The Garden Diary 2008


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1 January - New Year's Day

A Happy New Year to you.

For me, after what was a bit of a frustrating year in 2007 it would be easy to write a long list of New Year resolutions. While I won't bore you with this, I must at least try to fulfil a couple - I must try to avoid the long gaps that appeared in the diaries last year, and after failing to get there last year, we must get to Cornwall at least a couple of times in 2008!

I have a special reason for making sure that the latter resolution is fulfilled. I love to go snorkelling, but the CFS means that I get tired very quickly, so Sheila surprised me with a fantastic present at Christmas. She gave me a SeaDoo scooter, a sort of torpedo device with an electric motor that I can use to get to the spots where I want to snorkel, instead of always relying on my kayak. The scooter will be perfect to use out of the cove that we spend most of our time at.

There is another resolution that I must keep this year - I must make sure that I get a calendar produced on time for 2009! I'm afraid that the 2008 calendar is now unlikely to appear (although I may still try to put one together before the end of January if everything else goes well).

Bug nymph (unidentified) feeds on miteWhile it is still very much with me, the flu bug has, needless to say, been out of reach of my camera today. However, I can include a picture of a small, 2mm long bug nymph that I found on one of the logs this morning.

When I first saw it, it was feeding on what I think is a mite. On the logs I occasionally come across adults of what I suspect is the same species, and at the beginning of October I photographed one that was feeding on a barkfly nymph.


Bug nymph - oblique view

This oblique view shows how compressed the bug's body is, and how its long legs help it manoeuvre over the rough surface.

In the photographs, notice the feathery white stalks that protrude from the wood. I presume that these are fruiting structure of one of the the fungi that are breaking down the timber.

It's almost as though the bug has to wander hunt for its prey in a microscopic meadow!

Short-winged form of Ectopsocus petersi (Barkfly)


And I can't start the year without a barkfly. I believe that this is a late stage (late instar) nymph of Ectopsocus petersi as the adult's wings extend quite a long way beyond the end of the abdomen.

This is actually a short-winged form (brachypterous) of the adult and not a nymph - Thanks to Bob Saville for correcting my mistake.



3 January - What a disappointing day! The temperature didn't rise above 2C all day, the skies remained grey, and worst of all the promised snow turned out to be less than a handful of flakes that disappeared as soon as they landed....

Before I go further into today's entry I need to point out corrections that I needed to make to a couple of recent entries. In yesterday's entry I suggested that the barkfly image was of a nymph. Bob Saville (National Barkfly Recording Scheme) has let me know that it is in fact an adult, and that this short-winged form is described as brachypterous. The same is true for the E. axillaris individual that I recorded on 29 December. The condition is common in both of these species.

Barkfly (Loensia variegata) on log

Following an e-mail from Bob I went to check the log that the barkflies were photographed on.

At first I couldn't see any adult barkflies, although a few nymphs of Loensia variegata were moving around on the bark despite the cold conditions. Then, as I turned the log over I was surprised to see this very fresh looking adult L. variegata walking about.


The last time I saw one of these was at the end of November, and I see on the Barkfly website that the adults would normally be found from mid-June to mid-September, so this would appear to way out of its normal season!

In the evening I found a single P. milleri adult and two E. axillaris adults, one short and one long-winged (probably the ones that I have already photographed over the last week). All three were tucked away in places on the underside of the log.

Bug (unidentified) on log



Having photographed the bug nymph yesterday, I thought I ought to include a adult today - this one tucked away under the log, in a split in the bark.



The bugs are not the only predators that the barkflies have to contend with. While there is little evidence of spiders out in the garden, they are still active in the shelter of the log pile.

Spider on log

This tiny individual resides in a split in a log adjacent to the one I've been watching the barkflies on. That log too has barkfly nymphs present on it, and although it is not included in this photograph I could see a small wing which could be from a barkfly adult.

