The Garden Diary 2008


Part 2

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16 November - A day that started fairly bright but which turned dull, and wet for a while by the afternoon. This evening it has also got colder, with the temperature dropping down quickly from a high of over 13C around the middle of the day to below 9C this evening, for the first time for several days (and nights). Yesterday the high was just under 14C during the afternoon before it dipped down to 11C overnight.

Our Himalayan Birch loses its leaves



Back on the 8th I took a picture of our Birch tree as it showed off its Autumn colour to great effect. Since then most of its colour has transferred to the ground below and it has now shed all but a few of its leaves.





When I took the first pictures, on the 8th, it seemed that our birch was holding onto its foliage later than our neighbour's native Birch. However, not the tables seem to be turned, and during a sunny spell this morning, the native birch was still able to show off a golden crown.


White Dead-nettles and Red Campions in flower



Down at ground level there are still a few plants continuing to flower on the mild, damp conditions.

The most obvious are the White Dead Nettles and the Red Campions, although I haven't seen any bumblebees visiting them over the last couple of days.

Ragged Robin in flower in flower




At the side of the big pond the one remaining Ragged Robin continues to flower.



Primroses in flower


While the previous plants are at the tail end of their flowering seasons, a couple of Primrose plants are just starting to flower.

They are not looking very impressive

Slugs at work after dark



because they are providing an irresistible food source for the numerous small slugs that seem to be enjoying the current weather conditions.


Caterpillars feed after dark



While the slugs are the main culprits for the damage to plants, there are also small numbers of caterpillars feeding on leaves.

If I get an evening when I'm feeling awake enough I will take more time to look for other caterpillars that may be around.

Fungus feasted on by slugs


This fungus fruiting body had developed out of a log below the birch tree.

It has also attracted the attention of slugs. However, if you look closely at the large version of this picture you may see a pattern of lines that suggest that the undamaged area of the mushroom was protected from the slug(s) by a leaf (probably from the birch) which subsequently fell off.


Common Green Shieldbug in its winter colouring


Back near the house I have a couple of young Buddleia plants in pots, and the top of one has become the chosen spot for this Common Green Shieldbug.

It had been there for the last seven days, gradually acquiring its bronze, over-wintering colour - I don't know why it's taken me this long to record its presence!


A harvestman on a bamboo leaf



And one more photograph, of another creature that has been neglected by me this year - a harvestman (with a leg missing).




20 November - A pleasant Autumnal day with the temperature approaching close to 13C during the afternoon, which I spent outside completing a bit of woodwork that I started and then put on hold a week or so ago.

Christmas lights over Regent's Street, LondonOn the 18th, Sheila and I spent the afternoon and evening on a rare trip to London. I'm afraid that these days even that is too much to cope with (!) although it ended with a delicious 'Afternoon Tea' at the Ritz - a Christmas present (for last Christmas) from one of our sons and his partner.

I took the little Olympus with me but only took a couple of pictures, including this one of a giant 'spider web', one of several which decorate Regent Street for this Christmas.

That reminds me - I read that the astronauts on the International Space Station have lost a spider, or rather it has escaped from its container - could be interesting!

Sunset over mybitoftheplanet


After our expedition, yesterday was more or less cancelled, and I slept through what Sheila tells me was a very colourful sunset.

However, there was a repeat performance this evening, with a really fiery end to the day.





21 November - Not such a good day, with some damp spells, with the temperature dropping steadily in the course of the day from 11C in the early morning to 5C as I write this at 10.30pm.

It was another day when the garden was ignored, at least until about 10.15pm when I decided to pop down to the West Wing and check on the log pile.

Barkflies ( Epicaecilius pilipennis) on oak log after duskWith the temperature at 6C I didn't expect to see much going on, so it was a real surprise to see one of the oak logs 'alive' with barkflies - dozens of them (perhaps 100+) all over a small log at the top of the pile.

As usual, as soon as I shone at torch at the log many of the barkflies dispersed. This picture shows just a small number of them (27), concentrated along cracks in the bark, although the whole surface is covered with their droppings.

Barkflies ( Epicaecilius pilipennis) on oak log


A closer look confirmed that the species is Epicaecilius pilipennis. While this is the species that has been most numerous here this Autumn, this is the first time I have seen them congregating in such numbers.

Tomorrow night the forecast is for sub-zero temperatures. I wonder what activity I will see under those conditions.


I see that a new report about the plight of House Sparrows in towns and cities expresses concern about their decline, and puts a lot blame on the lack of insects in gardens as decks and paved areas have replaced greenery. I guess that to a certain extend I'm as guilty as many,  covering a fair area of my garden with a concrete driveway, as well as sheds and the West Wing. I have at least tried to compensate by providing lots of shrubbery which is left undisturbed as much as possible. In addition, the admittedly non-native bamboo plants have usually proved to be good hunting grounds for the sparrows during the nesting season, although there appeared to be far fewer aphids on them this year. As for our sparrows, while I haven't mentioned them for a while, our resident flock is holding on, although there seem to be fewer than last year. It's difficult to be certain, but I think that most if not all the sparrow boxes are being used for roosting.


