The Garden Diary 2006

May (part 1)

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1 May - A wet start to the Bank Holiday Monday, but it does mean that the first of the new water butts is now nearly full.


3 May - I'm afraid the garden has been rather neglected these last two days as the Great Tits have been hatching. Today has seen a mixture of bright, sunny skies, and periods of cloud, with the temperature reaching 18C.


Today there was something that just had to be recorded - the Swifts and Martins are back.  They were high up, and mainly to the west of us but these terrible pictures show the slender wings of the swifts and the stubbier Martins.




The birch has started shedding its male catkins now, while at the same time the erect female inflorescences are now well developed all over the tree.



4 May - A glorious day with the highest temperature of the year so far, at 28C in the garden this afternoon.



This morning saw the appearance of the first Red Campions of the year, we will be overwhelmed by them as the year progresses, but they look great.




Yesterday I caught my first, distant glimpse of the House Martins. Today things became 'up close and personal'!

During the afternoon I happened to look along our driveway from the garden and caught a glimpse of them swooping down towards the artificial nests. I dashed into the house and turned video recorder on just in time to catch one of them enter the camera-equipped box.

It spent a short time in there before leaving, and a few minutes later there was a second inspection.

After that, I went out to the front of the house to watch, but although another bird looked into that nest it didn't enter. Instead, a pair entered the right-hand box and spent over ten minutes in there.

One left and the other did some cleaning out of the box before going as well, but it wasn't long before both were back.

Twenty minutes later they were still in there. This is by far the earliest we have seen them visiting the boxes.


Going back to the first images from the nestbox camera, it was obvious that the Martins were not alone!

You will need to look at the large image to see this -  Look closely at the bird back in the sequence of video stills and you will see that the small white spots move between images.

House Martins often carry various parasites (including feather mites) and this one certainly had some.


What was even more amazing, but not possible to capture from the video, was the number (several dozen) of tiny creatures that were seen running around in the nest after the Martin had left. There had been no sign of any life before the visit took place!

The camera box had another visit just before 7pm.


5 May - Just a short note today. Another warm day, although the temperature only reached a high of around 22C. There was a bit of rain during last night.

I saw a House Martin inspect the camera nest this morning, but most of the interest is in the right-hand box. It looks as though that first pair have laid claim to it, and have already been adding mud around the entrance.

It was a good day for butterflies, with numerous Holly Blues and Large Whites, a Brimstone and a smaller, brown butterfly that I didn't get more than a glimpse of. It may have been a Speckled Wood, but I can't be sure. I'm still to see any more ladybirds here.

The Blackbird is definitely sitting on eggs in the Ivy tree at the moment. If I look up as I walk down the path from the West Wing I can see her looking down at me!

The Robin and Sparrows continue to take away mealworms, and a Starling has started to as well - I will need to order more after the weekend.

6 May - A bright morning turned grey, we had rain by 11am, and the high temperature was just under 16C (at 10am).

One new flowering to report today.

This plant had popped up in the border between the pond and the Ivy tree. While I know that it is a member of the Umbelliferae, I have still to decide what exactly it is.

You can see the Forget-me-nots that are flourishing below it.




The Hawthorn flower buds (left) look as though they are very close to opening.

On the Rowan, there are numerous small inflorescences of flower buds (right) and I would expect them to open before long.



The rain wasn't heavy this morning, but it has helped the first of the water butts to fill to within an inch and a half of the overflow into the second butt. We are supposed to get more rain over the next few days. I've just seen a forecast suggesting heavy rain on Monday - perhaps we will get all three butts filled.


7 May - An overcast, but dry start to the day.


Another first flowering to report - A Herb-Robert (Geranium robertianum) plant, put in last year and which seems to be thriving in the shade of a Bamboo plant in front of the workshop shed.



I've had one of my tired days so I haven't spent much time with the camera in the garden. But I did spend a few minutes getting some close-up pictures of a flea beetle (Longitarsus dorsalis) on a Ragwort Plant.

As I've mentioned previously, it's a nationally scarce species of flea-beetle - I've still to get some good pictures of its powerful hind legs.


I've seen four species of butterfly pass through the garden today, A large White, Holly Blues, A Speckled Wood and an Orange Tip.

On the bird front, we has a near disaster in mid-morning when The panic calls of the male Blackbird attracted my attention to a Magpie that was descending through the branches of the Birch on its way to the Blackbird's nest.  This was one of those times when I chose to intervene by heading down the garden. The Magpie saw me and headed for the conifers with the Blackbird male following very noisily. A bit later I checked the nest and could see the reassuring sight of her beak poking out over the rim - The male was singing as usual, and all was well!

Back at the feeders things are fairly quiet at the moment. The Sparrows, Starlings and Robin are taking food away. The Sunflower feeder is visited by the Blue Tits and a Greenfinch that started appearing here two days ago, and a female Chaffinch visits the table. Down on the ground, as well as the Blackbirds coming to feed, Wood Pigeons and the Collared Doves continue to mop up spilt food.