While the abdomen seems to have very little in the way of markings (difficult to see in the photograph because it reflected the light from the flash) its iridescence is quite striking.

A look through my spider guide suggests that it could be one of the very large family called the Linyphiidae (also known as the 'money spiders').

Not to forget the rest of the garden, the squirrel was here again just before lunchtime, and on the 1st I should have included my first frog count of the year - with the big pond still waiting for my attention to clear the spawning area, I could see 14 frogs peering out from the duckweed covered water. As soon as I stop coughing and spluttering I've got to don the long gloves and get to work!


6 January - The coughing and spluttering continue as the bugs inside continue to leave me feeling very frustrated.

Since the previous entry, the weather has remained more or less dry, with the daytime temperature peaking at between 7 and 8C. When I first looked out this morning soon after 8am there was no sign of frost, but the overnight temperature was still dropping and within half an hour there were white patches on the caravan shelter and on my neighbour's shed. However, the temperature rose back up to near 7C during the day. At 8.15pm it's just over 7C and it's drizzling.

Blue Tit nestbox - low quality cctv image

This morning I spent a while clearing spider webs from the Blue Tit nestbox and setting up a cctv camera to start the year's monitoring. The space behind the nestbox itself is a paradise for Pholcus phalangioides throughout the year.

For the moment it is using just low level tungsten lighting so but before the nesting season gets under way I will be reconnecting the timed LED lighting to give better quality images.

There is no sign that the box has been used for roosting, which is no surprise.

At the risk of boring everyone silly, the only other thing I did outside today was to have a look at some barkflies. Having found back at the beginning of November that we had the nationally scarce species Peripsocus milleri, in the middle of the month I photographed a large group of them on a log. I decided to put that log into a 'safe place', together with several other logs also with numerous examples on. Since then they have been left undisturbed in an open topped box under a covered garden bench).

This evening I decided to take a look at the logs. I only took a couple of small pieces out from the box, so most have remained undisturbed. What I found was interesting. First of all I could see numerous dead adults, and on the pieces I looked at I could see no nymphs.

Barkfly (Epicaecilius pilipennis - brachypterous form) on log


However, there were live (and very active) adults present. I counted ten, all of which were short-winged forms, I assume of the same species. If you click on the image you will see four examples.

Over the next couple of days I must some of the other logs in the box to see if I can find any 'normal' adults and nymphs. Based on what I'm seeing on the main log pile I would expect to see nymphs.


I also saw two live adults and a couple of nymphs of Loensia variegata on the same logs.

The Squirrel and the Song Thrush visited again today. The Thrush is an early visitor (at around 8.15am today) so I may have missed other visits by it, while the squirrel once again waited until after 11am to visit.


7 January - A mixed day, with a high of just over 8C (only briefly achieved) and short shower of rain.

Grey Squirrel



The day got off to a good start when the squirrel turned up early and for once perched in a decent spot to nibble at a peanut.




Barkfly (Epicaecilius pilipennis)

The day took an interesting turn when I had an e-mail from Bob Saville about the short-winged barkflies I photographed yesterday. He suggested a closer look at the wing venation, with the possibility that they are not P. milleri.

The small size, along with the dark colouring meant that I couldn't get clear, closer images of them, but this shot shows better than the previous shots how hairy they are.


Barkfly wings (Epicaecilius pilipennis)To confirm the species I needed to dissect one and look at its forewings.

Doing this confirmed the presence of a somewhat incomplete-looking areola postica cell. This is an area at the rear of the wing which is not present on the wings of P. milleri.

The wing venation confirms that these barkflies are examples of Epicaecilius pilipennis, another new species for the garden.


Bob tells me that E. pilipennis has probably not been recorded in this part of the country, although it is relatively widespread in the UK. It was first described in Maderia, and described for the first time in the UK, in Scotland in 1999 (by Bob Saville, as it happens!).


