Hawkweed Hoverers

In keeping with our tradition of having more plants blooming on the paths than in the borders, the paving cracks are bursting forth with these cheery yellow hawkweed flowers.photo of cat's ear

Hawkweeds are related to dandelions and are members of the Asteraceae family, genus  hierakion. The name is derived from the Greek word for hawk, hierax, folklore has it that hawks drank the juice of this plant to sharpen their eyesight.  There are many different species of hawkweed and a great deal of variation within them. The only one that I can confidently identify is the orange hawkweed, Pilosella aurantiaca, commonly known as “fox and cubs”. It is a beautiful wildflower that is in the RHS top 400 perfect plants for pollinators.Photo of fox-and-cubs

The delightfully named mouse ear hawkweed was a folk medicine for coughs. The apothecary to James I, John Parkinson, also suggested it as a sedative for horses, ‘Mouseare’ be given to any horse it ‘will cause that he shall not be hurt by the smith that shooeth him.’

On one of the few sunny days that we had this summer I found that the hawkweed was being enjoyed by this little solitary bee. A kind person suggested that it was likely to be of the genus Lasioglossum.Photo of bee on hawkweed

Another hawkweed hoverer was this drone hoverfly, a bee mimic. Photo of hoverfly on hawkweed

As you can see it is doing a fantastic job of collecting and redistributing pollen. Photo of hoverfly on hawkweed

I am not clever enough to tell whether it is Eristalis pertinax or Eristalis tenax. Photo of hoverfly on hawkweed

Tenax has black ankles and pertinax has yellow ankles, so it is all down to the hoverfly’s ankles rather than the bee’s knees.Photo of hoverfly on hawkweedThe goldenrod was another bright yellow flower attracting pollinating insects.

 

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Sparrowhawk’s Breakfast

I am starting this post with a pretty picture, in the hope that this picture will be the one displayed in the WordPress Reader and my tweet. Once you get past this picture the text and images will take on a more grisly nature.Photo of bee in evening primrose

Back in March I found a pool of blood near the bird table and then noticed the feathers fluttering about on the lawn.  Photo of pigeon blood

Closer inspection revealed the body of a pigeon. The aura of plucked feathers indicated that the bird had been killed by a sparrowhawk. Past experience told me that she would be back in the morning to finish her meal, so I positioned my wildlife camera to capture the event.Photo of feathers on lawn

The poor hen pigeon was in the process of forming an egg when death came mercilessly upon her from above.Photo of dead pigeon

The early bird gets an egg for breakfast. The first visitor was a magpie who snatched the egg from the pigeon’s body and flew off with it.Photo of magpie

Shortly afterwards the sparrowhawk arrived and proceeded to further pluck and eat her meal. When the pigeon had been reduced in weight she flew off with the remains of the carcass to eat somewhere safer.Photo of sparrowhawk

It is a female sparrowhawk that visits our garden. She is larger and browner than the male. Traditionally these birds are woodland hunters; highly manoeuvrable, their tactic is to hide in cover and ambush other birds with a brief chase.Photo of sparrowhawk

Habitat loss, persecution by game keepers and the use of a now banned pesticide saw their numbers crash. Being an apex predator they are susceptible to bioaccumulation, whereby the poisons ingested but not excreted in prey build up; firstly in insects, then the birds that feed on the insects and finally the raptors that feed on those birds. However, they are now recovering and have learnt that our gardens are a useful resource for them.Photo of sparrowhawk

It seems that the larger females are generally more likely to be found in urban gardens where they take down blackbirds and the larger doves and pigeons, while the smaller males are pursuing song birds in woodlands.Photo of sparrowhawk

There are some more facts, literature and historical fancies in my previous post Sparrowhawk here. If you wish to watch a video of the sparrowhawk eating her breakfast you can watch it on You Tube here. The end.Photo of sparrowhawk

Big Butterfly Count 2017

I don’t think that this has been a very good summer for butterflies. After the mini heatwave in June the UK has seen a wet, windy and chilly July to coincide with the Big Butterfly Count. Sadly I have not seen a peacock butterfly here for a few years. photo of peacock butterfly

Most of the butterflies that I spotted this year were very busy flitting about rather than resting for photographs. I did record 1 large white, 1 green veined white, 2 speckled woods, 1 comma, 1 red admiral and 2 holly blues.

