The Garden Diary 2014

March (part 1) 

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8 March -  The first week of March has provided dramatic change in the weather as high pressure builds over the UK. During the last two days we have had bright sunshine and highs of at least 15C in the garden, and tomorrow it may get warmer still. Mind you, it is going to take more than a few days like this to help the still soggy ground to start drying out!

Despite the improved weather I have seen no more nesting type activity by birds in the garden over the last week, although the usual Springtime hassling of the Dunnock by the male Robin has been seen a couple of times.

The first frog spawn, 1 March 2014


On the first of the month frog activity was still very limited, and I was surprised to see some fresh spawn in the pond that morning.



The first frog spawn - 2, 1 March 2014



When I looked more closely I discovered a second clump, completely submerged and looking as though it was at least a day old, suggesting that spawning had actually begun on 28 February.




Over the next few mornings a couple more clumps appeared although I was still unable to spot any frog pairs in amplexus, and was still only counting six or seven individuals.

Smooth Newt (female), 6 March 2014



However, after dark on the sixth the count was up to 24, and in addition I spotted two Smooth newts for the first time this Spring.




Frogs and spawn - 1, 8 March 2014



Today I was able to count forty frogs in the daytime and the amount of spawn in the pond has increased quite a bit, if still far short of the quantity we used to get here.





Frog pair in amplexus, 8 March 2013



I don't know if there is a shortage of females, or if they are simply slow to arrive, but this pair, photographed tonight, provides the only example of amplexus that I have seen all week.




This afternoon we had our two grand-daughters with us, and I was finally able to get them to listen to our frogs and realise that they 'croak' rather than 'ribbit' (I believe you need to go to the west coast of the USA to hear the latter call!). Also, I took the opportunity to set up my small aquarium tank so that they (and their young cousin) can follow the development of some frog spawn/tadpoles over the next few months. Touching the spawn was quite an experience, especially for the younger sister.

On a personal note, a month ago I had a long chat with my GP about the the way the CFS was making it very difficult to get much of anything done and he persuaded me to try a drug that would enhance my serotonin levels. Amongst other functions, serotonin can suppress pain perception and as such has helped other people with CFS. He cautioned me that I would need to be patient as it could take up to a month to take effect.

Well, that month has now passed and I'm more than a little optimistic about their effect. A couple of weeks ago things were so bad that I just had to sleep for a couple of hours every afternoon. At the beginning of this week I only felt the need to have a short sleep during the day, but the last five days have been 'sleep-free'. Not only that, but I have been able to concentrate on several jobs that have been waiting months for my attention. Today I was even able to help one of my sons to move some heavy furniture, something I could not have even considered a couple of weeks ago because of the repercussions that would follow in the form of pain and tiredness - at 10.15pm I am still able to sit here and write this diary entry.

One of the jobs that I was able complete this week was to make up a new adaptor that allows me to use a ring flash with my Canon 20mm macro lens when it is attached to a bellows, a project for which I had sorted out the bits months ago. The arrangement allows me to photograph at magnifications between x6 to x12, a range above the x1 to x5 magnification of my MPE 60mm lens. 




9 March - It may have been a nice day yesterday, but today was even better, with wall to wall sunshine and an official high of 18C at Farnborough, although in the sheltered conditions of our garden the temperature in the shade reached 20C!

And as if to celebrate the , when I walked outside at around 10am the first thing to catch my eye was a Brimstone butterfly, followed shortly afterwards by a Comma. They didn't land here so there was no chance to get photographs of them.

Peacock butterfly, 9 March 2014

However, I spent the morning moving a pile of timber from behind our caravan as we prepare to arrange for the caravan's disposal in the near future, and as I did so I uncovered this Peacock butterfly that was already vibrating its wings in readiness for what I assume would be its first flight after hibernating under the wood pile.

After taking this picture I dashed inside to make up some sugary water for it. This was clearly not required as it had flown by the time I returned.




Frog spawn in aquarium, 9 March 2014

Yesterday I mentioned setting up an aquarium, well here it is - an 18cm cube that stands on a rotating base.

Our two and a half year old grandson saw it for the first time today, and it was one of those moments when I would have loved someone to have been videoing us. The delight on his face as he called out 'frogspawn!' before dashing indoors to drag his dad out to share in his discovery was absolute magic.

And of course dad also had to go down to the pond ("go slowly and quietly daddy") to share the sight and sounds of the frogs - brilliant!


Common frogs - an amplexus 'scrum', 9 March 2014


One of the sights that greeted them was this small group rolling about in the water. It appeared to consist of a female surrounded by three male competing for the opportunity to fertilize her eggs. Other frogs approached the group from time to time but there seemed to be little enthusiasm about joining the scrum.





15 March - Since that last entry the high pressure has meant weather has continued good, although it hasn't been quite as warm as it was on the ninth, and mid-week we had a couple of misty mornings Today it was sunny right from the start and the temperature reached 17C for a short time in the early afternoon.

The frog activity recorded in the last entry marked what appears to have been their 'final fling' of the spawning season and the next day the pond fell quiet. Since then we've been lucky to see even a single frog.

Frog spawn, 9 March 2014


I've noticed that in the pond there are several clumps of infertile spawn, which is disappointing. However, the spawn in the tank is doing well. This first picture, taken on the 9th (and in too much of a rush!) shows the spawn soon after it had been placed in the tank.



Developing frog embryos, 15 March 2014


Today it is looking quite different, with the embryos starting to develop their tadpole shape.

The spawn is not actually green, the colour cast being produced as light shine down through a floating blanket of duckweed.



Two years ago, on 26 March 2012, I recorded and organism, new to the garden, that I found growing on a piece of timber that has been very slowing decaying in a mainly dry position exposed to afternoon sunshine. It was identified for me as a slime mould (Myxomycete) called Reticularia lycoperdon.

Reticularia lycoperdon (slime mould) sporangium -1, 15 March 2014

While the slime mould itself is hidden away in the decaying timber it produces dome-like fruiting bodies (sporangia) on the timber surface. They didn't make an appearance in 2013, but today I found that two have appeared on the same piece of timber, one on the south facing side and the other on the shaded north side.

This is the south facing sporangium which measures about 25mm across. The light coloured exterior appears to have been eaten away in places by a slug, exposing its brown mass of developing spores.



Reticularia lycoperdon (slime mould) sporangium -2, 15 March 2014


This is the sporangium that has developed in the shade. It measures about 36mm across and is slightly paler/greyer in colour. Also, the epidermis seems smother. Tomorrow I hope to have time to take some close-up photographs to show these differences more clearly.





I'm still not seeing much in the way of bird nesting activity here. This morning I had an unusually close encounter with the Blackbird female when she came within four feet of me as she foraged. And while I watched her a pair of Dunnocks also turned up, although they stayed more than six feet away - that was my first sighting of a pair of that species this Spring. I had begun to think that the Jays had finally stopped visiting, not having seen them here for a couple of weeks, but two days ago one came into the garden to take a couple of peanuts.

Well, the 'magic pills' continue to work their magic and I've been able to have quite a busy week. The caravan has now been moved a short way out of its shelter to create space to put all its contents as I empty it for the last time. I did the bulk of that task today but with our grandson coming tomorrow the rest will have to wait until the latter half of the week.

Once we have finally said goodbye to the caravan I'll be removing about a third of the shelter.



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