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Don’t you ever feel like you want to stop the world and get off for a bit? Days, weeks and months feel like they’re disappearing far too fast – maybe it’s “me age”. Probably.
So, to take in as much as I possibly could today, I sat in the garden and just “watched”.
Inevitably it was the bees that caught my eye. The poor old female red mason bees looked like I felt. Tired and a bit jaded round the edges. One landed on the arm of my chair and seemed to share time with me before getting back to the important job of completing her nest in the bee hotel.
It won’t be long before the red mason bees have finished their nests, and already there are new visitors to the bee hotel and garden.
This Mournful Wasp – Pemphredon lugubris (not sure where it gets its depressing name from), is actually doing me a big favour in the garden, apparently it catches up to 40 aphids to fill each nesting chamber it builds for its young (also in the bee hotel).
They’re welcome to the aphids as long as they leave a few for the ladybirds!
In the mini-meadow the Ox-eye daisies are starting to bloom, and this small solitary bee was feeding. Such a delicate little thing, it makes you wonder how something that small manages to survive more than a day – let alone a few weeks.
So now I guess we need to welcome summer… and leave spring behind.
Sorry, that should read “rubbish” AND a “spider”. I used to think all spiders were rubbish (actually I used to run a mile from any that got within 3ft of me) but I’ve grown to love them just a little bit over the last few years when I’ve had the chance to watch and photograph them.
But let’s start with the rubbish. At the bottom of the garden I have a gate that leads onto a small playing field. It’s not very exciting, just some football posts and a small kiddies playground, but it’s a nifty shortcut to the Co-op beyond. On a mercy mission to buy milk yesterday I was horrified by the amount of rubbish everywhere, and I mean everywhere.
You couldn’t walk from one side of the field to the other without treading on a sweet wrapper, coke tin, beer tin, biscuit wrapper or crisp packet. It had been bugging me since yesterday… why do people do it? So on my tea-break this morning I found a black bin bag and a pair of old gardening gloves and went litter picking! Half and hour later – fairly clean field and quite a bit of rubbish!
So what about the spider? Well, it was a tiny jumping spider I happened to spot when I came back from my Wombling.
I think it was the bright blue aphid it was eating that caught my eye first – but there’s nothing like spending 10 mins watching a tiny creature to help you forget your woes.
At least this one did today – so thank you Mr Spider… and sorry I called you rubbish!
Day three of the Wildlife Trusts #30DaysWild Challenge and it started with a wild run on what I’ve just found out is “national running day” (didn’t know there was such a thing!).
Since I started running a couple of years ago I’ve always hated running on pavements and around the local housing estates (where’s the fun in that?) plus my ageing knees don’t much like the hard surfaces. So, it’s always a pleasure to run “off piste” on the tracks and footpaths around the edge of our ever growing urban extension.
Saying that I’m incredibly lucky to have lowland heath, woods and meadows on my doorstep (and if I pound out a few extra miles there’s even beaches, water meadows and rolling downland a skip and a jump away).
Today was just a short round-the-block run – with the added interest of seeing roe deer, woodpeckers and maybe even my favourite owl. He didn’t disappoint. As I ran under his oak tree he flew up onto a higher branch and grumpily stared at me. You can’t beat starting the day with a grumpy little owl staring at you!
To be honest I thought that would be it as far as wildlife for the day, as I settled into a pile of work in front of the computer, but at about 11am I got a very welcome email from my wildlife-loving friend John, asking if I fancied going for a walk around a new Dorset Wildlife Trust meadow nature reserve for an hour at lunchtime. Well, it would have been rude not to!
Great to see a couple of butterfly species, along with solitary bees, bumbles, beetles, moths and starlings nesting in a telegraph pole. At last the sun seems to have made a welcome return!
Definitely not a bad way to spend an hour on day three of #30DaysWild.
We’ve all read the newspaper headlines saying bumblebees are in trouble and their numbers are declining, well today, in a small and insignificant way, I was able to help one as part of my #30DaysWild Challenge.
I’ve been thinking a lot about “my wild life” today, and realised that the wildlife REALLY important to me is the stuff in my garden and on my patch. That sounds incredibly insular, but I just can’t get away from the fact that it’s true. OK, yes, I care deeply about the future of wildlife and wild habitats in the UK (and throughout the world for that matter), but what matters to me most, and what affects me every single day, is the wildlife in my garden.
I wandered out there this afternoon to sit by the pond. It’s something I do most days in the summer, just for 10 mins (sometimes longer) especially when the sun comes out – as it did late this afternoon.
Having rained pretty much non-stop all day, the dry spell was greeted by hundreds of bees descending onto the flowery flowerbeds. However, the one thing that hadn’t stopped was the wind. Giant gusts were still blowing me, the garden chairs, the plants and the bees around like we were in some kind of enormous spin-dryer.
