14th April 2019

Tawny Mining Bee – these are a beautiful species of solitary bees, so useful in spring pollination. The adults emerge in spring and are flying between March and May so this is

Tawny Mining Bee nest

Female Tawny Mining Bee emerging from nest

Female Tawny Mining Bee

the time to look out for the gorgeous amber coloured insects. Since we have made a ‘dry’ bed of pebbles with drought-surviving plants we have had several of these nesting in the garden. The females dig a burrow up to 10 inches deep, with several tunnels off the main hole, hence the easiest sign you have them- small volcanoes of dirt, which tend to become less obvious after a few days. Into each tunnel/cell the female deposits nectar and pollen as food once the single egg she lays in each, hatches. They then hibernate before emerging in spring. We are losing our solitary bee populations so creating a space where they can breed helps a little, and then you get to watch their behaviour (see photo’s). Conditions: Cool, bright weather. Temperature: Max 9 Min 2c.

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5th April 2019

House Sparrows– The (mixed) results from the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch are in and ,sadly, small birds have had a bad season, probably due to the exceptionally cold spell in winter. Some would also say sadly, Wood Pigeon numbers are growing in gardens and we are certainly part of that trend. House Sparrows, however, are at last making a bit of a come-back after a big slump in numbers nationwide. We only get them

House Sparrow

House Sparrow

House Sparrow, showing striated back

occasionally in our garden, but many places in Sheffield and the Peak District have good numbers, as you will see from these recent photo’s from a local friend’s garden. I always remember the House Sparrow identification by the male’s grey head being the colour of a slate roof (artistic licence there!) Conditions: Drier and milder. Temperature: Max 12 Min 4C.

30th March 2019

Seven spot native Ladybird

Mating seven spot ladybirds

Native Seven Spot Ladybird

Harlequin Ladybird, showing brown rather than black legs

The last couple of warm, bright days have brought many insects to the garden so I am spoiled for choice today but it has been encouraging to see several 7-spot Ladybirds, in fact a “loveliness” of them, the collective noun for ladybirds. For the last few years we have seen very few native-species ladybirds here, and the larger, more aggressive and non-native Harlequins, which only came to the UK in 2004, have dominated. Harlequins are a threat because they eat native species and also out-compete for food, although they eat many aphid and other pests just like out native species do. The last time we had a big influx of Ladybirds in this country was in the very hot summer of 1976 so maybe last years long, hot summer has boosted native numbers. If you can’t remember how to tell native species from Harlequins, native have black legs and Harlequins, which as their name implies come in many different colour and spot patterns, have brown legs (see photo’s). Conditions: Warm dry spell continues. Temperature: Max 13 Min 6C.

28th March 2019

The Dark-Edged Bee Fly has reappeared in the garden today. This bee-mimic, with its very fluffy body, long legs and very long proboscis has evolved in an extraordinarily refined way- it has incredible ability to hover, which it does as it sups nectar from the base of the tiny pistil tubes of, here,  Forget-me-nots and Primroses etc. This attractive fly does us absolutely no harm but the females use their flying and hovering skills to extraordinary ends- they hover over the ground, searching for the ground-nests sites of solitary bees, before swooping down and flicking the eggs into the bee’s tiny nest-holes. Not only this, the female has already picked up sand or dust and covered each egg, both in order to camouflage the egg for its arrival in the bee’s nest, but probably also to add weight so it travels through the air more accurately! Once the infiltrator egg hatches, the larvae feeds on the larvae of the bee. This arrangement doesn’t seem to reduce the solitary bee

Dark-edged Bee Fly

Dark-edged Bee Fly

Dark-edged Bee Fly

Dark-edged Bee Fly

population significantly. If you see a Bee Fly in your area you can record it on the Bee Fly Watch survey- just put it in your search engine. Conditions: Sun and cloud. Temperature: Max 14 Min 4 C.

24th March 2019

Female Blackbird “sunning”- this is the earliest I have seen a bird sunning. When sunning, birds fluff up their feathers and stretch wings and tail to maximise the heat getting to their skin and deep into their plumage. It is thought this is to make mites and parasites active and bring them to the surface and this one immediately followed the sunning with preening and removing ‘bugs’ that presumably have built up over the last few months. Usually sunning happens in much hotter weather, and the birds stretch out on a hot

Female Blackbird, sunning

Female Blackbird, sunning

Female blackbird preening after sunning

surface, not a wobbly one like the top of our privet hedge in mid-March! Interesting to watch this behaviour though.  Conditions: The ,lovely sunny periods and dry days continue. Temperature: Max 9 Min 3C

17th March 2019

Another beautiful, bright gold spring flower with deep green, glossy leaves is the damp-loving Marsh Marigold. Many small insects crawl over these big, shiny blossoms, gathering pollen and incidentally and valuably pollinating the flowers. Marsh Marigold, in flower now and for several weeks, are commonly named ‘King-cup’, derived from the Old English “cop” meaning a button or stud, as once worn by King’s. Farmer’s would hang a bunch of King Cups in their cow-byres on the first of May as a protection against the evil spells of fairies and witches and they may be the flowers Shakespeare wrote of in Cymbeline: “winking Mary-buds begin to ope their golden eyes”. Their flowers are smaller in the north.

Marsh Marigold

Marsh Marigold- the flowers are larger in the south than north

Marsh Marigold, or ‘King-cup’

Marsh Marigolds of stream- and pond-banks, and wetland

3rd March 2019

Blue Tits are present in 98% of British gardens and at this time of year I love watching them starting to chase each other round the garden, beginning to pair up and find territories, which is why last week was national nest box week. Don’t worry f you haven’t got nest boxes up yet, but the sooner you do, the sooner they will start to explore them for nesting in Spring. The hole in the nest-box needs to be 25mm for Blue Tits, slighter bigger suits Great Tits. Garden nest boxes, and feeding, have enable the Blue Tit population to slowly increase, though clutch-size is smaller in garden boxes than in their preferred broadleaf woodland. Cats are a big threat in gardens though- 48% of recovered ringed birds have been killed by cats. They are also still susceptible to

Blue Tit

Blue Tit

Blue Tits

starvation in cold snaps, too, so providing food that is positioned to be safe from cats really helps their survival rates. Conditions: cooler with some rain and strong winds. Temperature: Max 11 Min 5C.