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Tuesday 26 May 2020

The Lockdown Garden - Week 21, 18th-24th May, 2020

This week has been a very quiet week in the garden  - or perhaps I should say it would have been if it wasn't for the Starlings, but more on that later. However, this week I'm appending a section on a wildlife exercise walk that was extremely profitable!

Monday, 18th May 

The trail cams revealed that there had been plenty of Hedgehog action overnight, but no encounters. The Red Fox was back.
We had just 13 species of bird put a foot down in the garden, but this did include at least 33 Starlings. They were with us for much of the day, and the noise was deafening! I remarked to Lindsay that, at this rate, we'd have a visit from a Sparrowhawk, and I was right. However I don't think it (a male) was lucky.

The only photos I took that day were of a Small White butterfly, which was the only butterfly species seen. 

Small White (Pieris rapae) - garden on 18/05/2020
Tuesday, 19th May

A morning inspection of the trail cams showed plenty of Hedgehog activity overnight, but the Fox was absent for the first time in a week.  

I was not particularly observant of the garden that day, and only noted 9 bird species visiting. However, the garden was somewhat more peaceful as we peaked at just 12 Starlings.

Butterflies were showing well, with four species seen - Small White, Small Tortoiseshell, Orange-tip (m & f), Peacock.

However, the only sensible photos taken were of a Buff-tailed Garden Bumblebee (thank you Conehead54 for the correction) on the Rhododendron -  look at that tongue in the second shot!

Garden Bumblebee (Bombus hortorum) - garden on 19/05/2020
That night, the garden moth trap went out and came up with a good catch for our garden - 31 moths of 13 species, including 4 'new for garden' records. Here are some of the more interesting ones.

Iron Prominent (Notodonta dromedarius) - from garden on 19/05/2020
Rustic Shoulder-knot (Apamea sordens) - from garden on 19/05/2020
Cabbage Moth (Mamestra brassicae) - from garden on 19/05/2020 (new for garden)
Buff Ermine (Spilosoma lutea) (male) - from garden on 19/05/2020
Scalloped Hazel (Odontopera bidentata) - from garden on 19/05/2020 (new for garden)
Mottled Pug (Eupithecia exiguata) - from garden on 19/05/2020 (new for garden)
Flame Carpet (Xanthorhoe designata) - from garden on 19/05/2020 (new for garden)
Wednesday, 20th May

The trail cams again showed thet we'd had plenty of Hedgehog action but, disappointingly also showed we'd had a large Brown Rat which was eating the spilt sunflower hearts.

Visiting birds were of 11 species.

The only butterflies noted were 2 Small White.

That day I had a short trip out for some exercise on a fine sunny day. My report on this very successful excursion is at the end of this blog post.

Thursday, 21st May

The trail cams showed very little Hedgehog action and, thankfully, no return of the Brown Rat.

We had 11 bird species visit, with nothing of particular note.

Lindsay called me to a Small Magpie moth which had found its way into the kitchen. This resulted in my only photo for that day. For some reason, this moth is classified as a micro-moth

Small Magpie (Anania hortulata) - from house on 21/05/2020
Friday, 22nd May

There was a little more Hedgehog action seen on the trail cams with, probably visits by two hogs.

It was an extremely windy day, and visiting bird species amounted to only 10.  

No photos were taken

Saturday, 23rd May

Another very windy damaging day, with nothing seen on any of the trail cams from overnight. In spite of the wind, we did get visited by birds of 14 species, one of which was indeterminate - I will explain! We have in the area a solitary Rook and a solitary Carrion Crow.  The Rook is a youngster, and still has a rather dark bill, although that now seems to be getting paler.  The Crow has an unusually slender bill, but it does have a good curvature to the culmen. It makes them difficult to tell apart unless one can get a good view with binoculars. On this occasion, one of the two birds briefly settled in our Rowan, but departed again before I could get a good look at it! It was another day without photography.

Sunday, 24th May

The wind had dropped significantly and the trail cams revealed that, as well as a couple of Hedgehogs, we'd been visited by the Fox again - its first visit since the Monday.
We had 13 species of bird visit the garden, including a pair of Bullfinch, which was exciting as they had been absent since the last day of April.