The 2016 results showed that butterflies are generally having a tough time and I expect this year to be no better. Butterfly conservation have a web page with information, ideas and links to help you to attract butterflies to your garden, even if you just have a window box. It is also important to think of food plants for their caterpillars.

Evening Primrose

As the name suggests the evening primrose, family Onagraceae, flowers during the evening and throughout the night. The flowers are supposed to last until noon. These particular flowers in my garden look just like evening primrose, but they flower all day and all night. Unless someone can tell me otherwise I shall assume that they are indeed evening primrose, but perhaps a variety that flowers all blooming day!

They are American natives that were introduced to the UK in the 1600s. They are also known as “Sundrop” or “Evening Star”. I believe that all of the plant is edible, but the roots were particularly favoured as a meal. Native Americans also used the leaves to make tea. The seeds are a source of Gamma-Linolenic Acid and the oil from the seeds is used in many herbal preparations.Photo of evening primrose

They are an important food source for moths which feed on the nectar, pollinating the plant in return. During the day the same relationship is courted with bumblebees and other bees.Photo of bee in evening primrose

The pollen is large and connected by stringy viscin threads, made from sap. These web-like pollen clumps can be seen hanging off the legs of bees as they fly off from the flower. You can see what the pollen looks like under an electron microscope here.

Not only is this big blousy plant attractive to look at, beautifully scented and good for attracting pollinators such as bees and moths, but you can also eat it. There are a couple of recipe ideas here.Photo of evening primrose

Grasses

If the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain, what do you get if you sit on the plain? Answer at the end of the post.Photo of ribwort plantain growing on lawn

So in the interest of botanical curiosity and nothing at all to do with idleness, I didn’t mow the lawn for the month of May and this is what grew. Firstly there was a lot of Ribwort plantain, Plantago lanceolata. The tiny flowers attract small butterflies and moths and in the autumn the seeds provide food for birds. The leaves are used in herbal teas and are said to be good for relieving coughs.Photo of ribwort plantain

There were a few different types of grass that I have not had time to identify. The long grasses with their attractive seed heads somehow seem evocative of carefree childhood summers. Unless of course you spent a childhood cursed by hayfever.  Photo of grass

Grasses are flowering plants that are wind pollinated. Their pollen is very small so that it can be carried on the wind and also into the respiratory tracts of humans, triggering an immune system response that causes the sufferer flu-like symptoms.Photo of grass

It is thought that there are around 10,000 different species of grass in the world ranging from the turf that we mow on our lawns to the mighty forests of bamboo. Their seeds, known as grains, form the basis of most of the crops that we grow for human and animal consumption.Photo of long grass on lawn

Answer: A grassy arse! Apologies to my Spanish friends.Photo of long grass against blue sky

Hedgehog B&B – Part Three

Following on from Part One and Part Two, here is the eagerly awaited Part Three! The three hedgehogs had gained weight and the weather had finally settled. It was time to release the hogs. First of all I prepared three igloos, in addition to the one that was already out, so that they would have ready made beds. I placed them in sheltered parts of the garden.

I then gave them a final weigh-in and their final portraits as captives. Daisy-Boy.

Hans.

Hérisson

As night fell, I undid the front panel and raised it to hedgehog height before re-securing it and moving the stones away from one corner. It took a little while for their escape route to be noticed, typically they missed the big gap in the corner and squeezed over some remaining stones. Daisy-Boy was the first to notice and pushed most of his body out. Hans came up behind him and with an unkind punt to the butt Daisy-B was free!Photo of Daisy and Hans

Daisy-B ran straight to a wood pile at the back of the garden. Shortly afterwards there were crunching sounds. It seems he had found some tasty beetles.Photo of Daisy free

Then Daisy-B reappeared on the path as if to say a final goodbye. Photo of Daisy on path

He shook his spines and then ran off again to the lilac bush.Photo of Daisy Running off

Hans was the next one out. He spent a little while wondering why Daisy-B had mysteriously disappeared before it dawned on him.  He squeezed under the panel and then cautiously sniffed around before disappearing under the ivy covered walls, still within the confines of the old greenhouse.

Frankly I got bored waiting for Hérisson and went in for my tea. When I returned a little later she was missing from the pen, but there was that familiar huffing noise. I found her and Hans in the ivy between the pen and the wall.Photo of Herisson and Hans

Later on I found Hans wandering on the path before he disappeared into the wood pile that Daisy-B had located straight away.Photo of Hans

In the undergrowth under the lilac bush was Hérisson.Photo of Herisson

In the wee small hours Hérisson returned to the pen and went to bed in the house, less cosy but now more roomy without the boys. Hans and Daisy-Boy were sleeping in new beds that day. I have put a short film on You Tube here of the three hedgehogs finding their way out of the pen and Hérisson returning to it.Photo of Herisson

Hérisson continued to return to the pen and sleep in the house every morning for over a week. She seems to have found a new place to stay now though.