I coped, even the garden chairs and the plants were OK, but one particular bumble was really struggling.
Desperate for food and up against a fierce wind, it couldn’t even fly from flower to flower, and was becoming weaker and weaker as I watched. So I helped.
I held a flower close, and it clambered on to it and fed.
Having finished feeding from that one, I offered it another, and another, until it seemed at last to get its mojo back and with a buzz, it could fly again.
I’ve signed up to the Wildlife Trusts #30DaysWild Challenge this month – and will be trying to commit acts of random wildness for the whole of June. So watch out!
Not a lot of action, it has to be said, but it still helped to clear my head for a few minutes and I guess that’s the idea of the campaign.
We seem to have lost our connection with nature, technology has taken over for the majority of our lives – sometimes you just have to say “stuff it” and get away from it all.
Well, that’s exactly what I did, and there’s nothing quite like the cute pollen laden bottom of a red mason bee to make you smile and ready for an afternoon of work! Honest!
If you fancy taking part in #30DaysWild you can still join in the fun – just go to the special #30DaysWild website here
I don’t know about you but as the years pass (and seem to blur) I can never remember what I’ve seen when, so this year to jog my memory here’s some highlights from January/February 2014. Hopefully some of these will make an appearance VERY soon.
The wild year started slowly in my patch but by the 23 January there was a brambling on the feeder, along with a mass of greenfinch and goldfinch and the odd bullfinch. The flowers started popping at the beginning of February and I saw my first bee, a red tailed bumblebee, on the 16 February. The month ended with the annual frog knees-up at the pond.
I think I’m ready now for 2015 – but just make sure you throw some wildlife at me really, really soon otherwise I might sink into a deep depression and hibernate until April!
I should be working. It’s 11.33 am on a Friday morning and my mind keeps wandering back to my walk last night. No point fighting it… I need to get it down on “paper” then maybe I can concentrate on some work!
It wasn’t a planned walk. I’d had a lovely Valentine’s Day, surrounded by flowers, cards and love from my hubby. At 5pm the sky was still light… it was no good, the call of the dusk was too strong. I needed to walk.
Dragging on a pair of scruffy jeans, walking boots and coat, I stuffed my binoculars deep into my pocket and was out the door before you could say “washing-up”.
After a quick look in the garden pond (still no spawn – but plenty of frogs) I was off down the road, away from the sounds of civilisation, surrounded instead by the last lilting songs of a song thrush and blackbird, battling for supremacy in the nearby tree tops.
As I walk down the hill, the sun is just setting behind the fields on the other side of the valley and I can see the jackdaws gathering at their pre-roost in a tall tree on the skyline. They’re more than a quarter mile away and yet I can hear their distinctive “yarr” calls from here. They remind me of a noisy family gathering; lots of bickering, gossiping and laughing.
Out of habit I have a peek at the badger hole that has appeared in the hedge bank in the last year. No badger but a tiny movement catches my eye as a wren hops from stem to stem on a waving bramble. It’s only a few feet from me and yet it’s totally absorbed in the job at hand. You forget how tiny they are until you see them up close.
I reach the valley bottom. The predominant sound is water. Dripping, pouring, trickling off the waterlogged fields. The road is covered in a thin river of water where the drains can’t cope. It’s not a threat to the nearby houses but if frosts come it’s going to turn the road into an ice-rink.
Heading up hill again along my favourite country lane I spot something in the distance. The old oak is silhouetted against the setting sun, and high in its branches is the outline of a bird. A little owl. The lane takes me right under its tree and as I get closer it takes to the air but doesn’t go far – just far enough to keep an eye on me.
The jackdaws have flown to the main roost now – roughly a mile away – I can’t see them but I can still hear them. Thousands of birds getting comfy for the night in their hidden copse.
Darkness is really taking hold as I pause at the top of the hill and look down over the valley. The little owl gives one call as it takes to the air again. I wait to see if any badgers appear, but nothing stirs in the wood. Even the song thrush is quiet now.
As I walk back down the hill a sudden movement catches my eye. It’s a bat, two bats – flying the lane as they do in the summer. The high hedges on either side making a natural feeding route. It’s good to see them again. Maybe spring isn’t so far away.
A distant tawny owl calls, it’s the last creature I hear as I make my way back home and the constant drone of the evening traffic drowns out the wild dusk world behind me.
What a brilliant Sunday. It started cold but sunny, so I made my mind up to go in search of otters on our local river. I’d forgotten that the river would be so swollen (after a whole day of rain yesterday), but luckily I had my welllies and managed to slosh my way through the floods, admiring the redwings that were sunbathing at the tops of the trees.