There was further excitement, however, when I found that the ovipositing Orange-tip butterfly on 9th May, mentioned  two blog posts ago, had resulted in caterpillars on the Garlic Mustard. The next two images show the largest, and then the smallest of the three I found. In the second image you can just detect the shed skin of this tiny caterpillar.

Orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines) (larvae) - garden on 24/05/2020
Today (25/05) I have found a further 2 tiny caterpillars - one is less than 3 mm long!

Garlic Mustard has previously been removed from our garden as far as possible each year as an 'invasive weed'. However, having learned this year that it is a food plant chosen by Orange-tips, I have decided to let it grow. It seems to have paid off.

I might have to wait a long time for any chance of butterflies from these larvae as I have read that these over-winter as pupae - sometimes for as long as four winters! The success rate is also rather low, mainly due to predation.

While photographing the caterpillars, I noticed a moth on the fence just beyond them. This has been quite a common moth in our garden.

Garden Carpet (Xanthorhoe fluctuata) - garden on 24/05/2020
As I came away from the caterpillars I took a few other photos. The first one is of a bee species which seems to love the flowers of the Chives (as shown in the photo) and the Welsh Onions.

Red-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) - garden on 24/05/2020
Last year we sowed a patch of garden with seed that was supposed to produce a low-height flower meadow. Sadly, the grasses that came up (which, to date, have been all that came up) were far too high for the location, and so were removed again. However, I missed a few and the flowers on the grasses (if flowers is what they are) are quite beautiful. I can see these as being the inspiration for a design for ladies ear-rings! That 'flower', below is about 1 cm long.

grass flower - our garden on 24/05/2020
We ended up the week with just 16 species of bird, 5 species of mammal ( I hadn't mentioned the mouse!), and just 4 species of butterfly.

A Visit To Heather Lake  - on Wednesday, 20th May

My visit to Heather Lake on Friday, 15th May to look for dragonflies and damselflies had resulted in briefly seeing just one departing teneral damselfly, and no visible evidence of emergences of others. There had been a change in weather since then and this was a warm sunny day with little breeze. This seemed like a good day to have another look at Heather Lake.

It is a walk through a woodland ride that takes me from where I park my car to the lake. I saw nothing of interest en-route. As I arrived to the area of the lake, there was a Grey Heron sitting on a man-made raft in the lake about 180 metres away. 

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) - Heather Lake
I soon realised that there had been a major change since my last visit, with large numbers of damselflies around. Most of these were tenerals (newly emerged and flying for the first time, not yet having developed their full colours), but there were also many damselflies that had matured. With just a few exceptions, these were Common Blue Damselfly, but I did find two other species of damsel too.

Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) (teneral male) - Heather Lake
Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) (teneral female) - Heather Lake

Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) (male) - Heather Lake
Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) (teneral male) - Heather Lake
Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (male) - Heather Lake
Part-way down the eastern side of the lake I stopped to look at a displaying Coot. I don't remember seeing a Coot displaying like this before.

Coot (Fulica atra) (presumably male) - Heather Lake
The Grey Heron, a very nervous species of bird, had taken off as I'd  drawn a little nearer, and had landed atop a distant tree. Although these birds nest high up in trees, to my mind they always look incongruous when high in a tree!

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) - Heather Lake
At the south end of the lake, I found a Blue-tailed Damselfly, but didn't get very close before it departed and was lost to sight when I was distracted by movement in the foliage beside me.

Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) (male) - Heather Lake
I looked down and found a dragonfly climbing up a stem behind some reeds. It was a teneral Four-spotted Chaser - my first dragonfly of 2020! It was in a very awkward position for photography, and I chanced trying to move some obstructions to my line of sight - at which point it took off and sailed up into the sky and over the trees. Oh well!

Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) (teneral male) - Heather Lake
A short way further on, I stopped to photograph a pair of tiny blue beetles.  These flea beetles are about 5 mm long and feed on Great Willowherb. They are very common in these parts.

Altica lythri - Heather Lake
Returning on the west side of the lake I spotted a pair of Common Blue Damselflies in tandem. The female was of the blue form of this species.

Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) (male+female) - Heather Lake
Further along, I noted a newly emerged damselfly playing peek-a-boo. It was a bit far out for any reasonable photography, but it was interesting to watch for a while. Sadly, I didn't have time to watch it fully develop and find out what species it was as it was getting towards time that I'd told Lindsay I'd be home by 'at the latest'. It seems to be a male.

newly emerged damselfly - Heather Lake
A little further on and I had even more excitement when a dragonfly flew right past me and landed on a branch about 10 metres away. Because of intervening brambles there was no chance of a sensible approach, but at least I managed to get some unobstructed distant shots!

Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa) (immature male) - Heather Lake
Shortly after this, I found a pair of Common Blue Damselflies working on the next generation. This time, the female was of the drab coloured variety.

Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) (male+female) - Heather Lake
As I approached the northern (inflow) end of the lake, a pair of Coot drifted by, seemingly unconcerned by my presence, which I found to be a little unusual.

Coot (Fulica atra) - Heather Lake
Just before leaving this area, this small beetle caught my eye. This species is a bit of a favourite of mine! This is a male, as the females do not have the 'swollen green thighs'.

Swollen-thighed Beetle (Oedemera nobilis) (male) - Heather Lake
I was now in danger of being back late, and potentially causing concern to Lindsay, so set off homeward. As I walked through the woodland ride, I had the added pleasure of seeing a flying Silver Y moth which landed in a bush. I just managed to find a relatively clear shot before it departed again. This species is an annual immigrant visitor to UK, but they usually arrive in large numbers. This one's for you, David - a moth in its totally natural surroundings!

Silver Y (Autographa gamma) - near Heather Lake
I'm pleased to say that I was home some three minutes before my self-imposed deadline. It had been a really uplifting trip out, with some excercise in vitamin-D rich sunshine, and my first dragon sightings of the year. I was also glad that I'd taken the 50-500 zoom lens and not the 150 macro, as  a number of these shots were taken at the full 500.

The header which accompanies this blog post, while current, is of a male Common Blue Damselfly, taken during my visit reported on above.

I'm really looking forward to my next dragon hunt - possibly tomorrow?!

I apologise if this has been a rather long blog for you. This has largely been due to my enthusiastic reaction to my excursion on the Wednesday. Next week, I'll try and be a little more selective - or I might just resort to two blog posts per week.

Take great care and stay safe - it appears that things are starting to get easier for most of us, but it's not yet time to throw caution to the wind as so many people seem to be doing now.

Tuesday 19 May 2020

The Lockdown Garden - Week 20, 11th-17th May, 2020

Here we are again, with a report from a week that was another lockdown week for those of us that are in the vulnerable category. Progress is being made, however, in the form of a small relaxation of rules which means that I'm technically allowed to go out for recreation. To that end, for the first time in over eight weeks, I left the premises on Thursday just to see what the shape of the world out there was. 

Monday, 11th May

It was a rather cold and windy day and little of interest was observed in the garden. Just 12 bird species put a foot down in the garden, with nothing out of the ordinary being seen. A Hedgehog was seen on the trail cams, and a Grey Squirrel was seen during the day. This was a day without any photography, other than that on the trail cams.

Tuesday, 12th May

It was a shade warmer this day, but there was still  a cool breeze.

The number of visiting birds was up to a level not seen for a while, with 15 species. These included a Stock Dove. We had a pair visiting most days during the winter, but this dropped down to a single bird, and we'd not seen this one for a couple of weeks so it was a pleasant surprise. I love the irridescence on the neck of these otherwise plain birds which changes colour according to the light, as can be seen in the next two shots.

Stock Dove (Columba oenas) - garden on 12/05/2020
The number of birds has been boosted by the arrival of newly fledged birds including many House Sparrows. We had two adult sparrows with nine youngsters this day. One of the youngsters nearly fell victim to a male Sparrowhawk, but showed encouraging survival skills in its evasive flight-path before diving into cover in the dense rhododendron bush in the garden. This was the first observed visit from a Sparrowhawk since 4th March.