Hans was spotted having a huffing contest with the big hog in the shrubbery. I also spotted him trotting along the path on another night.Photo of hedgehog and Hans

I did not see Daisy-B for about a week, but then we bumped into each other near the feeding station. The wildlife camera caught Hans and the big hog from the shrubbery going into the pen for food most nights. I had to keep extending the tunnel into the pen to deter cats from breaking in to steal their food. Although by the time the mouse had found a way in, Hans had scoffed most of the food. I have posted a video here of some of their comings and goings.

So here we are, three autumn juveniles who probably would not have survived hibernation are now roaming around wild and free. Hedgehogs face many hazards trying to find enough food and water throughout our fenced off gardens; netting, ponds, strimmers to name just a few. If you want to find out how you can help hedgehogs take a look at the Hedgehog Street website. And please do support your local rescue. I know how time consuming and expensive it has been for me to just provide bed and board for three healthy hedgehogs. Rescues are self-funded and rely on generous donations while they care for sick and injured hedgehogs.Photo of hedgehog

I am very grateful for the advice and support I have had from kind and knowledgable people on Twitter. If you use the hashtag #pricklypals you will find a truly lovely group of people. I would particularly like to thank the following, who all have links to websites or Amazon wishlists so you can find out more and buy a hedgehog in need a little something:

Monique @FunnybunnyQ Amazon Wishlist

Emma @EmmDonald representing Poppy’s Creche

Jaqui @4theloveofhogs Amazon Wishlist

@OgglesHoggyQuiz  Amazon Wishlist

 

May Flowers

Now that we are at the beginning of May I thought I would just quickly post some photos of what has been flowering recently. Starting with the lilac.Photo of lilac

The lilac contrasts nicely with the yellow laburnum blossoms.

The Spanish/hybrid bluebells have been posing with broom, tulips and primroses.

More tulips.

Purple bee lavender.Photo of purple bee lavender

Candytuft (iberis).Photo of candytuft

The bladder campion is starting to flower.Photo of bladder campion

The cuckoo pint looks interesting.

Greater celandine.

Forget-me-nots and strawberries are flowering all along the path around my alpine trough ….

…which is also doing well.

And the dog violets are still gracing the lawn.Photo of dog violet

May Flowers

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Blossoming Apples

There is a great deal of blossom on the apple tree this year. However, we are expecting some very cold nights with the possiblity of frost which could damage the nascent fruits. It is also bad news for the bees and other insects; along with the creatures that feed on them.

Delicate blossom
Sits prettily on the tree.
The bee makes it fruit.Photo of bumbebee on apple blossom

Spring Things

So, spring seemed to burst into life before being hit by an icy blast again. Here are some of the things that came out in the sunshine. I will start with the dark purple tulips that I planted.Photo of purple tulip

Red tulips.Photo of tulips

Mini tulip.Photo of mini tulip

The comma butterfly posed nicely for me, while an orange tip butterfly thwarted my every effort.

The holly blue came out rather overexposed, but I was just grateful that I got a shot of it.Photo of holly blue butterfly

There were hoverflies, I think this is a Marmalade Hoverfly.

I thought that this was a sort of hoverfly, but it seems it is a sawfly.Photo of sawfly

I think this is a type of solitary bee.

Pretty sure this is an Ashy Mining Bee.Photo of ashy mining beeBee enjoying the last of the flowering currant.

I was rather pleased with this shot of a buff tailed bumblebee in flight. Sometimes I get lucky.buff tailed bumblebeeSome ladybirds were getting friendly with each other. Unfortunately, as they are non-native harlequins, they aren’t friendly to anything else.

Weeds? I don’t seen any weeds, just pretty flowers that feed our pollinators.

And finally, here is the lilac bush taken by flash at night. It gives off the most lovely scent day and night.Photo of lilac bush at night

Being a Fly

Photo of bee-fly on aubretiaWho would want to be a fly?
If you could fly you’d be a bee.
Cried the bee-fly, “Not so! And why?
Just leave us bee-flies be.
We have fat fluffy bodies and one set of wings,
And a very long tongue for sticking in things.”Photo of bee-fly on aubretia

I have blogged about bee-flies before, here. However, to sum up; these are Dark-edged Bee-Flies Bombylius major. If you see some you can record your sightings here.

