The Garden Diary 2005

April (part 2)

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10 April - I haven't done much in the garden over the last two days. I tried to get some more done on the garden wall yesterday and I've been struggling ever since.

Yesterday started with a frost, with ice on the birdbath and on parts of the big pond. The temperature only got up to 10C all day. Today was better, with more sunshine and a high of around 15C - pleasant enough to have lunch outside (while we sat outside another Bee-fly hovered right in front of us for just a moment).

I've been keeping an eye open for ladybird visitors on the West Wing bamboos. The most numerous species is still the 2-spot ladybird, with the 7-spot ladybirds in second place.

The top two images show a couple of the 2-spot variants here today. The one on the left has been photographed before but the right hand one is a new arrival - it is known as a 'band and loop' variant of Adalia bipunctata.

The lower image is of a 'spots joined' variant of a 14-spot Ladybird (Propylea 14-punctata).


This is a group of 10-spot Ladybirds (Adalia 10-puntata) seen today.

The lower-left image shows a chequered variant. the bottom right is (I think) a melanic variant.

The mating pair includes a strongly marked female that I haven't seen before today.



The final image today is this hoverfly. Superficially similar to the Droneflies that visit us, but it is a bit smaller and has a different vein pattern.

I must get a decent guide to hoverflies!


13 April - A small gap in the diaries as a result of me hurting my back a few days ago when I was working on the wall, and making it painful to sit by the computer.

The weather has been typically April in nature. Two days ago we were able to sit and have coffee down the West Wing and while there saw numerous Holly Blue butterflies go past, as well as a Small White and an Orange Tip.

During that coffee break I had a telephoto lens and extension tube on the camera in case a butterfly landed. They didn't, so I tried pointing it at the Drone-flies that hover over the tops of the bamboos on sunny days.

Just like my previous effort, it's a greatly cropped image, and a long way from what I want to achieve, but it shows how the rear legs trail while the other pairs are tucked in close to the body.


I suspect that they are sensitive to eyes looking straight at them, because although I took care to avoid sudden movements with the camera they always darted away as soon as the lens pointed straight at them.

Yesterday it was dull but dry and I spent most of the day outside doing small jobs around the garden. At last, I've painted green the pole that supports the high peanut feeder so that it blends in better.

The female Blackbird was also busy during the day. She seems to be nest building again. I don't know why she has started again, but this time the nest seems to be higher in the Ivy.

It is possible that this Magpie has something to do with it, although I don't rule out one of the local cats, once again.

The Magpie has been 'working' its way through the conifers over the last two days, and this shot was taken after I disturbed it.


During the last two nights we have had two hedgehogs visiting the garden. The night before last, this one scampered past me as I inspected the pond. It was much bigger than its partner(?).

The two of them spent time near the entrance to the hedgehog house, but they are not in there during the daytime. I've put straw in just in case they return.


Today I've been taking another look at the trees in the garden. The lower third of the Hawthorn is now quite green and the large number of flower buds promises for a great display in a few weeks of time.

In the meantime, under the shadow of the Hawthorn, the Elder is well into leaf.  It has numerous groups (called cymes) of flower buds, as opposed to just the one last year.

This plant provides me with a bit of a dilemma. It arrived at this spot courtesy of a bird, and I cannot allow it to grow bigger here.

Last year, tree surgeon son Simon brought me another similar plant which I planted next to the Ivy tree. Unfortunately the roots on that plant had been badly damaged when it was removed from its original spot and it hasn't made it through to this year.

Next Autumn/Winter I may well move the good plant to that same spot, if I can dig it out with minimal damage to its roots.

It's fascinating to compare our Birch tree with that of our neighbour at the moment.

The buds on our tree are still tightly closed, and many of the branches have long, slender catkins (top right image). In contrast, the birch next door is already in leaf (lower right image) and has short catkins.

While I believe the latter birch is a native tree, our Birch is a Himalayan Birch, and was bought very cheaply as a sickly specimen from our local garden centre a good few years ago although I can't remember when).

Last month I photographed a Starling peeling of pieces of the tree's white bark. That is still going on today, and the left-hand image shows the new pink/orange bark that is revealed as the old, white layer, complete with its winter coat of algae, is peeled off. Over the next couple of months the colour will be lost and the new bark will become white.



Finally, the Rowan is starting to show us its leaves now.

The photograph shows the same bud that I photographed on 4 April.



14 April - Another cloudy day, dry despite us expecting rain (perhaps tomorrow?).

My back's a bit better today and I took advantage of the improvement to get some plants from out local Garden Centre. First of all, I have planted a Red Valarian at the back of the small patch in front of the workshop shed. The plant produces masses of small red flowers that will attract lots of insects during the early summer.