Non-avian visitors included a Small White butterfly, a Hedgehog, and a Grey Squirrel.

Wednesday, 13th May

The trail cams revealed visits by a Hedgehog and a dog Red Fox. A Grey Squirrel visited during the day.

Here's a clip of the Hedgehog:-
And here's a clip of the Red Fox:-
The number of species of bird visiting dropped again to 13. I suspect that the Sparrowhawk had been busy again, this time with more luck, as a multitude of feathers (seemingly from a House Sparrow) was found on the lawn.

Thursday, 14th May

This sunny but cool day was a bit of a red-letter day as I left my home for the first time in two months! With the relaxation of regulations I decided that it was time to see what the world looks like in lockdown. I went for a 20 minute drive, and even took my camera with me. However, I didn't get out of the car on this occasion and, although I stopped at the entrance to my 'local patch', nothing was seen to photograph.

The trail cams caught a Hedgehog and dog Fox again, and we had a Grey Squirrel once more. It seems the fox might be a bit undernourished as it appears to be rather thin, and spent quite a long while picking up sunflower hearts spilt from the feeders.

We had 13 species of bird visit, but these did include a Jackdaw. This is a common bird but a very rare visitor to the garden. Sadly, we were having our evening meal in the conservatory when we saw it, and I didn't have my camera to hand!

I did take a few photos that day, however, while Lindsay and I were having a coffee in the garden. The Rhododendron was at its flowering peak that day.

Rhododendron var. - garden on 14/05/2020
Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)  - garden on 14/05/2020
We haven't seen much of Robin lately, so were delighted when this one turned up.

Robin (Erithacus rubecula) - garden on 14/05/2020
This Collared Dove is a juvenile, as witnessed by the lack of collar. 

Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) (juvenile) - garden on 14/05/2020
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) (male) - garden on 14/05/2020
The moth trap went out that night, but only two moths were caught - a rather boring male Light Brown Apple Moth (an invasive species believed to have been accidentally introduced from Australia in the 1930s) and a relatively exciting male Muslin Moth (only my second ever to the trap). Prompted by my dear friend David, as it was relatively docile, I've tried a shot of the Muslin Moth with it on a leaf as well as on my usual bit of green card. The females of this species are of a pure white where the males are brown - so this is a male!

Muslin Moth (Diaphora mendica) (male) - garden on 14/05/2020
Friday, 15th May

The garden cams showed that the dog Fox had visited again. They also showed that the Hedgehogs had been busy, with at least three visiting and having a bit of a disagreement. 
Bird species visiting stood at 13 in number, but there was some excitement in the mix. Other than Magpies, we have very few visits from corvids. However, lately we've been seeing Carrion Crow and Rook in the neighbourhood. This day, however, we not only had a Carrion Crow visit, but a Jackdaw too! Of course, it was while we were having lunch in the conservatory and the camera was not to hand! Also of note that day was a count of at least 23 Starlings.

No photographs were taken in the garden that day, but I did have a walk in the countryside for the first time in two whole months - more on that one, below!

Saturday, 16th May

The trail cams showed visits by the Fox and a Hedgehog.

We observed visits from 14 species of bird, including a pair of Stock Doves, and the Carrion Crow once more. However, few photos were taken - these were from while we were sitting outside having a coffee:-

Blackbird (Turdus merula) (female) - garden on 16/05/2020
The garden seemed to be full of newly-fledged House Sparrows and Starlings this week. Here's a shot of a young House Sparrow, flapping its wings begging for food from a parent - an action that I also find appealing!

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) (juvenile) - garden on 16/05/2020
I also attempted some photos of this bee, which I think is a Common Carder Bumblebee, but didn't do very well - please correct me if I'm wrong with the ID. I'd be a little more certain if it didn't appear that it's a bit early for this species.

Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum) - garden on 16/05/2020
Sunday, 17th May

The garden cams revealed yet another visit by the Fox. I'd moved the one cam to a position a little nearer to where the Fox had been snuffling up the spilt sunflower hearts.
What was disturbing, however, was seeing that one of the three hedgehogs that was on the cameras was clearly in need of help, as you can see here:-
Obviously, my mind turned to what could be done to help this poor soul, but I quickly realised that staying up all night in the hope of catching it to take it somewhere for treatment was not an option in my current, rather fragile, state.