I had a discussion with a Twitter friend about how they seem to be particularly fond of blue flowers, so of course one decided to be the exception that proves the rule.Photo of bee-fly on lesser celandine

Sometimes they just want to sunbathe on a leaf.

 

Bumblebees and Flowers

The start of spring has been a pretty dull and wet affair, but it just takes an occasional bit of sunshine to make the flowers bloom and the bees buzz. Photo of red-tailed bumblebee

This red-tailed bumblebee, Bombus lapidarius, was sashaying her shimmering red bum in the sunshine.Photo of red-tailed bumblebee

They are very distinctive and easy to recognise bees. The workers have the same colouring as the queen, black with a red bottom,but are smaller, whereas the males have additional yellow faces and a yellow stripe on their thorax.Photo of red-tailed bumblebeeYou can see how fuzzy she is when she poses nicely for a rim-lit photo.Photo of red-tailed bumblebee

I think the other bumblebee is a queen buff-tailed bumblebee, Bombus terrestris. Confusingly the males and workers have white bottoms.

As you can see the flowering currant is still flowering.

The daffodils finally bloomed.

Despite the rain they kept their heads held high.Photo of daffodils in rain

The primroses are still going strong.Photo of primrose

The dog violets have been joined by white dog violets.

The grape hyacinths, Muscari, are multiplying.Photo of muscari

The aubrieta is making its presence known.Photo of aubrieta

The broom (which I had mistaken for a type of gorse!) is developing fuzzy flower buds.Photo of broom buds

The lilac continues its unstoppable progress.Photo of lilac

The lesser celandine is littering the lawn.Photo of lesser celandine

The periwinkle is winking out from under the shadows.Photo of periwinkle

The apple is starting to think about blossoming, framed by forsythia.Photo of apple buds

Herb Robert is in the pink.Photo of herb robert

Whatever this is is producing pretty white flowers.Photo of white blossoms

My neighbour’s plant that grows over the top of the fence is also providing me with a free supply of white flowers.Photo of white flowers

I nearly forgot the forget-me-nots.Photo of forget-me-nots

And finally, the tulips that I planted in the autumn have actually grown and are threatening to flower!Photo of tulip

Update: A friend on Twitter has identified my white flowering shrubby thing to be an Amelanchier.

 

My Big Garden Birdwatch Results 2017

As I mentioned in my post #BigGardenBirdwatch 2017, the world’s biggest wildlife survey took place at the weekend in the UK. You can find out more at the RSPB website.Photo of blue tit

Although we were allowed three days to choose from, the weather Saturday through to Monday was pretty much non-stop rain. This seems to deter a lot of birds from visiting feeders. I was particularly annoyed that the great spotted woodpecker didn’t show up. Other notable absences included long tailed tits, coal tit, dunnock, wren, sparrowhawk, crows and jackdaw; I know they are lurking around somewhere in the garden! Also my chaffinch count was considerably down from a couple of weeks ago.Photo of great spotted woodpecker

However, I was highly delighted by the well timed arrival of an old favourite that I have not seen in the garden for many years; the song thrush. This is another British bird that has suffered greatly from habitat loss due to changes in farming. This shows how important our gardens are for birds. I wasn’t able to get a decent photo of it, indeed most of my photos of wet birds on a dark day were terrible!

Illustration of Song Thrush

Song Thrush by en:John Gould, Birds of Great Britain, 1862-73 – Via Wikimedia Commons

The blackbirds put in a good show, as usual.Photo of blackbirds

There was a robin.Photo of robin

Indeed there were two robins.Photo of two robins

One of the woodpigeons bumbled along.Photo of woodpigeon

Yet again Mrs Fancypants-Squirrel tried to get in on the action, but she was fooling no one.Photo of wet squirrel

Later on that night, one of our hedgehogs woke from hibernation for a snack.Photo of hedgehog

Here are my results:

4 sparrows, 2 blue tits, 1 wood pigeon, 2 robins, 1 great tit, 9 blackbirds, 3 collared doves, 2 starlings, 3 chaffinches, 2 black caps, 9 feral/rock pigeons, 2 magpies and a song thrush. The RSPB provided a chart of my top 10.Chart of top 10 bird sightings

