week was the first 7-spot ladybird I've seen this year, wandering around on a Mahonia plant which has flowered throughout the winter and is still flowering now. 

7-spot Ladybird on Mahonia

Small Tortoiseshell on Viburnum
Several of our UK butterflies such as Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell, Comma and Peacock have spent the winter as adults, finding sheltered spots in which to hibernate. Recently with the weather gradually warming, they have started to emerge from hibernation. I was delighted to see my first butterfly of the year on Wednesday - a Small Tortoiseshell. We have a wonderful Viburnum in the garden which is proving to be a magnet for insects - as well as this butterfly it has been attracting lots of honey bees and also Drone fly hoverflies. It's a bit on the tall side though, so this photo was taken whilst [unsensibly] balancing on an upturned bucket - next time I'll put step ladders next to it - just in case.... On Friday, another sunny day, another (or perhaps the same) Small Tortoiseshell appeared again on these flowers, also a male Brimstone butterfly was seen flying over, he didn't stop and land as far as I saw, but with his vibrantly coloured yellow wings he was unmistakable. 

The Butterfly Conservation society in the UK runs a number of surveys as well as the  popular Big Buttterfly Count (this year taking place from 17th July to 9th August). One of these is a garden butterfly survey (which I've recorded these for) in which species seen in the garden are noted and in which months from spring through to autumn with earliest dates in each of the months if available also recorded. These records are then submitted to Butterfly Conservation at the end of the year. More information about this and Butterfly Conservation's other surveys can be found here

Buff-tailed Bumble bee queen on Mahonia
Bumblebees have also started to visit the garden. For certain we have seen Tree bumblebees, and the only individual I have managed to photograph (albeit not very well!) is this very large queen Buff-tailed bumblebee, who as well as enjoying these Mahonia flowers, was also zig-zagging close to the ground, looking for suitable nest sites. Unfortunately you can see around her 'shoulder' that she is carrying a few mites, though it is apparently possible to carefully rid bumblebees of these mites which I was reading about in an interesting article on UK safari

7-spot Ladybird
10-spot Ladybird
Having had a particularly long working day on Tuesday, Wednesday was a day to finish up early, so I drove over to the Quinta arboretum again in Swettenham. The varied evergreen trees must have been providing winter homes for hibernating 7-spot ladybirds  - several of which I spotted (forgive the pun!) on the move in their spiny homes. A much smaller ladybird only about 3-4 mm long, quite nicely camouflaged on an unfamiliar deciduous tree I later identified as a 10-spot ladybird.

Bumblebee queens were busy gathering pollen from catkins high up in a large willow tree, as far as I could see, and from their size, these were more of the early emerging Buff-tailed bumblebees.
Dinner is served... a predatory fly eating what I think was a midge

I watched as a fly (I don't know the ID), caught what looked like a tiny midge and returned to its flowery perch.  

Familiar woodland birds were singing, and Great-Spotted Woodpeckers, proclaiming their territory, were drumming in the tops of some particularly resonant trees. The sight and sound of Ring-necked Pheasants are commonplace in the arboretum, however a large selection of feathers indicated that one had met its demise, possibly predated by a fox.

Old leaves of a Downy Oak were speckled with old Spangle galls, the work of a cynipid wasp, I'm assuming Neuroterus quercusbaccarum, though as always correct me if that's wrong. The galls typically fall off the leaves before the leaves themselves fall in autumn, and the larvae continue to develop before emerging as adults the following spring. Having failed to fall, these galls will have dried up and the larvae failed to develop.

Spangle galls on Downy Oak
A selection of pheasant feathers

Friday was of course the day of the partial eclipse. With an appropriately timed coffee break, I ventured into the garden to see what I could see, and also with a vague hope of being able to photograph it. As it turned out we were very fortunate that there was a little light cloud cover - not enough to obscure the eclipse, but the clouds acted as a giant diffuser just enough that we could view it quite well. During the time the sun was largely blocked by the moon, it became noticeably cooler, maybe 2 or 3 degrees at a guess, and it seemed that the birds quietened with the darkening of the sky, a strange kind of twilight. One bird unphased by the eclipse was a male Sparrowhawk that shot across the garden right in front of my husband and a regular Robin (distinctive by a lack of feathers on his/her head) had a very close call indeed. 

Not wanting to damage either my eyes or my camera, using manual settings I took a few quick photos using a small aperture and a very high shutter speed and was really pleased to get some fairly clear images to remember it by - a giant sunny smile in the sky on what happened to also be International Happiness Day - a wonderful sight and an uplifting way to finish the working week. 

Partial eclipse 20th March 2015 (9.29am)


  1. Great smiley face, Jan! :-) You were fortunate to see the partial eclipse. We couldn't see it over here. I've always loved that "strange kind of twilight" you talked about. Wonderful to see those spring colors in your images, and also the small lovely creatures that come with it. Beautiful photography. Very interesting info about the mites on the bumblebee too.

    1. Thanks very much Greg - yes we were really lucky here to have great conditions to see the eclipse - many people couldn't see it at all with the amount of cloud cover over much of the UK. It's wonderful to see things coming to life again and the insects appearing at last, and to dust off the macro lens accordingly! :) I found it interesting to read about 'mite removal' in bumble bees - whereas I'll happily give exhausted looking bees sugar water to perk them up, I'm not sure whether I'll be attempting to dunk them in warm water to sort their mites out... we'll see! :)

  2. Lovely to see everything waking now, I didn't know the butterflies hibernated. Wow! They do well with our winters. Gorgeous selection of images here Jan. Wonderful.. Lovely to read how your getting on. Love to you and your family :)

    1. Thanks very much Kez - and to you and yours too. :) x
      I'm not sure where spring has gone this week, it's been pretty horrible here. (I'm itching to get out with the camera when it calms down a little!) Yes great to see a couple of butterflies appearing at last, and it is quite amazing that some manage to sit out the winter as adults!