The Garden Diary 2009

August (part 2)

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17 August - The last couple of days have been dry, with some pleasant sunshine, but also long cloudy periods. This morning was bright but cloudy, but much of the cloud dissipated during the afternoon.

As usual, my body is retaliating for the work put into the rose planting and I've needed to take things easy since the last entry. In the meantime the plants look as though they are perking up. Two of the roses  have opened and their perfume is working well, with a procession of honey and Bumble bees have been visiting. This afternoon I visited our local garden centre to get a couple of curved trellis panels to mount above (and slightly behind) the wall behind the roses to provide support when they grow taller.  These will be put into place tomorrow.

I continue to monitor the caterpillars mentioned in the previous entry. The looper now measures 19mm, having grown just 4mm since the 14th. In contrast, the smaller of the caterpillars on the Willow have increased in length from 15mm to 24mm, and the large individual has grown from 35mm to 42mm.

Caterpillar with silk shelter on Elder leaf


Like the Looper on the Birch, the caterpillars on the Elder appear to have been making very slow progress.

At 9.30pm I found this one partly out of its silk shelter - it measures just under 12mm in length.


Caterpillar on Elder leaf



This smaller individual had ventured completely clear of the silk. You can see how its body is covered with almost colourless bristles that closely resemble those of the leaf itself.


Staying with the caterpillar theme, a bit of a mystery. Yesterday morning we found this caterpillar, not on a plant but the back of a chair on our veranda.

Although superficially similar to those on the Willow, it differed in that it had a brown mark behind the head and the two black marks (present on both sides) that you can see in this photograph.


While its jaws were in constant movement and seemed to be testing whatever it came in contact with, it showed no interest in the Willow and Elder leaves already on the veranda, so I tried out just about every plant in the garden and it refused the lot.

Caterpillar found on chair - later in day, with darkening spots


I even resorted to lettuce without any luck.

In this picture, taken some hours after the first one you can see that the black spots had increased in size.

I did wonder if it was preparing to pupate, but unfortunately that hasn't happened at by tonight it had died.


Fever-fly (Dilophus febrilis) on pond plant


There was a 'different' insect down by the pond today. A common insect, but not one that I've seen here previously, it is (I believe) a female Fever-fly (Dilophus febrilis).

While they are about right through until October, they are most common in Spring.


Fever-fly (Dilophus febrilis), showing ring of spines around front tibia



My insect guide indicates that a characteristic of this species is the ring of spines around the end of the front tibia (second long segment of the leg, below the femur).




The fox continues to come and go. While it usually appears to be alone in the corner I think there may have been a second fox about on Saturday night. Yesterday 'our' fox returned at 5.29am but then left again at 6.43am, heading back in twenty minutes later. In the evening it first appeared at 8.40pm and over the next hour was back and forth four times before disappearing for the night. I haven't looked at today's recording as yet.

And still no hedgehogs....


22 August - Sorry for yet another gap in the diary - I'm afraid it's been the usual problem of a lack of energy to get much done apart from necessary tasks.

Since the last entry we have had mainly good weather with just a bit of rain on one day, and a high of nearly 30C a few days ago.

On the Willow twigs there are now just two caterpillars. The largest one disappeared two mornings ago, and one of the smaller individuals was gone yesterday morning. I searched the area of the veranda around the table but they had disappeared. While I suppose that the larger one could have headed for the ground to pupate, but the smaller caterpillar wouldn't have been ready to follow suite. We get Blue Tits visiting the veranda, perhaps one had a caterpillar for breakfast! I hope to add an update about the remaining caterpillars tomorrow.

The fox continues to be somewhat unpredictable in its comings and goings from the bottom of the garden. With dusk gradually occurring earlier each evening it is leaving earlier than when I first started monitoring it, and last night it left its hide at 8.13pm. Five minutes later it appeared near the house and spent several minutes around the small pond. It tilted its head to one side and then the other, listening intently before it pounced on what I suspect was a frog. However, it seemed surprised and jumped away, without the frog! After that it came onto the veranda and we were able to get our first good look at it. It returned to its hide at 5.56am this morning.

This evening I put a mixture of peanuts, sunflower kernels and raisins in the hedgehog dish on the veranda and trained a camera onto it.

I watched the cctv feed but the fox managed to evade that camera once again, but at 8.27pm I spotted it sitting at one end of the small pond again. This time it didn't target any frogs but spent time foraging under the Hawthorn before coming to the veranda again.

'Our' fox visits the veranda


Light levels were dropping quickly, and with only slow shutter speeds available (I chose not to use flash on this occasion), only this, and one other picture was useable. By this time the cctv image had already lost all its colour.

It certainly seems to be healthy. Hopefully I will be able to get more photographs before the evenings get too dark.



24 August - The dry weather continues. Yesterday it was almost cloudless, but today there was more cloud than blue sky, but the temperature still got to 23C during the afternoon.

Again, no photography during the day, but 'our' fox did appear in front of a camera briefly this evening. Yesterday evening the only departure that I saw took place at 5.35pm when the fox left its den at a quick trot - I thing it had been disturbed by children playing just beyond the fence at the bottom of our garden. It didn't appear on the veranda during the evening, but during the night the food in the dish was eaten and the camera at the bottom of the garden recorded a fox several times, and it seems that the resident fox returned to its den at 5.35am.

