The Garden Diary 2005

March (Part 2)

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16 March - The second half of March has started off with a real taste of Spring, which fizzled out into disappointing afternoon. After overnight temperatures which didn't drop much below 11C, morning sunshine, with a steady South-westerly breeze. produced a high of 17C around noon. For the first time this year Sheila and I were able to spend time having coffee down the West Wing. By the middle of the afternoon it became overcast and it started drizzling.

The morning sunshine brought out the first two Lesser Celandine flowers, as well as our first Dandelion.

As well as these flowers there were a number of insect firsts. Two Brimstone butterflies passed through, one pausing briefly near the pond. A couple of wasps made their first visits. One tried to get a drink at the pond and narrowly escape a sudden end when a frog pounced on it.



Down on the small patch of ground in front of the shed I spotted eight of these solitary bees. Most of the time they were flying around close to the ground, although at least one spent time at the dandelion flower.



While we were having coffee, I spotted a shield bug on a bamboo plant. When I got back from the house with my camera I could see two of them.

I think they are both Common Green Shield Bugs. They become bronze coloured in Autumn before hibernating, usually changing back to green before emerging in the Spring.

It was interesting to see how differently the two bugs behaved. While the green one stayed in the same spot for over an hour, the bronze one was constantly moving around the plants.


The bamboo is always a good place to spot insects on a sunny day as they use the leaves to bask, and this morning was no exception. A Drone Fly landed briefly, as did this little insect, which measures rather less than 1cm in length.

I cannot identify it, but it does resemble a sawfly.


Following what I said yesterday about ladybirds, the bamboo also provided the first ladybird sighting of the year.

This one is a Seven-spot Ladybird (Coccinella 7-punctata).



17 March - Another very nice, sunny day, although it took a bit longer than it did yesterday to reach the high of 17C after a minimum of around 10C.

There were Brimstones about again (still no picture) and a third shieldbug (bronze coloured) on the bamboo. There were several Seven-spot Ladybirds about, and sadly I must have trodden on one on our veranda!

The bamboo was once again the place to spot visitors. This wasp returned to the same plant several times, and these shots were taken as it spent time cleaning itself.

It is probably a Common Wasp queen.




The other insect that posed for a photograph this morning was this capsid bug.

The nearest match I can find in my guides is the Tarnished Plant Bug (Lygus rugulipennis). The shape is right, as is the body colouring, and its forewings have a hairy coat.

Common on Stinging Nettles, it is often a pest species on garden crops and flowers.

The good weather allowed us to head for the West Wing for coffee again today. We can usually hear the drone of distant traffic but today that was completely drowned out by the constant croaking of the frogs and the 'music' of our local male Blackbird.

He spent hours today, singing from a shaded perch half way up a conifer. The song consisted of short phrases, each of which seemed to start at roughly the same frequency, but which varied tremendously. Most phrases has a warble in the middle, and they often finished on an 'up' note.


During the afternoon I spotted a Sparrowhawk for the first time in a while. My attention was drawn to it by the call of a Crow that was mobbing it up over the Brickfields Park. By the time I brought out my camera the pair had gone, but this Crow then perched briefly on one of the conifers.

There is no sign of the Crows nest building yet, but a Wood Pigeon was performing its display flight, drawing my attention upwards with its wing clapping.

Over the last couple of days, bird activity has been greatly reduced in the garden, not helped by my spending more time outside. The Song Thrushes have not appeared at all.


18 March - Sunny, and the warmest day so far, with the temperature topping 20C in the garden today. I did a bit of painting at the front of the house and resorted to wearing shorts for the first time this year.


Another ladybird species appeared today, this time a small 2-spot Ladybird.



We had lunch outside on our veranda and this little bug (about 7mm long) made an impression on Sheila as it probed her skin with its piercing beak (rostrum).



I also saw the first hoverfly of the year this morning. It was a small, slender bodied fly, dark with a mainly black body. As well as the daily sightings of Brimstones, I saw a small dark butterfly which I could not identify, and another bumblebee.

The male blackbird gave another long performance from the conifers. Rather than adding another picture I've replaced yesterday's image with a sharper one. After his musical daytime performances it was quite a contrast to hear a great deal of territorial chatter after dusk.

Male Chaffinches are also very vocal at the moment, but although they sometimes perch in the Birch tree they do not visit the feeding area by the house. However this female has started to take food from the table.

Having said that the Thrushes were not appearing, there was one down to feed under the Hawthorn tonight.


Finally, while the nestbox remains unvisited, Starlings and Sparrows were collecting materials today, this sparrow tugging at leaves at one end of the big pond.

Tonight I read that Swallows have been seen in Cornwall, a sure sign that Spring really is getting under way. I wonder when the first House Martins will be reported.



20 March - Yesterday we had the best day yet, with the temperature over 20C - It was as good as any summer day could be. I spent some of it doing some painting at the front of the house, and also (at last) cleaning out the House Martin box.

