The Garden Diary 2007
July (Part 1)
1 July -
After a damp end to June, this morning's wet weather did not give July a promising start, but things cleared up as the morning progressed and we were able to sit outside for lunch in afternoon sunshine.
While the bumble bees are able to generate enough heat to get going under cloudy skies, you will still see them taking advantage of suitable spots to do a bit of 'sunbathing' when breaks appear in the cloud cover.
This is a Garden Bumblebee (Bombus Hortorum).
The Buddleia finally succeeded in tempting a rather faded looking Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) to visit, although most of the time it needed to use the plant to shelter from gusty westerly winds that stayed with as all day.
After it left, I couldn't resist this shot of a Greenbottle feeding on the other side of the Buddleia.
I don't think the picture does justice to the way it metallic colouring stood out in contrast to the pinks of the Buddleia as the sun shone of them.
The Cosmos Sonata flowers were really busy once the sunshine encouraged the solitary bees to emerge. However, the raised central button of florets provides a hiding place for spiders that may try to ambush the bee (or other fly) visitor.
Look to the left of the picture and you will see the legs of a small crab spider, and a couple of its eyes as it watches out for the best moment to catch its prey.
That bee left the flower safely, but on another bloom a hoverfly was not so lucky as it was caught by another, different species of spider, this time using silk to deal with its victim.
At the bee hotels, as usual activity comes and goes with the sunshine, and each time I checked on them I saw solitary wasps visiting.
First of all is this one that I've photographed several times but still need to establish an ID for. Here it is seen looking into a 3.5mm diameter hole, suggesting that the wasp is around 9mm long.
I managed a better side view of this larger wasp a few days ago, but today I managed to get 'face to face' with it - it's got very impressive jaws.
Finally, another familiar wasp visitor, this one with a red band around its abdomen, white markings on the head and thorax, and a pronounced purple tinge to its wings.
I need to look back through the diary to remind myself whether or not I have identified it.
2 July - The cool, unsettled weather continues, with sunshine only coming in short bursts, and with showers on and off all day. As a consequence there are just a couple of updates on yesterday's entries.
First, the spiders on the Cosmos Sonata flowers - While one spider is still tucking into its hoverfly meal under a shelter created by using silk to bend a petal over, the crab spider was out in the open this morning.
The grey skies meant that there were none of the bees about, but the flowers were still being visited by numerous flies,
and when I checked again a short while later one had been caught by the crab spider which had taken it under a petal.
A few minutes later, a heavy shower must have knocked both spider and victim off the flower.
I'm including another picture because this one shows more clearly how some of the bands on the abdomen are incomplete, with gaps on the top of it.
An e-mail from Philippe Moniotte (from Belgium) has suggested that it could well be Ectemnius sexcinctus. Philippe had previously given me this ID back in June 2005 - I must look back through my own diaries!
At the end of the afternoon I was using my scanner when I was surprised by the sight of a Jay feeding on the ground under the bird table. It was very wary so I didn't attempt to reach for a camera and just enjoyed its visit. I have seen Jays in the garden just a couple of times in the past, and this is first time I have seen one actually feeding in the garden.
3 July - More sunshine today, but punctuated by heavy showers, sometimes with thunder and hail.
Around noon it was bright and sunny, and Sheila and I were able to sit outside, drink coffee, and enjoy a sight we've not see here before -a large, and very plump-looking hedgehog scurrying back and forth gathering nesting materials from the undergrowth either side of the path up to the West Wing. She seemed to be collecting a mixture of dead leaves, but also spent time tearing off chunks of grass and other green leaves.
With just a few gaps, hedgehogs have always been regular nocturnal visitor to the garden, and we have seen one here during daytime on a few occasions, but this is the first time that we have seen any sign of one actually nesting here.
I've yet to establish where she is nesting, and I've set up a cctv camera to see if she is using the hedgehog house that I provided under our garden shed when I put it up many years ago.
It seems that a hedgehog will give birth to perhaps four to five babies in a litter (and sometimes two litters in a year), some 32 days after mating. She alone looks after them and they start to leave the nest when about a month old - we may have that to look forward to during August.
Another Cinnabar Moth emerged today.
4 July - A largely grey day with some brighter spells, and very little rain (up to 5.30pm), and it's getting cooler again, with the temperature not quite managing 18C only briefly this afternoon.
There was no sign of the hedgehog during the day so I'm still unsure as to where she is nesting. I've added an IR light to allow for recording through the night. Although I didn't see that large individual, there were two smaller hedgehogs foraging near the house last night at around 10.30pm.
Checking the Birch this morning I found this caterpillar on an adjacent branch to the caterpillar that I photographed on 28 Junes, and which disappeared the next morning. I wonder if it's the same individual - it hasn't got any bigger.
Anyway, it gives me a second chance to follow its progress once these silk structures are in place.
