Another instalment of Lockdown Wildlife Watching 18th – 25th May 2020. Maybe we can now call it semi-lockdown, although I haven’t ventured far, mainly because I really don’t want to put pressure on those habitats and species that have become so used to not having us humans around. In any event the garden provides enough interest to fill a few paragraphs. If you want to see where my garden is actually located as well as see a few other inhabitants I’ve come across, you can find that information here
Life, life all around! Our jungle has been invaded with fledgling starlings and blackbirds over the past week or so. Several broods of the former were positioned on the larger shrubs and trees raucously begging for mum and dad to provide food. They provide welcome sound and movement with their non-stop jostling, fidgeting and complaining, as well as food for the local sparrowhawks. Looks like an excellent year for them though, which is pleasing.
The blackbirds in the ivy by the kitchen have brought off a second brood as have the pair that nests further along the hedge. Their territorial boundary divides the lawn, and it’s entertaining to watch the antics of both pairs. The bird bath seems to be just over the border of the nearer pair, so the other couple have to nip in quick for a drink or splash. Despite their stealth and slyness they’re always rumbled and chased off, but keep testing the water as it were every day. Any morsels of fruit put out for them have to be evenly divided into two socially separated clumps otherwise a fight is guaranteed.
I do think however that the belligerence of the closer male has helped with fledging success. I’ve seen him attack an errant jay, and he sees off woodpigeons and even blue tits. I’m sure he would attack any magpie that dares to venture into his realm, forcing it to seek easier pickings from a less aggressive pair. Speaking of the pied cacklers, they too have brought their fledged brood to inspect the larder but thankfully they haven’t so far lingered. Their chattering call always makes me think of a velociraptor for some reason; guess they have an ancestral gene there somewhere.
The pond area is looking a treat with the yellow flag in towering bloom, full of bees and other pollinators. The first blue-tailed damselfly turned up on 18th and a few large reds are hopeful of finding a mate. One perched very close to me as I was standing stock still and I noticed it was busy devouring an aphid it had just then caught. They may be colourful and dainty, but boy they are ace predators of small insects. Close to the pond surface a number of male Helophilus pendulus hoverflies perch waiting for a hapless female to zip past within striking distance. The larva of these handsomely striped flies are commonly referred to as ‘rat-tailed maggots’ and make a living in the decaying matter around the edge of the pond.
And it’s insects that really begin to take my interest as we move into summer. Their variety and lifestyles never fail to amaze and enthral. A couple of moth trapping sessions have produced about 50 species, highlights being these beauties that illustrate, I hope, the variety of shape, form and colour that makes moth trapping such an enjoyable and intriguing activity; you literally never know what’s going to turn up.
Whenever I set the trap overnight, I get out of bed at first light (pre 5am nowadays) to close down the trap and move it to a shaded area close to the house. I cover it to ensure inquisitive birds don’t get a beakful of juicy moth, which at this time of year is an all too real danger what with hungry babies to feed. I take the moral responsibility of trapping seriously; if I’m responsible for putting the moths in a potentially vulnerable position, I really feel I should do my best to take care of them. Anyway, later in the morning as I was clearing away the trap electrics I noticed the wing of a scalloped hazel moth fluttering in the breeze. Initial thoughts were ‘Damn! A bird beat me to it after all’, but then I realised the wing was not at the mercy of air currents but was being hauled across the lawn by an ant. No doubt a bird did enjoy a tasty snack, discarding the wings as having no nutritional value, but the ant thought differently. I watched it struggle with its prize though the tangle of grass stems thinking that there’s not much goes to waste in the animal world – recycling in progress! Looking at the tiny waste disposal agent, I think it is a black-headed velvet ant, but any other opinions would be welcome.
I’ve been keeping a watchful eye on the bee hotel which has been conspicuously devoid of bees, that is until a couple of days ago when I noticed a small individual inspecting one of the canes. It soon transpired that this tiny creature was well engaged into nest preparation and was busy collecting fragments of leaf to plug the final chamber it had created. Fascinating to watch it fashioning the small cuttings to form a seal. After a bit of rummaging through reference books it seems I have the pleasure of playing host to a nest of patchwork leafcutter bees – build it and they will come (eventually).
A few minutes after watching the leafcutter bee, I was ambling past a very shaded area further down the garden when I noticed a lot of activity around an old nestbox. A nest of white-tailed bumblebees!
A few other insects for variety:
For other Lockdown Wildlife watching features click here.