I was surprised how little material there was in the nest. It seemed to consist of just a few feathers and the feathery 'parachutes' from what I assume are thistle seeds. -I understand that House Martins gather most of their nest lining materials while in flight.

Today has been less sunny, but nevertheless a pleasant day with hazy sunshine. I put the Martin boxes back up and then set about making a Bumblebee House which is now in place at the base of the Ivy tree.

I used a commercially available house as my pattern. As well as the wooden lid it has sliding glass panels on the top of each chamber.

There were lots of bumblebees about today, so with a bit of luck.......


21 March - The Spring Equinox - it's Spring at last!

A lot more cloud today, but nevertheless a mild day with the temperature up to 15C. I was out in the garden nearly all day, most of the time spent doing some maintenance work. It was only after I had cleared up that I noticed how close some of the Hawthorn buds are to bursting.

Then I looked back at last year's diary entry for this day and see that they are in fact slightly behind last year!


A closer look at a couple of buds revealed that the insects are already moving in. Here, a bug rests at the side of the bud while a tiny aphid seems to be feeding on the new leaves.

Unfortunately the bug left before I could get in closer. It measures about 2.5mm in length (excluding wings). The aphid is just under 0.8mm long.



This second bud appears to have several cream coloured eggs on it.

Click on images to see larger versions




22 March - Rain at last! It is the first decent rain we have had for ages, although a look at the local weather station shows that it didn't deposit that much water. That's a pity because there were further warnings this morning about the threat of hosepipe bans.

It seems that we have just had one of the driest winters on record, and reservoirs are only 56% full (usually 95%) at the moment. The local water company says we need four to six weeks of rain to catch up.

The day has been largely cloudy with some sunny spells and occasional drizzle.

After yesterday's efforts, today has been a bit of a struggle, so in some ways the dampness has been a welcome excuse to pause before doing other jobs, but I have taken a few photographs for the record.

First of all, a Goldfinch. This is one of a pair that continue to visit several times every day.

They are always together, and when not at the feeder I can often see them on the Birch, pecking at the seed heads that still hang from some branches.




This afternoon I saw a female Blackbird gathering moss from the side of the pond. I wonder if she is already building a second one. The Sparrows and Starlings continue with their nest building. A  Song Thrush made another visit this afternoon. For some reason I don't see one in the mornings at the moment.



Over the last few days the Cowslips by the big pond have come into flower. Their flowers are brightly coloured and almost glow in sunlight.



In comparison, on the far side of the pond the Oxlips have been flowering right through the Winter, and look decidedly drab and 'moth eaten'.


A note tonight about a species badly neglected in my diaries, the humble earthworm. We have plenty of them here, especially in the area between the Hawthorn and the veranda, the main area in which birds are fed. I hoe the ground regularly and it has been teeming with worms right through the winter. The ground never go so cold as to force them deeper into the soil.

Anyway, after dark this evening I took a walk down the garden as usual, and noticed that there were earthworms stretched out on most of the damp stepping stones.

Each worm was still attached to the soil by its rear end, and as soon as it detected my approach it would withdraw quickly, as shown in the two lower images.

I stood still and watched a couple of them for several minutes, during which they didn't move at all, until I moved a foot.

Worms come out of their burrows in this way when they are going to mate. However, these worms are well out of reach of any possible partner unless they stretch a long way. I shall have to watch out for a pair meeting up.


24 March - A dry day (15C max) after some rain early on.

No photographs today, but a couple of notes. First of all, I spotted our male Robin feeding his partner on a branch of the Birch. There is no sign of them choosing the Robin box but I now have the camera installed, just in case. The Blue Tit box remains unvisited.

I spotted a Blackbird female taking moss from the side of the pond. I'm a bit puzzled as it's a while since I saw her nest building, and I only saw the one visit today.


25 March - A nice day after a cloudy, cool start.

I saw several plants flowering for the first time today. The most obvious was this group of Water Forget-me-not flowers. My guide books show them as blue, although they are often pink when first open.




Slightly more hidden was this Violet, a plant that is thriving in the garden.



The last of the flowers is this Ground Ivy. These flowers are really tucked away, close to the ground.



I didn't have too much chance to watch out for visiting insects during the day, but I did manage to grab this image of one of the bumble bees that are buzzing about the garden all the time now. There's no sign of one visiting the new box, but I suspect one may have chosen to settle a spot in or near the Ivy tree.

This one is either a Buff-tailed Bumblebee or a White-tailed Bumblebee - I'll check again tomorrow.

Tonight I photographed two small insects on the outside of windows.

The first was this Lacewing. A look in my guide book suggests that it may well be Chrysoperia carnea, a Green Lacewing that turns pinkish in Autumn before hibernating.




The second was this micro-moth. Thanks to Tim Norriss, who helped me out with moth identification last year, for letting me know that it is a White-shouldered House-moth (Endrosis sarcitrella), which is common and widespread.



26 March - A very pleasant day, and although not as warm as during that good spell a couple of weeks ago, it was still good enough to have breakfast down the West Wing and lunch on the veranda! The last couple of days the CFS has been a bit difficult so although I have spent quite a bit of time out in the garden, very little has been done.