22 November - A dry, quite bright but cold day with a high of just below 6C.

It was another day when I did nothing constructive in the garden beyond moving some logs form the West Wing to the veranda and checking on the barkflies.

During the day I could see just one or two barkflies on the log featured in last night's entry. However, tonight at 9.30pm and despite the temperature having dropped to 2C, the log is once again a busy place. While I don't see so many barkflies active on it (I checked the log nearly an hour earlier tonight) there are still dozens of them on the log. Tonight I used a red filter over my torch but some still reacted to it by moving quickly to head for darker spots.

I've still got to catch up with the large images on this page. I'm afraid that I'm still trying to wake myself up after the London trip - I hope to get back to normal before much longer!


23 November - A really mixed up day, with snow before dawn (I missed it!), rain by breakfast, and bright spells during the rest of the day, with the temperature getting up to almost 8C this afternoon. There has been some heavy rain this evening, but the sky was cloudless by 10pm. Much of the day saw us having a grand family get-together with our sons, their partners, and our grand-daughter - very enjoyable!

 I checked 'the' log again at 8pm (when the temperature around the logs was about 4C) and it had almost as many barkflies (E. pilipennis) moving about as on the night before last. Also, on an adjacent log I spotted a solitary Loensia variegata.


27 November - The temperature has crept up again over the last couple of days, with it at around 8C for most of yesterday, dipping to 6C over-night and getting above 10C today with it cloudy and sometimes damp.

While I've continued to do very little in the garden, yesterday I made some modifications to a fibre-optic light source that I've bought on e-Bay. This light will provide me with a useful alternative to a ring-flash for high-magnification macro photography.

Barkflies on barkToday I put the light to use as I turned again to one of the barkflies that resides on a piece of bark on my veranda.

In this picture you can see an adult (wingless) Reuterella helvimacula in the bottom right corner. It has spent most of its time at this spot for the last few days,


Barkfly (Reuterella helvimacula) feeding on algae(?)



although today I watched it feeding in the lighter coloured area at the top of the photograph.




Area grazed by Barkfly (Reuterella helvimacula)


It was difficult to see exactly what it was feeding on, but this picture shows the area being grazed in that first picture.

To my eyes it looks as though it was feeding on the green patches of what I think may be algae, although I can't suggest what the pale areas consist of.




Also on the piece of bark (bottom-left in the first picture above) is a nymph. I believe that it is a young Epicaecilius pilipennis - look closely and you will see the developing wings.




There is also a single adult E. pilipennis on the bark. That is in real contrast to the situation on the log at the top of the pile in the log store. The mild weather seems to have encouraged more barkflies to turn up. There were adults all over it all through the day, and tonight there  is well in excess of a hundred E. pilipennis visible on it - certainly the largest number that I've seen on it so far. There are also small numbers appearing on other logs.

Hopefully, I've now caught up with the large pictures on this page.


28 November - Another dull and often damp day with the temperature  slipping down so that it is just over 3C at 10pm.

Just a couple of pictures today, still on the barkfly theme. I've found numerous more groups of the iridescent barkfly eggs that I first noted during October. I continue to suspect that they belong to Epicaecilius pilipennis, the species that seems most active at the moment.

Barkfly eggs (Epicaecilius pilpennis?)


This evening I managed to get a couple of closer images of the eggs to show their dimpled appearance as well as their striking colouring.



Protective silk over Barkfly eggs (Epicaecilius pilpennis?)


As usual, these eggs are protected by a curtain of silk, and in this picture you can see how the strands are covered with droplets.

These must sticky, because when I'm checking for barkflies I look out for their spherical droppings or other debris that may be stuck to the silk. However, I don't find other organisms stuck to them, so they cannot be too sticky.



29 November - An even duller and damper day, with the temperature rising from zero before dawn to a high of just over 3C at the end of the afternoon.

With the temperature low again barkfly activity is reduced on the log pile although I could still see more than fifty on the bark of the log I'm monitoring.

Hunting spider with winter gnatWhile checking on the barkfly I spotted this spider tucking into an evening meal which appears to be a winter gnat, the insects that are often seen swarming. The wing venation suggests that it is Trichocera annulata.

As for the spider, the position it was in meant that I couldn't get a dorsal view. I can't be sure of its ID but it is a hunting spider.

Hunting spider - close-up to show eye pattern



I've been looking through my spider guide for an  illustration of a spider with banded legs and a similar arrangement of eight eyes, but have had no success so far.



Although there may be no sign of any barkflies in today's pictures, their presence in the neighbourhood is betrayed by their spherical droppings which you can see attached to the silk that criss-crosses the wood.


Click on images to see larger versions

2008 Garden Diary Index.....Autumn holiday. ...Next chapter (December)