It wasn’t long before I bumped into my friend Stuart (doing a bit of otter watching too) so we went off in search together along the river bank. We soon heard the tell-tale high pitched, repeated squeak of an otter cub, and sure enough, on the opposite bank there they were – Mum and youngster.
It’s always a treat to see them out of the water, and I even managed a tiny bit of video footage in the water, as the cub tried to keep up with Mum, squeaking all the way, then met up and dived together. Sorry… I couldn’t help saying “lovely” at the end 🙂
It was also a bumper day (or night) for badgers. Although badgers don’t hibernate, they do sometimes have nights in the winter when they don’t visit the garden. However, last night wasn’t one of them – far from it! Between 1pm to 5pm they must have been having a blimin party out there as I videoed them on the trail camera no less than twenty-two times. It seems like the youngsters were out in force (maybe sent out by Mum to fill their bellies before the frosts arrived) as these particular badgers were very cheeky and inquisitive – as this footage shows. I’ve never looked up a badgers nostrils before!
They are also incredibly determined and strong. I only ever put a handful of sunflower hearts under some bricks (to encourage them to work a bit for their tiny treat, and to stop the foxes from eating it), but when this badger arrived at 2.42am most of the seeds had already been eaten by his relatives. That didn’t stop him, oh no, not a single stone was left unturned, or unpushed!
After a depressing week of rain, cloud and generally messy weather, yesterday’s blue skies were a welcome change. Proper sunshine filled my office at home, and somehow the world didn’t seem quite so bad. It was also the day my friend Steve was coming over to put up the tawny owl nest box he’d made for my local owls.
Unfortunately the Scots Pine we chose for the box was in the middle of an enormous hedge of camelia and laurel, 15ft wide and the same height. Getting a ladder against the tree trunk was going to be tricky, to say the least. Eventually we battled our way right into the undergrowth and stood the ladder up inside the hedge, success – we hoped.
As Steve emerged from the jungle below he did an amazing job of dragging the box up the ladder and somehow (I’m still not quite sure how) wired the box to the tree single handedly, while I faffed around at the bottom of the ladder feeling (and, quite honestly, being) completely useless.
Now all we need are the tawny owls, who regularly hunt in the garden for voles and mice, to take a fancy to it. Personally I can’t see how they could resist such a des-res, although the jackdaws might take a fancy to it if the owls aren’t quick off the mark.
It was such a perfect evening I decided to walk across the valley to the jackdaw roost. I didn’t set off until 4pm, and as I walked down the hill into the valley, it felt as if I was off to roost as well. Jackdaws and rooks were flying in from all directions, slowly making their way to the pre-roost gathering site. There was no hurry, no rush, just slow determined wing flaps taking them to their meeting place. All roads led to the pre-roost.
Anyone walking nearby would instantly have known where the pre-roost was. The trees on the hill were like the hub of a wheel, with the straggly lines of flying birds as the spokes, arriving from all directions.
I had planned to watch the main roost site from my favourite vantage point, about a quarter mile further on at the top of a hill, but the noise at the pre-roost was building and I found myself rooted to the spot. Strangely mesmerised.
As the trees filled with the sound of jackdaws and rooks, I gradually started to make out individual families. Three, four or five birds following each other from tree branch to tree branch. Fights broke out, like any big gathering, as some birds chased each other; turning this way and that, trying to get away from their persistent pursuers. Had they landed on the wrong branch? Committed a grave corvid crime? It’s hard to tell, but punishment was swift and pretty violent. Pecks to the head and body if they were caught, and “sent to Coventry”. Loneliness must surely be the worse punishment for this gregarious bird?
Suddenly the general hubbub of the pre-roost changed as a ripple of calls moved from one tree to the next. As if as one, all five hundred birds lifted into the darkening sky. This time every bird was heading in the same direction, flying quite quietly, no more than a mile to the next valley where thousands more birds would already be waiting.
For a moment a strange silence fell on the wood, everything seemed to be breathing a huge sigh of relief at the exit of the jackdaws. Then the singing started. Beautiful singing, filling the darkness with eerie, echoing, woodland songs that wrapped themselves around the branches of the trees.
In the distance I could still hear the main jackdaw roost settling down for the night. A single mass sound, lifting and falling in volume as they made themselves comfortable.
Walking home the only sound came from the streams still trying to draw the water off the land after the rains. No birdsong, no foxes, no owls, just water.
Finally, walking up the hill towards civilisation, with street lamps glaring, the sound of cars and people spoiled the atmosphere. I’d been out for over two hours, on the edge of a busy urban village, and yet I realised hadn’t passed a single human being. I hope it stays like that, I’d selfishly like to keep this special time, when day turns to night, all to myself.
I’d love to report that I’ve been out watching otters, but the truth is I’ve been stuck inside this week working – so to cheer myself up I’m posting a beautiful video of Dorset otters by Hugh Miles. I was there when some of this was shot, so it brings back very happy memories.