Today's photographs are all from the West Wing. First of all, another Green Lacewing, but this time it is green.

I couldn't get very close before it flew off.




On the same bamboo I also found this small ladybird that was moving about continuously so I couldn't get a really sharp image.

The small image shows its red abdomen as it opened its elytra slightly. It was about 4mm long and the front spots are comma shaped. I think it is a Pine Ladybird. If so it's my first sighting of an adult one in the garden.

There were several 7-spot ladybirds, and one 2-spot ladybird on the bamboo today.


Also on a bamboo plant was this Dock Bug (also known as Brown Shieldbug - Coreus marginatus).

I have seen these a couple of times over the last two years but in those cases the photographs were not clear enough to see the two horns that this species has at the front of its head.



This is an enlarged section of the top image in which the two horns can be seen, pointing inwards so that the tips touch.



More often than not, when a flowerpot is moved  you see small creatures jumping about. This afternoon I got down on my hands and knees to take a closer look at this one.

It's a Springtail, although I have no idea which of some 1500 species it is.

As its name suggests, it has a specialised springing structure tucked under its body which it uses when disturbed.


27 March - I have needed to take it easy today so the garden has been left to itself under a blanket of grey skies.


However, the dull weather didn't seem to put of this Starling as it got on with the business of nest building today. It made numerous visits to collect straw from a bundle I had jammed in between the branches of our buddleia bush.



The grey skies seemed to have a greater effect on this Collared Dove. It spent ages, either resting on the bird table or perched on the thistle-seed feeder while other doves came and went.

It was able to fly with no problem, and returned several times during the afternoon.

The House Sparrows continue to visit the Reedmace, although I have only seen them doing a little bit of nest building today. Having seen the Blackbird collect some moss a few days ago, I haven't seen her collect anything else.

I forgot to report yesterday that I saw a couple of Long-tailed Tits visiting the shrub in my neighbour's garden that I photographed them visiting at the beginning of April last year. Nothing came of that visit last year -I wonder if we will have more luck this time.

There is still no interest in either the Blue Tit box or the Robin box.

28 March - Another dry day which was just warm enough to justify wearing shorts for a few hours, although it has turned cloudy and cooler this evening.


This Starling was the only bird I saw that had an interest in nest building today.

This time it is in the Birch tree. In the Spring, Starlings regularly peal off pieces of bark for their nests. Just below/right of the bird you can see a pinkish area where bark has already been removed recently.



This morning there were five 7-spot ladybirds on the bamboo plants. There were also two 2-spot Ladybirds including this one, which looks much healthier than the one I found and photographed ten days ago.


The day before yesterday I photographed the Dock Bug. I couldn't resist this second image today.

Of all the bamboo leaves available, these two bugs obviously agreed that this leaf was the place to be.



Another visitor on the bamboos was this sawfly. A look in my guide books suggests it is (or is similar to) a female Cladius pectinicornis, which is one of the commonest sawflies.



The Hawthorn buds are really starting to open up now, at least on the lower branches.

In this picture you can see not only the new leaves, but also flower buds that will take another month before they are ready to bloom.



30 March - The last two days have been largely dull, and damp, the weather being a good excuse to have a bit of a rest beyond sorting out a bit of lattice work between the sheds.


I've take just a couple of photographs, both from the house.

This first one is included to show how much of the Reedmace seed head has been stripped by the Sparrows since my last photograph  a week ago (in the pond diary).

I also spotted a Goldfinch visiting several times today, but I didn't manage any photographs.



The Goldfinches are here more than ever at the moment, usually two of them but occasionally three.  I have included this picture of one in the Hawthorn because of the way the two white patches under the tail feathers have shown up. Its head is dark because a branch shaded it from the light of the flash.

Several times this afternoon the Goldfinches were harassed by the local male Blue Tit who was very aggressive towards them  whenever it came to feed.


During the morning a Wren used the Hawthorn as a platform for a session of loud song, although it was perched on the wrong side of the tree for a photograph. There was just one visit by a Song Thrush seen today.

Tree surgeon son Simon has found a nursery that has a 12ft+ Rowan tree available. We will be having a look at it tomorrow. If it is a healthy specimen we may get it and plant it where the tall peanut feeder is at present. It produces red berries which last through into the new year, so the Blackbirds will like it ( and if the Waxwings return....)

I have at last started to update the technical section of the diary with the first info on my 20D camera kit. I hope to go into more detail in the weeks to come.


31 March - No photographs today, which was been overcast and damp until the early evening.

After an apparent lack of interest for a week or so, the Ivy tree berries have in demand again over the last couple of days, with a Wood Pigeon and the Blackbirds eating them. Today one of the Thrushes was seen feeding at the same time as the Blackbird pair, despite the obvious displeasure of the male.

Our visit to the nursery proved successful and tomorrow my son will be delivering a healthy looking Rowan (Sorbus commixta "Embley"). We're also getting some variagated Privet plants to create a hedge at the front of the house.

Click on an image to see a larger version

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