31st May 2015

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Female Slow-worm

Slow-worms in Sussex- It is many years since I have seen several Slow-worms in one place so this is a treat. Neither worms nor snakes, these harmless, legless Lizards are actually really good for the garden, eating many invertebrates. Found all over the UK except the Scottish Islands, they like gardens, allotments, heathland and woodland edges. They can be predated by cats though-  and by Hedgehogs and Badgers (strange because these are very near Badgers). They hibernate from October to March, and hide up under stones, logs or sheets of wood or tin and, being ‘crepuscular’, come out at dusk to feed. They have two defences against being predated- they defecate a foul smelling fluid when caught and, like our other Lizards IMG_9412IMG_9409IMG_9411 they cast off their tails which wiggle for a while to distract the predator while the Slow-worm wriggles off to hide and regrow its tail! These are females, which are bigger (up to 30cm), and have dark sides and a dark stripe down their back. If I find a male I’ll post it another day! Conditions: Drizzle for hours in the south, cloudy in Sheffield. Temperature: Max 13- Min 7c.

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30th May 2015

Green Oak Tortrix caterpillars have a risky life, wherever there are Blue or Great Tit nests. Here’s a Blue Tit pair busy feeding maturing babies in a bird box in Sussex, today. Dozens of times every hour these adults are finding Oak Tortrix caterpillars from a nearby Oak and feeding this favourite food to their young It’s what gives the young their very yellow chests when they first emerge. This is not the only risk the caterpillars face- the eggs are laid with the hope that the caterpillars emerge exactly when the IMG_9240

As the young are quite mature, they are also being fed fat from a nearby feeder, and other invertebrates.

As the young are quite mature, they are also being fed fat from a nearby feeder, and other invertebrates.

IMG_9267young oak leaves are growing. Too soon, and they will starve for lack of food. Too late and they will not be able to digest the tannin in the older Oak leaves. Just in time and they are fodder for many birds. In an attempt to avoid this, the caterpillars roll themselves inside the new leaves and bind them with a sticky fluid. These were still found! Conditions- Following yesterdays torrential showers, much cloud with some sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 13- Min 9c.

26th May 2015

Homing Pigeons– I watched these at the weekend, in a local garden. They were feeding from grain on the ground. On the way to Sussex tomorrow so am just posting some facts and photo’s of these birds which so often alight in our garden’s to rest or feed up. They are descended from the Rock Dove, still to be found on our rocky coasts. The IMG_9021IMG_9183IMG_9104IMG_9044earliest recording of them being used to carry messages was 1200BC, when they carried news of flooding along the Nile. Arabs called them ‘The King’s Angels’ and they look quite ethereal in flight. In the 1800’s the whole of France was covered by an official pigeon post, and of course they were used by both sides, in World War 1 and 2, to carry vital messages to and from the front line. Now they are still reared and flown by local people from pigeon lofts around the city. Conditions: Warmer, with sunny intervals and a breeze. Temperature: Max 15- Min 7c.

25th May 2015

Yellowhammers on the outskirts of Sheffield- I have covered these birds at RSPB Old Moor earlier in the year, but was delighted to watch them feeding (grain, on the ground, they don’t like feeders) in west Sheffield. These were males- the females are duller, though both, being buntings, have stripey brown backs and strong beaks able to crush seeds. Called ‘Yellow Bird of the Gorse’ (Melyn yr Eithrin) in Wales, they can be seen in fields, woodland edges, or sitting up on the tops of gorse bushes, singing. They have declined 50% in 25 years and are now threatened, and on the Red List. They are stunning. Increasing the sowing of flowers on field margins, and hedge-planting may help them rebuild their numbers. Conditions: Cool, cloudy and dry. Temperature: Max 13- Min 9c.IMG_9214

This shows their pale underwing

This shows their pale underwing

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22nd May 2015

Solitary Bees- if I hadn’t been sitting in the garden, listening to the Test Match on the radio, I wouldn’t’ve noticed this beautiful, tiny solitary bee, which has found a nesting place in a tiny crack in the wood of a cold-frame! Unable to identify it, I uploaded the photo not the wonderful, free i-spot website and someone thinks it may be the Red Mason Bee, Osmia Rufa, though several solitary bees are similar so it might not be! The Red Mason Bee is common, nests in hollow plant stems, holes in bricks or wood, and, after mating, builds individual cells with mud and pollen, laying a single egg in each. The eggs pupate in autumn and the larvae hibernates, the adult emerging in spring to feed on pollen and nectar. Conditions: Mostly cloudy, dry day. Temperature: Max 16- Min 10c.

This tiny solitary bee sits for long periods inside the tiny cavity, guarding its nest

This tiny solitary bee sits for long periods inside the tiny cavity, guarding its nest

Solitary Bee in the garden

Solitary Bee in the garden

The Bee is only about 1 cm in length, as can be seen from this small screw-head

The Bee is only about 1 cm in length, as can be seen from this small screw-head

I couldn't believe it was nesting in this tiny cavity in the wooden frame of the cold-frame

I couldn’t believe it was nesting in this tiny cavity, only about 6mm high and 3 wide,  in the wooden frame of the cold-frame 

19th May 2015

Grey Squirrels are incorrigible! Next door hadn’t put bird-food out for a few days, and ours is deliberately very hard for squirrels to access. I heard a gnawing sound and there was a Grey Squirrel, having climbed 4 m up our brick wall at the back of the house. It was gnawing at the Fallow Deer antlers a friend had passed on and we’d recently fixed up there. It then launched itself off next doors bay-window roof, and missed the hanging feeder. We watched it climb as high as it could up our Rowan, dangle on a thin, floppy

The squirrel climbs our brick wall onto the deer antlers

The squirrel climbs our brick wall onto the deer antlers

Gnawing the antlers for a bit of nourishment!

Gnawing the antlers for a bit of nourishment!

Launching itself off next doors bay window roof, two floors up!

Launching itself off next doors bay window roof, two floors up!

Finally it flung itself across a 3 metre gap in an attempt to reach the hanging feeders! (Very blurred, I was too astonished to capture it well!

Finally it flung itself across a 3 metre gap in an attempt to reach the hanging feeders! (Very blurred, I was too astonished to capture it well!

branch and leap across a 3 metre gap, just grabbing the hanging feeder but failing to get a proper grip, and falling again! I was so astonished I only got a blurred photo, and then next door put food out again so I don’t think I’ll get another chance to photograph its massive leap. Conditions: Sunshine and showers. Temperature: Max 11- Min 7c.

17th May 2015

Common Carder Bees are just that- pretty common wherever there are flowers to feed from. We get many in the garden, especially using their long probosces to feed on the Pulmonaria and other long-tubed flowers. Carder Bees have darker thoraxes the further south they are found, and the Queens are bigger and brighter coloured than the later-emerging males. As with all Bumblebees, the Queens are the only ones to over-winter, emerging in early spring to find nests in cavities, old mouse-holes etc. They produce around 200 female drones to look after the eggs and nest, the males foraging for food– you can often see their pollen baskets laden with pollen as they rapidly

Common Carder Bee

Common Carder Bee

Common Carder Bee feeding on one of its favourite plants in our garden- the Pulmonaria

Common Carder Bee feeding on one of its favourite plants in our garden- the Pulmonary. This Bee has a family full pollen sac visible on its leg

Carder Bees move particularly rapidly from flower to flower.

Carder Bees move particularly rapidly from flower to flower.

visit flower after flower before returning to the nest. Conditions: A cool, breezy (south-westerly) and cloudy, dry day. Temperature: Max 13- Min 8c.

They often have stripes abdomens.

They often have stripes abdomens.