The Collared Doves' nest seems to have disappeared. It survived the breezy conditions two days ago, but now I can't see any twigs at all. It looked to secure to fall off, so it's a bit of a puzzle.

I haven't seen any activity in the House Martin camera equipped nest today.


8 May - Overnight there was a thunderstorm nearby, and we had some heavy rain first thing, so that the first two water butts are now full and the third is about two thirds filled.



The welcome rain left the garden looking refreshed, if a little 'soggy'. This dandelion seed head looked magnificent yesterday, but was rather battered by the time the rain stopped this morning.




When I had a walk around the garden around 1.30pm, this was the only insect I could see.

A metallic blue-green colour, the beetle was tucked in a leaf node on a Ragged Robin plant (which should flower in the next day or two). It looks very similar to Gastrphysa viridula - A Green Dock Leaf Beetle.

Since then the sun has come out so I shall be taking another look. The shape of this beetle reminds me that I have still only seen one Ladybird so far this year.


This afternoon didn't see a great improvement on the insects that were visible, but the White Dead Nettles were visited frequently by bumble bees like this one.

It looks very much like a Bombus pascuorum. In the large image you will see its very long proboscis, needed to reach down the neck of the flower.

The orange colour of the thorax stands out as it flies between flowers, bands of hairs on its abdomen giving that a striped appearance.


After yesterday's close encounter with the Magpie, today there a a bit of good news for the Blackbirds. Around lunchtime some clean bits of shell appeared on the ground below the nest. Concern on my part was calmed when I saw that the female was still sitting in the nest.

Later this afternoon I was scattering some mealworms for the Robin when the Male Blackbird appeared to take some away, coming back for more several times over the next half hour - it seems that the Blackbirds have young to feed!



Needless to say, the Starlings and the Sparrows were quick to realise what was on offer.

It means we now have at least four bird species feeding young in our garden at the moment - a record for us (I'm still not sure about the Blue Tits that may be in the Ivy tree).



9 May-  A dry but dull, grey start to the day, and 12C at 9.15am.


At the front of the house, this pair of House Martins seem content to gaze out at the passing traffic from the right-hand nest. I see that this year's new decor includes feather trimmings!

The camera equipped nest remains empty for the moment.


Back to the flea-beetles on the Ragwort.

I spotted a larger, deeper orange beetle on one of the plants this afternoon, but by the time I set the camera up for macro work and returned it had disappeared.

I decided not to waste the effort and collected a few more pictures of Longitarsus dorsalis (top) and the Ragwort Flea Beetle (Longitarsus flavicornis), to which I've added scales so that their sizes can be compared.



10 May - A Very pleasant, sunny day, although between the birdbox and other things I didn't spend too much time in the garden, other than for morning coffee, and our evening meal.


We are still waiting for the Hawthorn to start blooming, but below it both the Wild Garlic (Ramsons - Allium ursinum) and the Three-cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum) have come into flower today.




While we were having coffee down the West Wing this morning I spotted what is just our second ladybird of the year, a 14-spot Ladybird resting on a bamboo leaf.




Up to now there seems to have been very few aphids/greenflies in the garden. While this could be thought of as a good thing, it does mean that there isn't too much food about for the ladybirds.

However, there are some, and this ant was intent on carrying this dead one down of a plant.



11 May - One of those beautiful days that Summers should be made from, with a high of 25C, although I didn't see too much of the garden. Doing a favour for one of my sons took us away from home for several hours, and this morning my computer went on strike. It took several hours of TLC, backing up and moving files, and defragmenting of hard drives to get it behaving again!


Anyway, one important event to record this morning - The first of the Hawthorn's many buds has become its first flower of the year. Tonight it is still alone.

Our tree is late compared with the numerous Hawthorns we passed while out today - they were well and truly in flower



On the bird front a couple of bits of news that I should have reported yesterday. The first, good news, is that the Robin's chicks have fledged. The nest wasn't in our garden bust yesterday I think at least two of the fledglings were here (although I only actually saw one).

The second bit of news is not so good. Another Magpie attack means that the Blackbirds have lost another brood. The pair are still with us, the male singing as usual, and I suspect the female is already building her fourth nest, in another part of the Ivy tree.


13 May - Just a short note - After a sunny day yesterday, today has been cloudy and cooler, but it has remained dry.


No photographs for today, but one from yesterday to record the first of the Ragged Robin plants to come into flower. Today it was joined by several more.

I can confirm that the Blackbird is nesting again - I saw her taking a beakful of straw up into the Ivy tree. The nest is no more than a foot from her previous nest.




18 May - A really blustery, but mainly dry day, with high winds forecast for tonight.

Yesterday we had quite a bit of rain, enough to complete the filling of the new water butts which, as planned,  eventually overflowed into the small pond. I also bought a couple of plant troughs to catch the rain dripping off the canopy that covers the front of our veranda - they also captured quite a bit yesterday.