If you’d like to see more by Hugh, you can click through to his website for his latest series “Catching the Impossible” Well worth buying/watching (even if you don’t like fishing) for the wonderful wildlife footage and underwater sequences.
Roll on spring!
Every time a jackdaw lands in the garden, or on the roof next door, I wonder if it’s George. Standing at the window I know this jackdaw can see me. He runs up the tiles and stands on the gable for a second looking my way, then slowly he takes to the sky and is gone. Did he wink before he went? or was that just my imagination?
Today the jackdaw is my #WGW365
The badger came last night. Nothing unusual in that, one tends to come most nights (I can’t help smiling every morning when I see that they have been, and get nervous when they miss a night), but this badger is quite distinctive. He’s got little ears. In fact, compared to some of the badgers who wander through the garden, he’s quite little all over. A cub from last year? I wonder.
The other thing (that makes me think he might be young) is he is very inquisitive. Usually the badgers are a bit nervous of the camera when I haven’t put it out for a while, but not this one. He marched straight up to it and had a good sniff and snort. So much so that you can see clouds of his misty breath. He then decided it wasn’t pointing in the right direction and promptly moved it to spy on my front door! Badgers revenge?
Two bullfinches (male on left, female on right) and a blackbird refereeing. Day 5 of my Wild Garden Wildlife 365 Challenge
They aren’t rare or unusual but sometimes your “neighbours” are the backbone of your wildlife garden.
I might despair at the squirrels for stealing all the bird seed from the feeders and trying to steal eggs from nests, but in the depths of winter five minutes watching one methodically searching for buried nuts in the lawn helps to lift a grey day.
That goes for Robbie as well who visits our windowsill about four times a day, no… not the Take That heartthrob with the tattoos (I think he’d find it hard to balance on our windowsill), this one has very skinny legs, black eyes and a red breast. The only thing they do have in common is a very cheeky personality!
Two more for my #WGW365 Challenge list!
No not really, it’s just a fox. I first noticed only one of its eyes was lighting up in the infra-red light of my trail camera about a month ago. I hadn’t noticed it before, and will need to look at video from last summer to see if it was happening then. It could have been blind in this eye since birth (it was one of two cubs from last year), or could have a disease or suffered some kind of trauma. Whatever happened it luckily looks healthy, strong and is obviously finding plenty to eat (including the left overs under the birdfeeder!). I’ll keep a close eye on him and he’s going on my Wild Garden Wildlife 365 Challenge list!
Three more for my Wild Garden Wildlife 365 Challenge (#WGW365). Two golden lovelies on the bird feeder; Goldfinch (front) and Siskin – neither of them are common in my garden, so they’re welcome additions to my list…
… and at dusk tonight I was drawn away from the kitchen by a fluted song, high in the Scots pine in the front garden (hidden from view) the final sounds of the day from a thrush.
Click on the arrow above to listen
The sun made a welcome appearance yesterday and spurred me on to walk to the jackdaw and rook roost in the afternoon. It’s not the first time I’ve tried to watch them recently.
The first day of a new year. It feels so clean and fresh, like I’ve been given a book with hundreds of blank, pure white pages just waiting to be filled. This year I’ve decided to fill a few of those pages with wildlife, and more specifically wildlife from my own garden. Big, small, loud or mute they will all be counted. The aim is to record 365 native UK wildlife species (flora or fauna) in 365 days. The rules are simple; if it’s growing in the garden, flies over it, lands in it, is wandering around it, or can be heard in it, it counts towards my WGW365.
I put the trail camera out last night in the hope of getting footage of one of my favourite creatures, a badger, and I wasn’t disappointed. At 3am it trundled through and demolished the brick house that holds just a handful of sunflower seeds for it every night, but it wasn’t the first creature in my 365 list.
That accolade goes to the tawny owl sitting in the trees outside our bedroom window, screeched quietly to itself. I only heard it when the fireworks died down, a few minutes past twelve, but it was unmistakable. Not a loud call, more a mumble under its breath – complaining about the noise.
If you’d like to join me in my challenge, start today, or tomorrow or even next week (there’s still time to catch up!). Every garden, no matter how big or small, has exciting wildlife discoveries just waiting to be made. Don’t worry if you don’t know what they all are, there are hundreds of people online who can help. From the wildlife community identification website iSpot, to Twitter (email me a photo any time at @WildlifeStuff) or a whole host of links provided by @RichardComont at Insect Rambles. Then keep track of all your records by adding them to iRecord. Not difficult to use, developed by @JohnvanBreda, and a great way to share your records with the UK wildlife community (and keep count of your 365).
No recording of the tawny, but the demolishing badger is here…