2nd August 2017

Nursery Web Spider: Common in dense vegetation and nettle patches, this spider, which varies in colour from brown to grey, likes sunbathing, holding its two front legs forward in an elongated shape. Once mated, the female lays eggs in a silk cocoon which she carries around in her fangs. Just before hatching, she spins a silk tent like this for the spiderlings, guarding them until their first moult, when they leave the tent. If you look closely you can see the young. Nursery Web Spiders run fast to catch their insect-prey, rather than using webs. Conditions: Rain, rain, rain. Temperature: Max 17- Min 13 C.

Nursery Web Spider

Nursery Web Spider

Nursery Web Spider and Spiderlings

31st July 2017

Male Sparrowhawk– Yesterday the grey-backed, smaller male Sparrowhawk (the female and juveniles are brown-backed) was heralded in the garden by loud alarm calls from other birds. Sweeping through the garden, too fast to photograph, here it is recently, looking dapper, and an older photo by Lynn, where it is eating a Collared Dove. No one is certain why many raptors exhibit ‘reverse dimorphism’ (meaning the males are smaller than the females) but it it is thought to relate to their need to be very manouevrable in dense woodland, hunting for the incubating female

Male Sparrowhawk

Sparrowhawk- male

Male Sparrowhawk

Sparrowhawk- male eating Collared Dove

, and/or the female’s need to have enough bulk to produce eggs. Conditions: Cloud and sunny intervals and showers Temperature: Max 20- Min 12C.

29th July 2017

Greenfinches have declined so much since the 1990′s that we have felt lucky to have a family of adults and two young, visiting our feeders, enjoying their favourite black sunflower-seeds. Originally woodland birds, they have now been drawn to gardens, but suffer from the parisitic-induced disease ‘trichomonosis’, which affects their ability to feed- the advice is to make sure your feeders are frequently cleaned. Young have the same yellow edge to their wings and tail as adults but have streaky chests, visible here. Greenfinches will also feast on Rose-hips, Haws, and Yew Berries

Young Greenfinch

Adult male Greenfinch

Adult male Greenfinch

Conditions: Cloud and sun, with rain later. Temperature: Max 20- Min 13C.

27th July 2017

Rowan berries provide high energy food for many in the Thrush family, including this female Blackbird stripping our tree. Mountain Ash/ Rowan was thought by the ancient Greeks to represent an eagle battling evil, the leaves recalling the feathered eagle-wings and the red berries, spots of shed blood. In Scotland it was widely planted beside houses to ward off evil and witches. The hard wood has been used for divining rods, spinning wheels and tool handles while pieces of wood were carried as charms against rheumatism. The flowers feed many insects and the

Female Thrush balancing to reach Rowan berries

Female Blackbird packs her bill with Rowan berries

Female Blackbird flies to and fro our Rowan, with bill-fills of Rowan berries

An all-round great plant for wildlife. Conditions: Rain, sun and cloud. Temperature: Max 18- Min 13C.

25th July 2017

At this time of year no plant in our Sheffield city garden feeds more Butterflies and Bees than Marjoram, which spreads easily but is easy to control. Just right for taking part in the Butterfly Conservation 15 minute Butterfly Count– easy to download an app- with an identification guide if you need it. This week it attracted a (tattered) Ringlet, the first one we have seen here, and a favourite Gatekeeper, as well as the Small Skipper. Conditions: Cloudy with sunny spells. Temperature: Max 20- Min 15C.

Small Skipper- easy to identify as it holds its forewings at an angle

Ageing Ringlet

Gatekeeper, in garden- easy to identify by two ‘eye-spots’ on wing

Bees also love Marjoram

24th July 2017

The small, beautiful Holly Blue butterfly,  the only blue we get in our garden and the one you are most likely to see in parks and gardens in England and Wales, flitting low and fast, is back feeding on our flowers. Numbers of Holly Blue fluctuate greatly, thought to be due to the variable numbers of the parasitic wasp which lays its eggs in their caterpillars. The caterpillars feed on holly as the name suggests, but also on dogwood, spindle, snowberry and other common bushes. The female has a dark edge to the wing. Conditions: cloudy after heavy rain. Temperature: Max 19- Min 13 C.

Female Holly Blue

Holly Blue

Female Holly Blue butterfly

22nd July 2017

Purple wild flowers– the jury is out as to whether purple and mauve flowers really attract more pollinating insects, and they see colour so differently to our eyesight, as they extend into the ultra violet spectrum,  but there are certainly many purple wild and garden flowers out at this time of year. Here are some wild flowers to watch out for, some of which we have in the garden, others which are common in towns and the country hedgerows, riversides, and wood edges. They attract so many hoverflies, bees and butterflies, it is a joy to study.

Spear Thistles attract many insects

A beautiful Green-veined White Butterfly on a Spear Thistle

Burdock are really good for Hover and other flies.

Knapweed also attracts insects, like this Red-taiuled Bumblebee visiting the Knapweed in our garden today

We have Teasels, too, which feed many insects over a period of days, as the flowers slowly open up over the Teasel-head