The Garden Diary 2004

April(Part 2)

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16 April - A day which started cloudy by then got brighter later. I got a bit more trellis work put up for the Honeysuckle and for a Winter flowering Jasmine in a shady spot next to the leaf-cutter bee boxes.

This morning, Sheila called me to the bedroom window just in time to see the male Blue Tit feeding his partner with bits from a hanging apple.

I didn't get my camera quickly enough to catch that moment, but here he is as he collected some more of the apple to feed her again, this time deeper in the Hawthorn.

While we watched I also noticed a couple of Starlings collecting leaves - I wonder where they are nesting. Perhaps next year I should make the openings bigger in some of the boxes on my house.



Mating is not only on the minds of the birds.  I spotted these two flies on our patio window this afternoon. When I have time I'll try to identify them.



Not to be left out, many of the trees are flowering now, as I know to my cost, with runny eyes and nose!

Our Birch tree looks fantastic as its long catkins, heavy with yellow pollen sway in the breeze - they positively glow in the afternoon sunshine.


17 April - Another mainly sunny day, although with quite a strong breeze at times.

There are quite a lot of hoverflies about, and this one insisted on hovering close to us as we sat out in the garden. It seemed to sense when a camera was pointed its way and flew off (I wonder if the lens appears as a large eye of a predator?).

I had just about given up when it decided to land on the newspaper just long enough to get this image.


Our Blackbird is nest building yet again. I spotted her this morning, gathering bits of twig, dead leaves and dry grass. She has returned to the site behind the bamboo, and seems to be using the earlier nest that I supported with chicken wire.

I also saw a Starling gathering up old bamboo leaves and, for the first time this year, this Sparrow with a feather. I have been wondering why I hadn't already seen signs that the House Sparrows were nesting.

The Blue Tits were engaged in courtship again today, with a bit more of the feeding that I saw yesterday.




19 April - A largely bright day with a couple of showers this afternoon. Unfortunately, a tree somewhere nearby must have decided to release its pollen today and going outside has been quite a challenge for me!

Just one other note - the female Blackbird continues to build her nest behind the bamboos.


20 April - The pollen continued to wreak its havoc today as I tried to do various jobs inside and outside the house. The day started with ice on the surface of the birdbath, but for most of the day it was cloudy. This evening it's raining, and a wet night is forecast.


First thing this morning the female Blackbird was collecting straw and a bit of grass for her nest. This picture was grabbed through the bedroom window as she prepared to dive behind the Bamboo.

I noticed that the rivalry between the males had also moved down to this end of the garden with the two chasing each other between the branches of the Hawthorn.


The Hawthorn is in a mixed up state at the moment. While the upper branches are still almost bare with many leaf buds yet to open, the lower half of the tree is now quite green and getting difficult to see through.

The tips of those lower branches also bear large numbers of flower buds.


22 April - A dry, mild day with sunny periods.

One of the first things to catch my eye in the morning sunshine were the flashes of green that meant that the buds on the Birch tree have started bursting.

There is a lot of insect activity now, with hoverflies being constant companions, especially down the 'West Wing' which acts as a bit of a sun trap in the mornings.

There are also numerous bumble bees about, and I noticed one disappear into the clump of grass and moss (at one end of the big pond) that was used as a nest site last year.


When I was clearing up at the end of the afternoon I spotted activity for the first time this year at the bee hotels.

By the time I had washed my hands and collected a camera the flying had stopped, but this picture shows the familiar face of one of the bees deep in one of the larger holes (7mm diameter) where it has settled for the night.


Yesterday we went for a short drive to see where one of our tree surgeon sons was removing an mature Oak tree that was extremely rotten. It's a sad sight to see what had been a magnificent tree in that state of decay. I brought a few pieces of the rotten timber back to the garden. I've planted a fern in one hollow section and distributed the other bits around the garden.

On one piece I spotted this small insect larva munching on the rotten timber. While the larva itself seemed to be yellowish in colour, its body was encased in a two-tone covering of what looked like chewed (?) bits cemented together.

23 April - A Summer's day in April, with a high of 22C and blue skies. I saw five different species of butterfly here, all during the morning, and non of which were cooperative enough to photograph. They were a Comma, an Orange Tip, a Large White, a Holly Blue and a small brown one that was too far away to ID.

During the day I frequently checked the bee-hotel but I didn't see any bees, after yesterday's first glimpse. However, there were a number of ants taking an interest in the holes.

In the past their presence has been linked to the appearance of small parasitic flies that lay their eggs in the cells produced by the bees. These were largely absent last year so I shall have to watch out for their reappearance this year.



The pale background colouring of this little 14-Spot Ladybird closely matches the paving stone that I found it on.



Another beetle species making its first appearance of the year was the Lily Beetle (Lilioceris lilii), two of them on the Snakes-head Fritillaries.

These are regarded as a pest species (and you can see damage done to a flower stalk in the middle image) which is a pity as they are spectacular looking beetle.

The bottom-right image is of the rear of the second beetle. This one has a dark, irregular spot across the two elytra (hardened fore-wings).



This was my only opportunity to 'capture' a hoverfly today.

It looks as though it is one of the Heleophilus species, but the abdominal markings do not match the image in my insect guide.



On the plants by the pond was where I found this pair of Froghoppers mating.

These are members of the Delphacidae family, which have a large movable spur on the hind leg. In the left hand image you can see the spur sticking out. In the right hand image it is folded against the leg.

They may be Stenocranus minutus, which is found on grasses.


24 April - After yesterday's sunshine, today was warmer, peaking at 23C (in the shade) in the garden in mid-afternoon. Unfortunately the pollen count must have been high, hitting my eyes worst of all. It didn't help the photography, so I'm afraid there is only one image for today.