I am putting up some lattice work either side of the doors to the storage shed.  I have planted a Jasmine to climb up one side, and I have a Honeysuckle ready to plant on the other side once the lattice is put up, probably tomorrow. At some point I will probably complete a lattice cross-piece to link the two panels over the top of the doors.

I've taken just one photograph during the day, and that was first thing this morning when I found this shield bug a couple of feet up the trunk of the Birch tree.

I wonder if it over-wintered  in the vegetation below the tree? My first look through my insect guides suggest that it looks like a Parent Bug, although I cannot see the rear ends of its wings.

When I went down the garden to take another look a short time later it had disappeared.

Thanks to Philippe Moniotte in Belgium for confirming the species as Parent Bug (Elasmucha grisea). Looking back in the diary, the only other time I have seen one was in July last year when there was a single nymph on the tree. I wonder if this is the same individual having over-wintered below the tree?

15 April -  (As the page was getting too long I have split the April diary into two parts.) A  dry start to the day with the sun struggling to find gaps in the high cloud cover.

Our Blackbird is continuing to take straw into the upper part of the Ivy this morning.


17 April - Most of the day has been very pleasant, with blue skies, although it became overcast as the afternoon progressed and it's damp this evening.

Over the last few days I've been continuing to do bits of work by the sheds. I've added the second lattice, complete with Honeysuckle, and I have tidied up the bit of pathway by the sheds. I need to get a couple of paving stones tomorrow to complete the job.


During our coffee break I at last had the chance to photograph a visiting butterfly. The only trouble was that I had the macro lens on and needed to get too close for comfort.

This was the only shot I could manage before it flew off. At least it's a record of the first observed visit by a Speckled Wood this year.



18 April - After early morning (before we got up) rain, today has been very pleasant - another lunch outside day. After a few colder days, the daytime maximum is starting to creep up again, with it reaching 15C this afternoon. I have now finished the bit of work I have been doing by the shed, and tomorrow I may return to the garden wall at the front of the house.


The sunshine brought out many hoverflies, but no new species of ladybirds have appeared recently.

However, we continue to see more variants amongst the numerous 2-Spot ladybirds that are present, including this individual which has extra small spots forming a line across the ladybird's elytra.

'Normal' 2-spot ladybirds are definitely in the minority here.

The blue skies made a good background for the catkins on the Birch as they start to shed their yellow pollen in the breeze.

The catkin shown in close-up is about 6cm long. It may be incomplete - I found it on the ground, probably detached by a bird searching for food.

Also, it's now possible to see green tips to the buds on the tree, suggesting that it will not be long before they burst.

When I looked closely at the catkin I spotted this tiny aphid moving about.

I managed just this one picture of it that gives some idea as to the scale of the Birch's pollen grains, the aphid being just over 1mm in length.

On the basis of this image, I estimate that a pollen grain from the birch has a diameter of just over 0.03mm.


19 April - A mixed bag of weather today. Early cloud gave way to sunshine for the morning, but by the end of the afternoon it was overcast and we were having heavy showers.

The buds on our Oak tree (in a pot) have now burst and mirror the green that I can see on the Oak tree in the Brickfields Park.

This is a sign that the green caterpillars needed by birds like the Blue Tits for their offspring will soon be available.



As if to reinforce that thought, while I saw out in the garden A rustling in the shrubs next door was followed by this sparrow heading for my neighbour's shed roof.

While I watched, it beheaded a very plump caterpillar before carrying it up to one of our nestboxes.



This much smaller caterpillar caught our attention as Sheila and I had coffee down the west Wing.

Just under 1cm in length, it was dangling from a plant by a long silk thread and was swinging about in the breeze, making it a challenging target for the camera - one of those times when a digital camera has a definite advantage over film. As it happened it took just three frames before I captured this image.



The Bamboo turned up this 10-Spot Ladybird variant which had some unbalanced colouring of the elytra. If it was a 2-Spot Ladybird it would have black legs instead of its Orange legs.




This much smaller beetle made an appearance on the bamboo in the late afternoon. Measuring about 1.5mm in length, it had enlarged tops (femora) to its hind legs, indicating that it is a flea beetle, although I don't know which species.



Going outside to take my usual wander down the garden before going to bed, I was greeted by the snorting of a couple of hedgehogs.

They were in amongst the Irises and Red Campions behind the ponds so I couldn't get a good view. You can see from the photographs that one of them has some areas of white in it, which should make it easy to identify in the future.

While these two were busy prodding each other with their snouts, a third hedgehog was happily munching away at the pile of chopped peanuts I had put out for them. This is the first occasion  for a few years when I have seen three hedgehogs here at the same time.


20 April - It's a bright. but cloudy morning and I notice a lot of hedgehog footprints in the soft soil in the gap between the two sheds, where the hedgehog house is situated. Today I may well set up a cctv camera to monitor activity in the gap.

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2005 Garden Diary Index................Last Month.................. April (Part 3)