Today I was often out in the garden as we organised things for a family meal outside in the early evening. I also went back and forth to the shed as I sorted out some cabling for another cctv camera, this one to act as a 'viewfinder' when I set up a remote camera. Despite my activities, I was somewhat surprised when I checked through the day's recording and found that while I saw no departures from behind the shed a fox trotted down the path at 1.16pm, and again at 1.30pm!

Poor quality cctv image of the fox leaving its den at 8.02pm



This evening, a more predictable departure took place at 8.02pm.




Fox on our veranda at 8.04pm


Two minutes later and it was on the veranda, checking out the hedgehog dish.

This evening I used a daylight bulb to illuminate the patio. However, there was only one chance to get a decent photograph because although the patio door was closed the fox still reacted to the sound of the camera.



25 August - A mainly bright day, interrupted by a heavy shower during the early afternoon.

With their nesting season apparently over now, the House Sparrows seem much more relaxed in the garden. They spend a lot of time perched in and on the Hawthorn, with the feeders busy for much of the time.

House Sparrows bask in the morning sunshine


It's first thing in the morning that their numbers seem to be at their highest, and as the sun rises over the house we can have more than thirty basking at the top of the Hawthorn, although there are nowhere near that number in this picture.



Sparrowhawk (female) on our Hawthorn this afternoon


Over the last week or so groups of Sparrows could be seen  relaxing and preening on the tree throughout the day. However, for the first time in weeks their peace was shattered by the arrival of their nemesis, the Sparrowhawk, at just after 4pm.

I was in the dining room when I heard the Sparrows' alarm calls, and it was a case of grabbing the camera and heading for our bedroom window.


Sparrowhawk (female) on top of our Hawthorn this afternoon


The female Sparrowhawk spent several minutes moving about the canopy of the tree while the sparrows twittered and moved about out of reach below her.

As is often the case when she attacks, she finally gave up and flew off.

While I have seen Sparrowhawks in the sky around us throughout the summer, this is the first attack that I've witnessed in the garden for several months.


That incident reminded me that our bedroom window needed cleaning - a job done shortly afterwards. The late afternoon sunshine, combined with a dirty west facing window doesn't make for ideal photographic conditions.

Returning to the fox, after its appearance on the veranda yesterday evening, the camera only detected a fox once during the night, when one appeared from between the sheds at 11.50pm. This morning a fox returned to the den at 5.13am but left again six minutes later.

The next appearance came at 11.20am when it left the den (again?), and at 1.14pm, just after the heavy rain started it ran back into its hiding place. I suspect that it may have been basking in the sunshine somewhere nearby.

'Our' fox on the veranda this evening (7.49pm)

This evening it left at 7.47pm and as is now routine for it, it headed for the veranda.

I had already set up the camera and a cctv camera to act as my 'viewfinder', but had made two rather basic mistakes! First, after pre-focusing the camera I moved the dish. Second, I hadn't got around to adjusting the dimmer that controls the light, so when the fox arrived the shutter speed was a bit too slow - careless! As a result, this is a rather 'soft' photograph.


At least this time I had placed padding around the camera to deaden the sound of the shutter. That worked, and the fox completely ignored it, although it did run off when it heard my neighbour moving about outside.


31 August - Well, the month has ended with a cloudless afternoon and the temperature reaching 25C. That came after yet another cloudy morning, something characteristic of what has been a  disappointing month. The month has been largely dry, I have needed to top up the ponds more often than usual, but most days seem to have been cloudy. Not for the first time, yesterday it was dull, cool and breezy and seemed that we were already well into Autumn.

We are starting to prepare ourselves for a disrupted week or so, starting at the end of this week when I hand over our hall to a professional who I hope will transform that long neglected area of our home.

Since my last diary entry I have seen the Sparrowhawk return just once. This time it perched on the far side of the Hawthorn so there were no photo opportunities, and once again it left without success.

The fox  continues to make its night-time excursions, and although its departures have been somewhat disrupted on this Bank Holiday weekend it still returns 'home' before dawn. The darker evenings have meant that I have needed to adjust the timer to switch on the IR light half an hour earlier than previously.

Male Speckled Bush Cricket (Leptophyes punctatissima)The Autumnal weather hasn't encouraged insect activity and I'm finding nothing new in the garden, but yesterday there was a surprise for us in our bathroom - not the usual spider, but this adult male Speckled Bush Cricket (Leptophyes punctatissima).

Earlier in the summer I was finding juveniles at the bottom of the garden, but I have seen none over the last few weeks, and this is the first adult I've seen this year.

Male Speckled Bush Cricket (Leptophyes punctatissima) in defensive mode


When I first rescued it from the bathroom the cricket was clearly in a defensive mood, and for a while it held a hind leg up almost vertically as though it was a third antenna.

This arrangement clearly gives the cricket a more complete 'early warning' of approaching danger than if it were to rely on just its antennae.

Male Speckled Bush Cricket (Leptophyes punctatissima) on Birch leaf



I last saw the cricket when I placed it on the Birch tree. There was no sign of it when I looked there today.



Common Marbled Carpet moth(Chloroclysta truncata) on window


This summer I have paid little attention to moths in the garden, but while I was watering the new plants at the front of the house this afternoon, this one came fluttering into the garden. It was very nervous but stayed on a window long enough for me to get my camera and take this one photograph.

I think it's a Common Marbled Carpet (Chloroclysta truncata).



Click on images to see larger versions

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