Last night I spotted the first hedgehog in the garden for ages, and this afternoon I catch a brief glimpse of a Wood Mouse.


For the last two cool days this first Field Buttercup flower has been threatening to open, and today it succeeded, against a background of Bluebells which are starting to look a bit 'tired' now.




Needless to say, these days since my last entry I have been a bit pre-occupied with the Great Tit family. However, cool weather hasn't encouraged much in the way of insect activity in the garden.

I had a quick look round today and although the gusty wind didn't help. I did spot this spider on a Ground Ivy plant.

At first I was uncertain about its identity, but I now know that it is a male Pisaura mirabilis, thanks to Philippe Moniotte from Belgium, who has come to my rescue once again.

This is a 'nursery web spider'. It is really a hunting spider, but the description comes from the behaviour of the female - she builds a large nursery tent amongst the grass for her egg sac.



23 May - It's being a bit of a struggle getting back to doing other things now that the Great Tits have fledged. We had intended to escape for a break, but Autumnal weather and the need to pause for a couple of days means that it's postponed until at least next week.

As I write this at 6.25pm it is pouring down outside. All water butts are now completely full, plus a large container I also filled with water collected from our veranda canopy. At least both ponds are being maintained at their highest levels now!

The weather has really been unseasonable. It has been cool, and we have had a lot of rain. I just hope the Great Tits have been able to shelter. With the exception  of one adult here once today have not seen or heard the family in or near the garden since they fledged. Yesterday I did see a Sparrow feeding a fledgling in the shelter of the Hawthorn.

It was noticeable how much they started depending on sunflower kernels and other bird table food towards the end of the nesting as the weather declined. Back in 2004 we were seeing craneflies being given to chicks, but I haven't even seen any in the garden so far this year.

At the front of the house, we have seen occasional glimpses of the House Martins going to the right-hand box, and this morning one paid a very brief visit to the camera-equipped nest. Once we have had our break I'll be setting up the webcam to monitor the Martins for the rest of the summer - hopefully catching sight of the late stages of the first brood and possibly getting nest  images of a second brood.

During a bright spell I got out into the garden with my camera. One of the first things I spotted was the spider already photographed above, but this time it was having lunch.

It seems that as part of courtship the male will present his partner with prey wrapped in silk to divert her attention while he mates with her! That would be an interesting moment to watch! The spider was just over 1cm long.



After that photograph was taken I had to change lenses to go closer after I spotted this tiny fly on a Stinging Nettle leaf.

Despite it small size, its relatively large and brightly coloured eyes showed up clearly, contrasting against the dark body.

So far I've had no luck with it's ID.




On another nettle leaf, there was a very different, and even smaller fly, which also remains unidentified.




And to complete the hat-trick, a third fly to be identified, but this time on the same Ragwort as the spider.




24 May - Another largely wet day. I didn't pick up my camera, but  I did manage to clean the windows at the front of the house! That task was done to ensure good visibility for a cctv camera which I will use to monitor the House martin nests for the rest of the Summer. If you've missed it, now that the Great Tits have left us I have now established a House Martin Diary in the hope that they nest in the camera equipped box this year. Much of the day has been taken up doing that work, and reorganising cctv camera - computer connections in order to set up the new webcam.

It's a bit of a gamble, but on the basis of the last two years I'm optimistic!

25 May - A much better day today, with no rain and a good amount of blue sky amongst the clouds.

Despite the better weather, I wasn't able to spend much time in the garden. However I did take a few spider pictures.

First of all, the Pisaura mirabilis again. This male seems to be a permanent feature on the topmost leaves of the Ragwort plant as he waits to pounce on flies that land.

This photograph shows the very large pedipalps of the male, used to store and then transfer sperm during mating.




On the same plant I spotted this pair (of a different species) actually in the process of mating.

The pair are facing in opposite directions, and the smaller and darker male is facing to the left.


I  accidentally disturbed the plant and the pair separated, but a short while later I took these photographs.

It seemed that it was the female that was searching for the male. Once she was on the same leaf, he kept absolutely still (in a could of the images you may just make out his silk 'safety line' trailing behind him) as she approach.

Once near him she turned to face away (right image). I expected the male to approach but he kept still. Then, the female turned suddenly and lunged towards him. He jumped off the leaf and escaped.



I watched for a while afterwards but didn't see any more interaction between them. The female disappeared into the undergrowth, but the male came back out into the open, at which time I took this last picture of him.




Another, much more delicate spider showed up on a plastic container. My best match for it is a male Philodromus dispar, although it is a bit bigger than the 4mm size given in my guide. A hunting spider, this male looks very different to the female.



26 May -  A brief entry today before mybitoftheplanet goes 'on location'!


This morning the Great Tits brought their offspring to the garden to feed. It was very difficult to see them now that the trees are fully leafed, but I saw at least six of the seven (assuming they were 'our' family.


Back soon!

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