Looking more closely, it's interesting to look at the black bands towards the front of the caterpillar (right in this photograph). They look as though someone has wound black thread, somewhat loosely, around its body. The third band from the right consists of just a few 'threads'
The second black band seems to bisect area of small densely packed yellow hairs on the caterpillar's back. Also, notice how the colouring of the orange-red tuft continues in a curve down the side if its body.
5 July - Another grey day, although the morning has stayed dry, and it's cool, with the temperature only topping 16C by lunchtime.
Earlier, I looked through the 11 hours of video recording made overnight. This image shows the rather untidy view from the camera. It shows the path that leads to the Blue/Great Tit nestbox, passing what we call the bike shed in the top right of the picture (and which hasn't had a bike stored in it for many years!).
When I erected that shed I needed to raise the foundations on its right hand side. I took advantage of that to install the hedgehog house under the floor, with an entrance out to the side, and an inspection hatch from within the shed.
I don't think this is the same individual that I photographed gathering bedding. The square 'cobbles' in the picture measure just over 4in (10cm) across, indicating that this hedgehog is less than 20cm in length. Although I didn't get a side-on photograph of the female, the photograph includes similar cobbles, and looking at it again I think she was larger.
Just to complicate things, at around 3.17am the camera recorded this rat entering the house, and although I have checked through the recording twice, I did not see any indication that it left before the hedgehog arrived.
Notice how this image relied completely on the IR lighting, whereas dawn had arrived by the time the hedgehog arrived.
In addition to the rat and the hedgehog, we also had two cats visit the corner briefly, one at about 10.15pm last night and the second at around 6am this morning. Neither seemed to be too interested in the presence of a rodent as they both left again almost immediately.
On a smaller scale, just two frogs hopped through the field of view during the night, several slugs and an earthworm slithered past, and perhaps four moths fluttered past the camera during the hours of darkness.
Update at 6.30pm - It has remained grey all day and light rain has been falling for the last hour or so. There has been no activity outside the hedgehog house during the day. I started the over-night recording at 7pm so that I can be sure to capture the moment when either rat or/and hedgehog leave for their night-time wanderings.
6 July - A dry day some periods of sunshine helping the temperature up to around 20C, although it was quite breezy with gusts of around 30mph - the Birch has lost quite a few leaves.
While it still as its long black hairs, its white hairs have grown into a much more noticeable feature.
Taking a closer look, there are several other changes to note. First, all the thread-like black bands have given way to one bold band that dissects the very dense tuft of what were yellow hairs just two days ago. These have become much paler as they have increased in length some 3 to 4 times.
At the tail, the red tuft has also grown by at least 300% in the last two days, while the red colouring has disappeared from the body itself.
In this shot it's obvious how the hairs on the face help in the pollination of flowers. As it extends it proboscis down into the depths of the floret, pollen on its face get rubbed off on the flower's stigma which is raised above the anthers.
While I'm not sure of its identity, I suspect that it is one of the leaf-cutter bees (Megachile species).
So far I have seen no activity at all at our leaf-cutter bee nests. Perhaps this spell of warmer weather may get them started over the weekend.
This is another of the larger solitary bees that visits our 'new' flowers, although this one seemed to prefer the daisies.
I need to spend some time trying to identify this one, but not tonight!
There were also just a few honey bees seen here today.
Last night's video from the bottom of the garden failed to shed any more light on our hedgehog. After reporting the one individual entering the hedgehog house the night before last I have not seen it leave either during the daytime or last night. Having no experience of hedgehog behaviour, could this be a sign that the female I saw collecting leaves may have newly born hoglets? Does the female stay in the nest for a while after they are born?
There were two appearances by what appeared to be different hedgehogs at 4am and then in daylight at 6.50am. Neither individual went down the path the the hedgehog house, spotting in front of the camera before turning around and heading back into the garden. Last night I saw one rat at the far end of the pathway, and one or more mice - four mouse sightings at various times, and one cat that was different to the pair seen last night.
7 July - Almost a summer's day, with mostly blue skies - however, the breeze although much gentler than yesterday, kept the temperature below 22C.
Despite the good weather I'm afraid I managed just one picture for the diary, of a shieldbug nymph on a Red Campion seed case.
The Red Campions are still producing flowers but there are now many seed heads which have ripened and started scattering their contents. I sometimes see bug nymphs sheltering the empty seed cases, although this one is still full.
I recorded the cctv coverage from 4pm yesterday until 8am this morning. It recorded just one cat, one mouse, and two hedgehog appearances. The first of these occurred at around 11.15pm when one with a pale band on its right flank appeared from the garden, went up the path towards the hedgehog house but didn't go in, exploring beyond it before returning to the garden.
The only other sighting was at about 6.15am when a different hedgehog appeared from the garden and headed for the entrance to the house and disappeared inside. Did I some how manage to miss it leaving at some point during daylight hours yesterday?
