The Garden Diary 2008
1 November - November has started on a rather gloomy and damp note, with grey skies all day and rain this afternoon and evening.
I think that there is still at least one hedgehog visiting, although over the last two nights only a small amount of the food that I put out has been eaten.
Yesterday afternoon I spent a while talking with my neighbour over the garden fence. While we chatted I noticed quite a bit of social wasp activity amongst the branches of the shrubs as they hunted for insects. I must admit that I haven't spent time watching the Ivy tree this autumn as there are far fewer flowers than usual as a result of my pruning it earlier in the year.
With the days now quite cold the log fire is in action all day. This means that I have to juggle the logs in the log store to use the oldest wood first. Removing those logs from the log store takes time as I check each piece for insects etc. The most numerous visible inhabitants are the barkflies (which I transfer to logs that will not be burned), and the largest are spiders ( I must take time to photograph these).
Besides these, I haven't seen any other animal types on the logs besides this single moth chrysalis which I found this morning. The log has been put into the 'reserved' pile that already contains the barkflies.
Returning to the barkflies, the only species that I have found on the logs that I have moved over the last couple of days is Epicaecilius pilipennis. Most of these have wings shorter than their bodies (brachypterous form), as seen here.
However, a relatively small number have longer wings. In all other aspects they appear to be the same, so I suspect that they are simply long-winged variants rather than a different species.
While most of the specimens that I've found over this last week or so have been winged adults there are also some nymphs about as well, although not many.
This individual seems to have 'decorated' itself with droppings - camouflage?
Since my last report I haven't found any more egg clusters.
In the way of an aside, my software engineer son showed me his latest mobile phone yesterday, one of the new Google phones. Amazing - especially when I saw how mybitoftheplanet looked and worked on it! It would be fantastic for watching the webcam while away from home.....
2 November - After a couple of cold nights (with frost the night before last), last night was much less cold, with the temperature creeping slowly up and not down under cloudy skies as the night progressed. That trend has continued today so that at 5pm it is nearly 10C. And it's been just about dry all day.
I spent some time this morning scouring the bamboo plants for barkflies.
Last year I would have found quite a few, including adults, nymphs and eggs, but today's search revealed just this one quite pale example of Graphopsocus cruciatus resting under a leaf, protected by a flimsy lattice of silk.
There were a couple of wasps about. They seemed to be searching not for insects but for patches of honeydew deposited by the aphids that are thriving now more than they did earlier in the year.
Where there are aphids on the bamboos I often come across hoverfly larvae which prey on them. I saw several today, all very small, and including this one pictured mid-meal.
While I was checking the bamboo an adult hoverfly perched briefly on a high leaf. Shiny black and with very thin, lemon yellow stripes on its thorax, it looked similar to Dasyurphus tricinctus but I didn't manage to get a photograph so I can't confirm that.
Tonight it is damp outside, the temperature is just over 9C at 9.25pm and there is a hedgehog feeding as I write this.
3 November - Another very dull, grey day which stayed just about dry, and with the temperature reaching 10C in the late afternoon after staying above 7C all last night.
I'm sticking with the barkfly theme again after I spent a short time down the log store picking some timber to bring to the house. As usual, each bit was checked and barkflies found were transferred to the 'safe' pile. I found almost exclusively E. pilipennis, but on what turned out to be the last log I checked I found what was obviously something different.
My first impression is that I haven't seen this one before (I need to check back in the diaries).
It has distinctive markings, is very hairy, including its brachypterous wings, and it doesn't resemble any of the illustrations at the National Barkfly Recording Scheme website.
- Thanks to Bob Saville of the NBRS for identifying this barkfly as Pteroxanium kelloggi, definitely a first for the garden, and another species that is described as uncommon in Britain. The pictures will be added to that website at some point.
4 November - Another dull but dry day with the overnight temperature of 8C going up to 10.5C by the end of the afternoon.