9 January - After a quite wet, relatively mild (9C max) day yesterday, it's dry so far this morning (written at 10.10am), colder (4C)  and there have been breaks in the cloud cover to give brief interludes of sunshine.

One of those sunny spells seemed to encourage a Great Tit to think of Spring, and the inbox microphone picked up the sounds of activity outside the Tit nestbox.

Great Tit visiting the nestbox - low quality cctv image Moments later and a great Tit showed itself at the entrance. It flew off (and I think came to feed at the table before returning to the box and entering.

It stayed for less than half a minute, enough time to take a good look around the box. I've just looked back at last year's diary - in 2007 the first recorded visit by a Great Tit was on 14 January, but of course, they didn't end up nesting here. We have a long wait before this first look turns into serious interest and nesting in 2008!

I will probably set up the nestbox diaries over the next few days.


10 January - Not even a high temperature of over 10C could help to brighten up a very dull day - I think we had lights on somewhere in the house all day today. There was some rain, especially in the late afternoon and it was very breezy, with gusts of over 30mph.

Tonight the clouds cleared, and I headed down to the log pile to see if the milder conditions had encouraged insect activity. A search of the 'usual' log revealed just one adult Loensia variegata and one nymph of that species. Also, there were three adult Ectopsocus axillaris, but although I spent some twenty minutes checking the log I could find no examples of either adult or nymph examples of Peripsocus milleri. A single mouse dropping on top of the log indicated mouse activity since I last checked it.

Although P. milleri wasn't present on that log, I did find a couple of adults on another piece of timber of the same type (English Walnut - I don't think I've mentioned that before!), along with another L. variegata adult and a couple of nymphs of both species.

Barkfly (Peripsocus milleri) - side view (left)


This individual, perched right next to a cut edge on the log, gave me the chance to take some side-on views of an adult  P. milleri in response to a request from Bob Saville.



Barkfly (Loensia variegata) grazing on log


While I concentrated on the P. milleri pictures, this L. variegata seemed oblivious to my activities as it grazed on the end-grain of the log.

While P. milleri is just under 3mm in length, this L. variegata measures around 5mm (head to folded wing tip).



12 January - After a really miserable, largely wet day yesterday, this morning we awoke to largely blue skies which have stayed with us into the afternoon, and it is a bit cooler, with the temperature at 6C at approaching 2pm.

No photographs so far today, but there are two sightings worthy of note -

At around 10am I spotted our first 'real' winter visitor, a male Blackcap moving between the Rowan, Ivy and the Birch. The fatball holders are full and a camera set up by the window, just in case it reappears and ventures down this end of the garden.

Secondly, while I'm used to see the Goldfinches here frequently throughout the day, for the first time ever I saw a pair engaged in courtship feeding in the Hawthorn, presumably the male passing bits of sunflower kernel to his partner. It repeated the action several times as I watched from the bedroom window.


13 January - A mild day with a high of just under 10C and it was breezy again, with gusts over 30mph. It stayed mainly dry during the day but it's raining tonight.

I've seen no sign of the Blackcap today, and the squirrel has been absent for two days now.

The Snowdrops are showing the first signs of flower development as their buds have started to turn white.


18 January - A gap in the diary, although the last five days haven't been wasted. The weather has continued to be mild, largely dull with quite a bit of rain, but with the occasional bright spell (especially at night!).

I took advantage of a couple of dry periods to do some clearing around the big pond, including the path between the ponds. There, I removed some creeping stems of the Great Willow herb and pruned the Elder, Willow and a few scraggly branches on the Hawthorn.  I also  removed some of the spreading growth of the Reedmace.

Tonight I was able to count 15 frogs in the two ponds, a number that has remained almost constant so far this month. I would expect to see numbers increasing very soon now. By this time last year I was seeing newts in the pond, but there has been no sign of them so far this month

It has been very quiet on the bird front, with no further sightings of the Blackcap, and no return of the Song Thrush, although a couple of days ago I watched the Thrush through my spotting scope as it sang in a tree over in the Brickfields Country Park.