As far as I can tell it hasn't emerged again today, and this evening I started recording at 8pm, to continue for 24 hours.
8 July - Another bright day, although a few more clouds than yesterday, keeping the temperature down below 20C.
I stepped outside for the first time at just after 7.30am. At that time the sun still shines down our driveway rather than over the house, and as I walked out from the cover of the Buddleia and looked down the path I was greeted by a very pleasant surprise. A very healthy looking fox was looking right at me from half way along the path, its coat looking really glossy in the sunshine.
A bit of clumsiness on my part stopped the cctv recording this morning at around 9am. Overnight, there were two cat visits, including another new individual, a hedgehog came and went at 4.44am, and then one came at 4.49am and went into the hedgehog house, not appearing again before the video stopped. With no sign of a hedgehog leaving, it left me with the same dilemma as the previous night's recording.
I backed away and as it climbed the slope to the West Wing I returned to the house to get my camera. By the time I got back outside it was heading into the border (more like a hedgerow these days) so I stayed on the veranda and waited. Eventually it appeared under the Hawthorn, and foraged about for a while before heading for the small opening that is the usual hedgehog route to and from my neighbour's garden.
It will be interesting to see what time it returns during the night. I took advantage of the hedgehog's departure to check the hedgehog house. Although the bedding that I saw being collected is in the nest, there is no sign that there are any young present.
Five species of butterfly appeared in the garden today, Red Admiral, Comma, Large White, Holly Blue and this Speckled Wood.
The hairy caterpillar that I've been photographing on the Birch has been identified for me by Richard Clark - He is sure that it is a Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda). He referred me to a useful web site (by Reg Fry) that contains many caterpillar photographs. If you visit that site and select the Pale Tussock you will see pictures almost identical to mine.
Unfortunately, the caterpillar has disappeared once again. I've searched all the branches and leaves for about a metre around it's last known resting place and have found no trace of it, so perhaps I wil not be able to follow its progress after all!
After seeing what appeared to be Old Lady moths flying past the cctv camera last night, for the first time in ages I went out with a camera to check for moths.
Sure enough, I found three Old Lady moths (Mormo maura) on the Buddleia, this one looking quite worn.
There were several other moths within reach, including this Gothic (Naemia typica);
what I think may be a Lesser Yellow Underwing (Noctua comes),
and this one that I haven't made my mind up about as yet, although it could well be a Large Yellow Underwing (Noctua pronuba).
9 July - One degree cooler again today as more clouds brought the threat of showers. There were several distant rumbles of thunder during the day, but we only had a few brief periods of light rain during the afternoon as the heavier showers passed us by.
This morning, I was out the garden to take some bumblebee pictures when Sheila drew my attention to a fascinating moment in the sky. At 9.50am, just to the east of us a Cumulus cloud appeared to be having a layer blown off the top of it.
By the time I had pointed my camera at it, the layer was already separating from the main cloud. (this photograph was badly over-exposed because I used the settings intended for a shady bit of the garden!).
This group of pictures showed what happened to the formation within the next half-minute. It had more or less completely disappeared within a minute of the first picture being taken - curious. Were we looking at a layer of ice crystals being blown away from the top of the cloud, only to change back into water vapour?
Now for the reason I was out in the garden in the first place - At the end of the big pond nearest the house we always have Great Willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum) which dominate the pond at this time of year, with the tallest at over 6ft high.
These plants actually grow within the limits of the pond on an area that stays permanently moist, but only gets flooded very occasionally.
The first plant has been in flower for the last four days, and steps are needed for a photograph like this one!
Down at ground level, between the stems of the Willowherbs, and the much shorter Red Campions, is situated one of our garden's hidden wonders. Look carefully at the large version of this picture and you will see a dome of moss, which measures around 20cm across, over 15cm high, and which seems to move slightly when you look at the real thing.
It's the nest of our carder bees. They have nested in the same place for several years, but in the past the nest has not risen above its surroundings in this way.
Without catching some bees to examine them closely I can't be sure of the species, but I think they are probably the Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum).
Understandably, they seem to be the most common bee in the garden, and this one was making a quick stop at a Red Campion right next to the nest before taking its load of pollen inside.
This Speckled Bush Cricket nymph (Leptophyes punctatissima), just over 1cm body length, found its way onto our garden table, despite the table being about 28-29 inches tall and some 5 feet away from any vegetation (sorry for the mixed measurements!).
The picture was taken after I transferred it to a mint plant.
While checking the Birch again for the missing caterpillar I came across a couple of Oak Bush Cricket nymphs (Meconema thalassinium), and the encouraging sight of nine Orange Ladybirds. I'll be making a point of checking on them frequently as summer progresses.
During the cold weather of last month ladybirds were at a premium in the garden, with the few sightings make being almost entirely of Harlequins.
I haven't been checking on the cctv images today so there's no hedgehog update tonight.
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