And compared it to the national average based on results so far. Chart of national bird watch results

 

 

Flower Power

I recently received my free pack of wild flower seeds from the Grow Wild campain in conjunction with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.Photo of seed packet

The basic idea is to encourage people to grow native wild flowers, which will benefit pollinators such as bees, bumblebees and hoverflies. My England seed kit contains; common knapweed, cornflower, corn chamomile, corn cockle, corn marigold, corn poppy, hedge bedstraw, meadow buttercup, oxeye daisy, red campion, ribwort plantain, viper’s-bugloss and yarrow. I sowed some on a flower bed and the rest were divided up into two containers which I also planted with some bulbs. I have placed the containers under my bee house so hopefully by next spring they will be a riot of colour and swarming with bees.Photo of bee house and plant containers

November Garden Meander

I thought I would take a stroll around the garden first thing this morning to see what was going on in it at the start of November. After being thwarted by squirrels, wrens and a black cap, I managed to snap this blue tit as it darted onto the bird table for some seed.Photo of blue tit

If you want a dependable garden poser, the blackbirds are always obliging. Photo of blackbird

Mrs B. was having a scrat around for any insects lurking under the leaves.Photo of blackbird

Fungi are popping up everywhere.

As you might expect in autumn there are rose hips; different shapes, sizes and colours.

There are also rose flowers coming into bloom.

Raking Leaves

How many back breaking hours do you spend raking leaves from your lawn? STOP! Research shows that leaving leaves on your lawn improves the turf. A good surface of leaf litter also provides a great habitat for invertebrates, which in turn are a good food source for birds and other garden visitors during the winter.Photo of rat shaped leaf pile

If you do rake or sweep up your leaves, don’t throw them out. Leaves make excellent compost or garden mulch. You can also collect them to use as a cosy bed for your garden hedgehogs to sleep in, which was my sole motivation for bothering to rake up these leaves. Yes, the highly imaginative amongst you will have noticed that I’ve raked them into the shape (vaguely) of a rat.Photo of rat shaped leaf pile

Hedgehog Feeding Station

Autumn is the time of year when hedgehogs in the UK are trying to fatten up ready to hibernate through the winter months. We can help them out by supplementing their diet with cat/dog food (not fish flavours), mealworms or food specially made for hedgehogs. Here is how you can feed hedgehogs in your garden, without feeding your neighbours’ cats, using a plastic storage box.Photo of plastic box

I will be using it without the lid and turned upside down. It will need an entrance approximately 5″ or 13cm in diameter. I used a compass cutter to score the plastic.Photo of compass cutter

You can then cut the plastic (a responsible adult will be required for this part) with a craft knife or scissors.

However, I found it much easier to use an electric multi-tool!Photo of electric multi-tool

You will then need to file and then sand those sharp jagged edges.

The inner edge of the hole should be smooth enough for you to be happy to run your own hand around it.Photo of hand through hole in box

To make sure that the hole is the right size, you should be able to just fit a CD/DVD into it.Photo of dvd in hole in box

Put it in your garden where you wish to feed the hedgehogs. Place a brick or two on top to weigh it down. Place the food in a shallow dish at the end farthest away from the entrance hole. The mossy welcome mat is optional. Leave the water dish outside of the feeding station, no animal should be denied a drink of water. Any uneaten food will need to be cleared away in the morning as flies will be able to get in at it.Photo of feeding station in garden

Wait a couple of hours and swell with pride and a sense of achievement when you find a satisfied visitor.Photo of hedgehog in feeding station

Another happy customer.Photo of hedgehog in feeding station

I think he is wondering if he will fit back out through the hole.Photo of hedgehog in feeding station

Of course he does!Photo of hedgehog in feeding station

I put together a short sequence of clips taken by a wildlife camera trap. It shows numerous hedgehogs visiting the feeding station, having a chat, a drink and a scratch. It also shows two of the neighbourhood cats failing to get into the box despite their best efforts. Even a squirrel comes to take a look.  It is less than two minutes long and can be viewed here.

Hedgehog Street have produced a helpful leaflet about helping hedgehogs in our gardens here.

The Root of the Problem

I recently had the fanciful idea of creating a new flower border on the lawn by the fence. After much digging and cutting away of the tangled mass of roots just under the turf, I struck this great hunk of root ball.Photo of root ball

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath
borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how
abhorred in my imagination it is!

William Shakespeare: “Hamlet”