My only activity out in the garden today was to refill the bird feeders. They are being emptied faster now than since last winter. Unfortunately, fair proportion of the sunflowers and thistle seeds end up on the ground as the Goldfinches are quite wasteful feeders - still, it's good to see them here as regulars.
So much for my checking logs before bringing them down to the house. Today I picked up one piece from the store on the veranda and found ten barkflies on it!
There seemed to be a mixture of species on it - E. Pilipennis, P. milleri, and another P. kelloggi. This was almost identical to the one I photographed yesterday.
I took a couple more photographs of it, and this 'portrait' which suggests that it has a smiling face, although what appear to be a nose and mouth are just markings.
Also on the log was this barkfly. At first glance it appeared to be a different species. However, on closer inspection, despite being bigger (3mm as opposed to the 2.3mm of the previous examples) it does seem to have the same markings.
Both examples are able to run around very quickly on the logs. They seem to be more 'athletic' than the other barkflies I see here.
And in the way of a break from the barkflies, a fungus that has produced its fruiting bodies on a twig that was lying on the ground under the Hawthorn.
I'm not going to try an identification of this one.
There seems to have been a shortage of larger fungi in the garden this Autumn - or they've been hidden from view!
8 November - A grey and damp start this morning, which is disappointing after yesterday began with bright sunshine which hung on, albeit rather hazy, for much of the day (we did have a short, sharp shower during the late afternoon).
That sunshine really lit up our Himalayan Birch as it produces its colourful finale to the summer.
The ground beneath it is already being carpeted by its leaves, and strong winds forecast for the weekend are likely to bring the display to a rapid end.
Yesterday afternoon I spent a while moving our stack of unseasoned logs to their storage space for the next few months. Needless to say, it took far longer than you would expect as I checked for barkflies, but I can now be sure that the pile should provide a good population to watch during the winter.
In particular, I was watching out for another example of P. kelloggi. It's funny how when you are looking for a specific species that they become harder to find!
However, I finally came across this single individual with a bold dark band across its wings. Just as in the previous example, the characteristic head markings are almost completely hidden by hairs.
P. kelloggi is the only confirmed resident (in the UK) species of the family Lepidopsocidae. As well as its hairy appearance, it has minute flattened scales on its body, and last night I set out to record these - thanks to Bob Saville for that challenge!
Fortunately, this little barkfly was quite cooperative, even when the lens was millimetres from it as I used magnifications of over x20 to record the scales on the region of its abdomen between its wings.
It was one of those moments when I would have loved to have got my hands on the new version of my Canon 5D, with its doubled resolution (in my dreams, in my dreams...).
Anyway, the barkfly, no worst for its experience under the lens, was returned to a log on our veranda as soon as I had photographed the scales.
Tonight I hoped to include some pictures from the local firework display, but the weather was far from camera friendly so I didn't even try. Perhaps next year....
Checking the NBRS website it appears to be Reuterella helvimacula. If so, then the absence of wings (described as apterous) means that it must be a female. The males have wings that are longer than their bodies (macropterous).
*** See tomorrow's entry for a correction to this identification - it is in fact a rare species!***
I only managed one decent photograph tonight as the barkfly was on the move constantly. I hope to get more pictures tomorrow.
My Barkfly handbook (T R New) says that these are usually in colonies. The piece of wood was part of a load of seasoned timber that I brought back from my tree surgeon son's home. Most of it has already been burned, but I shall be checking the rest of the load tomorrow (weather permitting).
In case anyone who visited the diary earlier today is confused by a change of date, I started the entry before I was fully awake this morning, and hadn't caught up with the calendar!
9 November - A grey, dull and sometimes blustery day with the constant threat of rain, but with hardly any falling during the day.
I had an e-mail from Bob Saville this morning. He confirmed the scales in the pictures that I took yesterday, but he also had a very interesting correction to make about the barkfly that I photographed last night. It seems that my attempt at identification was wrong - that's not surprising, but what he told me about it most certainly is!