Great Tit on feeder stand



The Great Tits come to visit the feeders, but it seems that the miserable weather has put them off thinking about nestboxes for the time being.



I haven't looked at the log pile over the last week, but I did take a look tonight, when the outside temperature was 12C in slight drizzly conditions. Over about 15 minutes, I could see no sign of any P. milleri adults, although I saw a couple of nymphs. Similarly, I could only see nymphs of L. variegata.

Barkfly (Ectopsocus axillaris) - brachypterous form


However, I could see seven adult Ectopsocus axillaris (which have been on the log since around 7 December).

Five were of the short-winged form (brachypterous),


Barkfly (Ectopsocus axillaris) - normal form



and just two examples with normal length wings.





19 January - The mild weather continues. Yesterday, the temperature rose from a low of 6C in the early morning to 12C by mid-day. That temperature stayed at 12C right through last night and for most of today, except for a time this afternoon when it rose to 13C. At 9.15pm it is still 12C. It has been overcast all day with occasional light showers.

Common frog (and pea-cockles)


Tonight's frog count up was to 18 mature adults,



Juvenile Common frog



and this 1 inch long juvenile.

In the first picture, notice all the pea-cockles scattered across the muddy bottom and attached to plants.


Common frogs (paired)



Most significantly, this is the first pairing that I have seen this year.

No newts seen yet.



I must complete the task of pond clearing before much more time goes by. Looking at the forecast, if I can't get it done tomorrow morning it looks as though I'll have to wait until Tuesday.

Even though I don't expect spawning to start for a while, I have now set up the pond diary for all future frog reports...


20 January - For the second night running the temperature only dipped a couple of tenths of a degree below 12C and on a dull grey, but dry morning it was over 13C before noon.

Over the last few years I have seen hedgehog activity in the garden in mid-January. I've been wondering if the present mild spell might have brought at least one out of hibernation, but so far I'm seeing no signs that a hedgehog has been visiting the veranda. There are plenty of small slugs in the garden and earthworms are active at the soil surface,  so any hedgehogs that do appear will not face a shortage of food. Nevertheless, I'll be putting out some hedgehog food tonight, just in case, and I've set up a cctv camera to monitor visitors to the food during the night.

I hope to add photographs later to show that the first Snowdrop has opened, along with a Crocus and a Red Campion - sorry, I didn't get to take any photographs!


21 January - The spell of 12C mildness has come to an end with the temperature 'plummeting' to just below 10C this morning, but the grey skies are still with us, along with a strong west-north-westerly breeze.

Last night's cctv vigil revealed just two visits to the hedgehog food, in the late evening and again around 5.40am, by a cat - no sign of a hedgehog. I had my fingers crossed that the camera may have caught a glimpse of a fox as we've heard their calls several times over the last week.


23 January - After the temperature hovered around 10C on the 21st, yesterday started with a low of just above 2C. The temperature then climbed gradually to just below 12C by noon today.

The day before yesterday, son Simon brought us some timber for our log burner. This afternoon he returned with a very large trailer piled high with logs from an Ash tree that he had to fell - I think there is probably enough to see us through not only the rest of this winter but all of next winter as well! The trailer is now parked in the garden, but won't be unloaded before Saturday. Once that's done I anticipate that the whole West Wing will have to become a wood store for months to come!

Other than clearing space for the trailer, I haven't spent time in the garden today. Instead, the computer has been out of action while I sorted out the threading of cctv cables down from my loft.


25 January - The weather has remained dry over the last couple of days. Yesterday saw the temperature dropping during the day, dipping below 5C last night, reaching a high of nearly 10C today in a chilly north-westerly breeze.