The solution came later that day when we were in the conservatory having lunch. A Magpie arrived and started behaving a little strangely. It then dropped to the ground behind a shrub and we wondered if it was after a fledgeling bird. However, the limping Hedgehog came out from the other side of the shrub. I got Lindsay to keep an eye on it while I got a box to put it in together with some straw - it seemed as light as a feather, so clearly in serious trouble. I then went to try and contact the Hedgehog Rescue Centre in Leicester that I have had several dealings with before - usually to 'adopt' a rehabilitated hog. Sadly, the website reported that they were full and unable to take in more hogs. 

I continued to search, and found the Tamworth Hedgehog and Bird Rescue Centre and contacted them. They were extremely helpful and only 14 miles (22 km) from my home. Having explained the situation, a social-distancing arrangement for dropping off the hog was arranged, and this worked perfectly. I'm now waiting to hear how this dear little creature is faring and keeping my fingers crossed, but suspect the situation is not good because of the combination of injury and lack of weight. My thanks to these people for their good work.

We had a total of 13 species of bird visit that day, including the Carrion Crow again - and this time I managed a record shot of it in the garden!

Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) - garden on 17/05/2020
We ended the week with a total of just 17 bird species noted visiting. 

Moths - 16th March to 19th April

Here are a few of the moths from the garden in the period between returning from the Isles of Scilly in March and starting my weekly garden reports in April.

Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi) - from garden on 17/03/2020
Clouded Drab (Orthosia incerta) - from garden on 17/03/2020
Beautiful Plume (Amblyptilia acanthadactyla) - from garden on 24/03/2020
Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica) - from garden on 24/03/2020
Early Thorn (Selenia dentaria) - from garden on 04/04/2020
That last one may look as if it had died, but I assure you it was very much alive, and flew shortly after this shot was taken! It's one of the few moths that holds its wings closed above its body when resting.

Shoulder Stripe (Earophila badiata) - from garden on 07/04/2020
That brings me to the end of the 'catch-up' features on this blog. From now on in, I'm hoping to append short accounts of trips out during the Covid crisis - like this next one:-

My First Trip Out Into Nature in Two Months - on Friday 15th May

Having been self-isolating at home for two months and not leaving the house and garden at all during that time, with the lifting of regulations, I decided to put a toe in the water on Thursday 14th May. I had a 20-minute drive around to see what the world looked like under Covid conditions, and found it to be much as expected. This gave me the confidence to have a proper trip out with my camera the following day.

I had been disturbed by the thought that I might not see a single dragonfly this year, due to lockdown conditions. I chose, therefore, to visit a local lake in the hope of finding some. This location was appealing in that when I visit I usually park where no one else does, and that I never see more than two or three people while I'm there. It was a bit cool and breezy, although there was some occasional sun, so I didn't hold out too much hope. 

In the event, I didn't see another soul while I was there, and the nearest thing to a dragonfly I saw was a teneral damselfly that drifted up from the grass several metres in front of me and flew up over the trees. There was absolutely no chance of an ID on this one! I spent time carefully seaching the perimeter of the lake, but could find absolutely no further sign of any dragonfly or damselfly emergence. 

This place is not usually good for birds, although I have had the pleasure of seeing a Hobby once a few years ago, and a Spotted Flycatcher here once last year. It can be good for butterflies at the northern end, and twice I have seen a Grass Snake in the water. This time I was not to be lucky. I managed some poor shots of a couple of Coots, some shots of a very tatty Peacock butterfly, and a few shots of a fly which I subsequently managed to ID.

Coot (Fulica atra) - Heather Lake
Peacock (Aglais io) - Heather Lake

Yellow Dung Fly (Scathophaga stercoraria) - Heather Lake
The visit might not have been a success from a sightings or photographic point of view, but it gave me the confidence that, if I choose my destinations carefully, I can get out into nature once more.

Thank you for your visit. What my next blog post might feature is in the lap of the gods!

In the meantime, take great care and stay safe - - - Richard