The barkfly is actually Pseudopsocus rostocki , a rare species in the UK, so much so that the photograph was the first one he has seen of a living specimen.
That e-mail prompted me to devote most of today to taking more photographs of it, and searching for any other examples that may have been in the same log pile.
This species is parthenogenetic, so that there are no males, and I read in my Barkfly handbook that they live in small colonies on bark, under silk canopies.
Having taken photographs of the adult I spent much of the day checking every log from the same pile with a magnifying lens(!). There were several other species that I expect to see here, and I came across young barkflies under silk in numerous of the cracks in the oak bark.
However, it was only when I came across one small patch of more dense silk that I found this, what could be an immature example of P. rostocki.
I cannot be certain of this identification so I must wait to hear what Bob thinks!
11 November - It's sunny this morning - a welcome contrast to the gloom and rain that plagued us all of yesterday.
Those conditions meant that nothing was done in the garden, but in the evening I did spend a bit of time watching the adult P. rostocki again, and it was an interesting few minutes. Bob tells me that nobody knows in detail what it feeds on, so I was fascinated to see my individual busy feeding.
The piece of oak that it's on has small growths of lichen, and the white marks you can see in this photograph show where the lichen has died.
It was on one of these patches that I saw the barkfly feeding. It wasn't possible to get a shot from the side, but I'm pretty certain that it was the white material that was being eaten. At one stage it moved away from the spot seen in this picture, but then returned a few seconds later to continue eating there.
I don't know that the white substance is - perhaps a fungus or just the skeletal remains of the lichen? I may try to look at some under higher magnification today.
I must confess a 'senior moment' regarding the immature barkfly in the picture taken two days ago. I thought I'd put the log somewhere safe, but when I went to look at it again yesterday it had disappeared - I think it may have ended up in our log burner!!!
I have since found a couple more that look similar and those logs now have coloured pins sticking in them to mark the spots where the barkflies are hidden under silk. The banded abdomen makes it possible that these nymphs are not P. rostocki but Reuterella helvimacula.
Hopefully I will keep the logs safe this time so that I can watch their progress.
After adding this morning's entry I decided that it was time to put the adult P. rostocki back outside, so the last time I saw it, it was on an oak log in the stake of unseasoned timber at the bottom of the garden - I wonder if I will come across it again sometime during next year.
In a way, I'm wondering if that was a premature move because when I took another look at the pictures I took of it feeding I realized that it was actually carrying some passengers who were completely out of focus in all but a couple of shots.
Look carefully at the large version of this picture and you can see a couple of mites (I think) at the front of its abdomen, each measuring around 0.1mm in length.
14 November - The weather really is playing about with us at the moment . Yesterday it was wet all day, the temperature starting off below 4C around breakfast time and climbing throughout the day to reach 11C in the evening. It stayed at that all night and today, and then rose to nearly 13C this afternoon. It has been overcast all day, with the cloud base below 1200ft - aircraft pass over us at that height just before starting their descent glide path into a nearby RAF base, and they weren't visible!
No photographs have been taken over the last couple of days (not even of barkflies!) as I've been doing other things. Today I spent several hours organising a new supply of timber (birch this time) that I collected from my son yesterday, and also making newspaper brickettes to boost our supply. That activity was interrupted when I spotted a Goldcrest hunting amongst the branches of the plants along the side of the garden. That was a real treat as it was July last year when I last recorded one here, and I was able to watch it for nearly ten minutes before it flew off. At one stage it shared a shrub with a Coal Tit.
After they had left, a flock of at least a dozen Blue Tits came into the garden to visit the feeders. This is the second time I've seen a group of this size here in the last three days - it's very unusual to see more than two of three of them at a time.
We continue to have at least one hedgehog visiting every evening, and today I found the body of a mature frog next to the small pond - I suspect that a local cat was responsible for that - my neighbour tells me that he saw a cat catching something from that pond on another occasion.
Click on images to see larger versions