Welcome to the latest edition of Lockdown Wildlife Watching covering the w/e 19th April 2020, the third in this series whilst we endure the Covid-19 lockdown. Previous blogs can be found here.
We go about our business here in a northern suburb of Norwich watched over for the most part by an umbrella of translucently blue, untainted sky. A sky the colour of a dunnock’s egg, against which lesser black back gulls wail and cry, peacock butterflies spiral on their brief courting flights and buzzards soar effortlessly on broad wings.
After the mass interaction of 7 buzzards last week, my observations over the past few days has resulted in only the occasional sight of a singleton mastering air currents with ease. One such is richly marked with a dark chocolate hood and underparts making it quite distinctive. I’ll recognise it should it appear again.
The blackbirds are still feeding their brood in a mass of ivy just outside the kitchen window. Those youngsters must be ready to fledge, marking something of an exception for early nesters nowadays. Over the past few years magpies have raided these April breeding attempts, but those pied marauders seem to have moved away this year leaving the garden relatively peaceful. The reduction in roaming felines will also be beneficial, I hope.
Dunnocks are very vocal and obvious at the moment, pecking crumbs of suet from the path beneath the feeders. I’ve seen much courting activity over the past week with the female quivering her wings for all their worth while the male stands behind hopping about a bit seemingly uncertain what to do. I’m pretty sure I witnessed the act of the male pecking at her rear end to remove a rival’s sperm before he briefly, very briefly, pounced. This is something of a unique strategy whereby female dunnocks will shamelessly mate with more than one male creating a situation where a brood may have mixed parentage. The males are keen to ensure only their genes dominate hence the practice described. Males, being male, will assist with rearing the chicks commensurate with their mating success. Attenborough first highlighted this on TV, but until this lockdown malarkey I’d never witnessed such behaviour in my garden. Disgraceful!
The ponds are something of an enigma this year. The smaller, shallower pond is favoured by frogs for spawning, presumably because the water warms quicker in early spring. By now though it is normally covered in duck weed, can be full of algae and quite often fails to support the tadpoles in their later stages of development. I’ve wondered if some pollutant is to blame, or whether its some gasses given off by rotting leaves that unfortunately accumulate due to its position next to large shrubs. But this year is different, at present we have crystal clear water and the tadpoles are developing at an impressive rate.
I’m sure it’s the water fleas that are to thank for this; I’ve never seen so many. Thousands whirl around in some sort of frenzy and through their presence clear the water of algae and thereby ensure there is plenty of oxygen. There are no fish and so the larval frogs thrive – reverse eutrophication in minature. I’m awaiting my first dragonfly.
The aforementioned shrubs around the ponds play host to an array of insects that bask on their sun-baked leaves to soak up the sun’s energy. There are lots of different flies which I have no intention at this point of even trying to identify. However, one or two species have stood out as being a little different and I’ve had a crack at these. As always, I may have got it wrong, so if anyone knows better please feel free to correct me. I’m pretty confident of the box bug identification though and this represents a first for the garden, as does the green shield bug which despite its colour I’m reliably assured is one of that species (thanks to Neil Marks via Norfolk Wildlife Facebook page)
Buff-tailed Bumblebee – Bombus terrestris (queen)
Hoverfly – Helophilus pendulas (male)
Lesser House Fly – Fannia canicularus
Bluebottle – Calliphora vomitoria
Presumably a pair of the above mating
In a rare moment of creative activity, I utilised some old plywood standing around in our fast decaying shed to make a rudimentary home for solitary bees. I made it too large for my meagre supply of bamboo canes, but it’s none the less sufficient for any lone bee that is seeking a nest for its larvae. So far nothing, but I’m hopeful because there are lots of small bees zipping about around the garden and they will surely discover it in due course.
Naturalised pond plants are coming into their own now with water avens nodding their delicate bell flowers of subtle shades of pink and yellow, whilst flag irises throw their pointed leaves of deep green skywards. They shoot so fast at this time of year that you almost feel you can see them growing.
Appreciating wildlife is essentially a simple process of using your eyes and ears. The more you stand and stare, the more you discover. We do have lots of wild creatures sharing our gardens and open spaces with us. In these times of uncertainty and lifestyle change, it provides solace and comfort for me, and I know many others. Most of the creatures we will stumble upon will be small. Be grateful then, because on the other side of the world in Western Australia, you could find yourself sharing the patio with this harmless but rather impressive monster!