Our Robin has periods when he(?) takes mealworms away by the beakful. He is not frequent enough to be feeding young so I suspect that his partner must be sitting on eggs.

I think the situation is similar for the Blue Tits. Sheila and I watched the box for a while this morning. On one occasion we saw one bird enter, followed shortly afterwards by a second. Moments later one emerged, but the other remained in the box for a long time, during which the partner made a couple of very brief visits. In other words, we saw the female enter and then the male bring food to her. So it looks as though the Blue Tits also have a clutch of eggs.

We did see the male fly to the wrong entrance once. He emerged very quickly and went into the correct box.  After delivering food he would sometimes fly down to the Birch tree to sing, and then head for the conifers, presumably to find more food.

The female Blackbird continues to disappear behind the Bamboos, but I don't know what stage her nesting has reached. There is still no sign of Sparrows going to any of the boxes put up for them.

26 April - The weather has continues mild and dry, although the skies were getting overcast by the end of the day. The pollen count continues to be a problem for me so getting much done outside has been problematic.

Nevertheless, here are a few pictures of insect visitors in the garden. First, a Two-spot Ladybird, seen on a bamboo plant.

There was also another 14-spot Ladybird which was much more yellow that the one pictured a couple of days ago, but I couldn't get close enough to get a photo of that one.




This tiny beetle was found on a leaf of a young Ragwort plant. A first look through my insect guides has failed to come up with an identification.



There are quite a few bees, wasps and other insects, of numerous types about at the moment, but I'm not having much luck getting close enough to snap them. This bee was an exception. Its brightly coloured, hairy thorax really stands out in sunshine as it flies by.

I think it could be a female Eucera longicornis (or similar!). The male would have very long antennae.


28 April - An overcast, but dry day (up to 5pm at least) after a thunderstorm  brought some heavy rain in the hours before dawn. Last night the temperature didn't dip below 10C and only crept up to near 15C during a slightly brighter spell in the early afternoon.

Tiredness has caught up with me over the last two days. Although I did take some photographs yesterday it's only today that I have transferred them to my computer, so what follows is really a report about yesterday!

In the five days since the bursting of the Birch buds, the tree has become more and more green, and the catkins have been falling like rain.

Similarly, the Hawthorn is also green all over now, although there is no sign up to now of any of the flower buds opening.




Another tree in the garden that I rarely mention is a Sessile Oak that I have grown from an acorn and which grows in a pot. Over the last few days the buds on it have also burst and the leaves are now growing quickly.

This matches the timing of the Blue Tit nesting, as the caterpillars preferred for their young develop on the young Oak leaves.

I have watched the male BT feed his partner several times today, but I have still to succeed in capturing the moment 'on (digital) film'.

What I did manage to get, for the first time this year, was a picture of a butterfly, in this case a Speckled Wood which was sunbathing with its wings closed.

I also saw several visits by Large Whites and Holly Blue butterflies.



In one of the small areas of grass I spotted the first solitary bee burrow, although I didn't see the bee responsible for it.



The visiting Bumble Bees have so far eluded my camera, but yesterday morning I found this far from healthy Red-tailed Bumblebee queen on the window ledge in our lounge. It must have been there overnight and it had lost both front legs and most of the lower part (tarsus) of the  second leg on its right side (see right hand pictures).

It was still able to walk but not fly, so I tried feeding it with a bit of Honey ( made by Hampshire bees from Rape flower nectar and pollen).

As the pictures show, she took the honey readily. It took about 1 hours of feeding and rest before she tested her wings and took off. A few short trial flights followed, with a bit more honey, and she was gone, although I must wonder what her chances of survival are.


As well as the bees, there have been a number of wasps about during the warmer weather. This one was on a bamboo leaf, taking advantage of some week, hazy sunshine yesterday afternoon.

It is quite large and I think it's a Common Wasp queen.


29 April - A thoroughly miserable, wet day with the temperature struggling to get to 8C by mid-day.


The dejected look on the Wood Pigeon just about sums up the day.




This Rook looked just as depressed as it 'jumped' between the tops of the conifers with its wet plumage looking desperately in need of some attention.


Despite, or because of the weather, business was brisk at the mealworm dish and feeder.

As dramatic as the change in the weather has been the rapid change from very timid to very bold and trusting by this Robin.

He has been coming to the dish all morning and when it is empty he sits on a chair cover just about 2ft from me as I sit by the computer, looking in with his 'Robin stare'!

Most of the mealworms are eaten on the spot - I had expected to see him taking more away.



One reason why the dish is often empty is that I only put a small number of mealworms out at a time. I'm afraid I ration them, partly because the Starlings would eat up my supply in no time flat.



The Blue Tits continue to out-wit me. The male comes frequently for mealworms to give to his partner. Sometimes he 'prepares' them ( pulling the heads off and gutting them) at the dish.

Unfortunately the poor lighting today has meant that, so far all my attempts at capturing the moment of feeding have failed.


In the deep shade of the Hawthorn I see that the Wild Garlic has come into flower this morning, but a photograph will have to wait for drier, brighter conditions.


30 April - Another dismal morning with almost non-stop rain so there is little prospect of getting out in the garden today, but the camera has been clicking, with the cooperation of our now very friendly robin.

Having mentioned yesterday about him not taking mealworms away, by the end of the day he was, and has been doing so all morning. Notice how he has a white feather on the top of his head that makes it easy to distinguish him from other Robins.



When the ration of mealworms has all gone he perches as close to the window as he can and watches me, so I turned the tables on him today to get some close-ups like this one.


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