When I went out to count the frogs at around 10pm I didn't make it as far as the big pond as I came across a hedgehog for the first time this month. I didn't attempt to photograph it as it was stressed enough by its brief encounter with me. I didn't have the cctv camera recording last night, but I will be setting it up tonight.

I've spent some of today preparing the West Wing ready for the logs when they are unloaded and split tomorrow (not by me, I hasten to add!). For a while I stopped to watch a pair of Robins. It seemed that the female was hoping to be fed by her partner. He got close to it several times but I didn't actually see it happen. The Rooks are getting quite noisy, calling both from the trees in the Brickfields Country Park (where a pair have nested previously) and from the rooftops in our road.


26 January - Ten hours of video from last night recorded no visitors at all to the food dish on the veranda. The temperature dipped down to 5C last night, so it was no colder that when the hedgehog was about on the previous night.

The latest log pile


By the middle of the afternoon, all the wood had been split and much of the West Wing is now a log pile measuring some 8x6x5.5ft - probably at least 4 month's supply to our burner.




27 January - Spring cannot be far off now - today I heard the rather annoying song of the first electric lawn mower of the year!

In fact, it was a very pleasant day, with hazy sunshine and  high temperature of just under 10C. Tonight it is back down to 5C by 9.20pm.

The RSPB's Garden Birdwatch took place this weekend with participants recording the largest number of each bird species seen in a garden over a period of 1 hour. After yesterday's activity in the garden I hoped that birds would be here as normal today. As it turned out, it remained quiet all day and my count ended up as follows -

16 House Sparrows, 2 Blackbirds, 3 Blue Tits, 1 Great Tit, 2 Collared Doves, 4 Goldfinches, 2 Robins, and 2 Starlings, with all numbers lower that I often see here.

Other 'usuals' failed to appear, including Dunnocks, Wood Pigeons or Chaffinches (which have started to appear daily).

The cctv camera didn't record any hedgehogs last night (just 1 cat at 4.30am!).


29 January - A pleasant day, with hazy sunshine in the morning, although that gave way to grey skies as the afternoon progressed - another high of around 10C.

Starling in the sunshine


With the sound of bird song in the air, it was almost like a Spring morning, and the bird visitors included a quartet of Long-tailed Tits - the first that I've seen this month.

The Wood Pigeons tackled the problem of accessing the Ivy berries, and the Hawthorn was a convenient perch for the Sparrows and Starlings to catch the morning sunshine.



There are quite a few Primroses out now, although many of the blooms have fallen victim to the slugs - where are the hedgehogs when you need them! Last night the cctv camera recorded just a cat (I think it has been the same one each night) visiting the food dish, so I'm not going to put out any more fresh food until I know that there is a hedgehog active on a regular basis.

I spent some time doing some tidying up around the garden before bad weather is forecast to arrive towards the end of the week. After the current spell of mild and largely dry weather we could actually do with some rain to top up the two ponds.

Up to now, all the crocuses that have appeared have flopped straight away. This morning I found one that had stayed upright and would have made a good subject for a photograph. By the time I had finished with the jobs I was doing, it had closed up in reaction to the loss of sunshine this afternoon.


30 January - Just a brief entry today. We had some rain last night, although I think the ponds could have done with a bit more. Today it has been dry, with some sunny spells, but colder than recently, with a high of just 6C. Tonight, at 9pm it is 4C.

For me it was largely a day off, with neither work done in the garden nor photographs taken. This morning there was a brief visit by a Song Thrush which headed for the raisins under the Hawthorn. It was very nervous and left almost immediately. There were also several visits by a Coal Tit, and the Squirrel appeared for the first time since last week.


31 January - On of those day when I struggled to stay awake. Outside we had a January gale pass though during the morning, with high winds of up to 40mph and heavy rain before we had some periods of sunshine in the afternoon.

The Song Thrush was here again first thing this morning. It was too dull to even attempt a photograph, but I shall set up the cctv camera to try capturing an image tomorrow morning.

Click on images to see larger versions

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