Friday, 27 June 2014

Failed Blackbird Nest

I've been away for a few days and the boss has sent me a photo of an empty nest. Almost certainly the blackbird nest I blogged about a week ago is now abandoned, not from disturbance but more probably from predation as the nest is empty. Who the predator was is unknown. Unlikely to be a cat as the nest is difficult to get to and doesn't seem to be damaged. Possibly magpies or jackdaws, both of which are in the garden. Maybe even a squirrel, but I've not seen a grey squirrel for some time now.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

A new nest

Over the past week or so we've noticed increased activity in the hedge right by the patio doors. We've seen blackbirds going into the hedge and making the branches bounce around. Not wanting to disturb any possible nest we've not investigated too closely. After the failed song thrush nest earlier in spring, and the disappointment of seeing the cold eggs left in the nest, we kept away.

However, this evening the boss saw the male and female leave the hedge very close to the doors, and then noticed the nest. This evening there are three eggs, I'm not sure if more will be laid. Though most of the reference guides say the clutch can be between 3 and 5. As it's now mid to late June I assume this would be the last nest of the season, though blackbirds can have up to 4 broods a season. Perhaps the mild spring and great summer so far have made it possible.

The position of the nest is right at the edge of the hedge where is almost comes to rest against the wall. In fact so close to the patio doors it's almost as if it's been positioned here so that the birds can watch the World Cup on the TV through the glass.

When there is a chance I'll set up the camera trap to see if we can get some photos of the activities. But in the meantime we'll have the go out of the back door for a while to get to the garden.

There was a nest in this section of the hedge a few years ago, and there were at least three successful young who left the nest.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Speckled Wood

It's great when the sun comes out. And along with comes the butterflies. We don't have a large variety visiting the garden, but one that does visit relatively regularly is the Speckled Wood, Pararge aegeria. Unusually for British butterflies it can over winter as both a larva and pupa (1).

During the 19th century the Speckled Wood suffered quite a contraction in its range, but since the 1920's it ha made a recovery. This has continued since the 1980s and may be due to climate change allowing it to spread further north (1).

The trend for the Speckled Wood shows a highly significant and generally steady increase, as can be seen from the graph below produced by the UK butterfly Monitoring Scheme (3). The butterfly has a divided distribution in Britain (it occurs throughout Ireland) and it has continued to colonise new areas in both parts of its range during the monitoring period (3).
It has a flight season from April through to October, and is often found in woodland, but also anywhere that includes scrubland as well. 

The larval food plants include False Brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum); Cock's-foot (Dactylis glomerata); Yorkshire-fog (Holcus lanatus); Common Couch (Elytrigia repens) (4).

Like any butterfly, male Speckled Woods can be pretty aggressive when defending their territory. These sparring sessions can last for up to 80 seconds (5), which must surely take a toll on the individuals.

1: Lewington, R. (2003). Pocket Guide to the butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland. British Wildlife Publishing, United Kingdom.
3: UK Butterfly Monitoruping Scheme.
5: Wickman, P. and Wiklund, C. (1983) Territorial defence and its seasonal decline in the speckled wood butterfly (Pararge aegeria). Animal Behaviour. 31(4): 1206-16.

Solomon's Seal Sawfly

Each year our Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum sp) is decimated by small larvae that munch their way through the leaves, leaving only the main leaf rib behind. Last month I finally managed to see the culprit in it's adult form. The Solomon's Seal Sawfly, Phymatocera aterrima is quite a dapper looking chap. Jet black, with rather crumpled looking wings, just a mite short of 1cm. The adults are active in May and June. I had another look tonight but there are no more hanging around anymore.

The photos are not perfect as it was a windy day in May when I took these. The sawflies didn't hang around much either, and were quite active, settling only for a short period before flying off again, usually to the underside of here leaves. Thinking about it now, they may have been laying eggs, so that the next generation of larvae can decimate the plants again this year.

It may a little early here in Wales to see the larvae yet, but the photos from last year 
below clearly show what they look like.

They are considered a pest by many gardens, and it is easy to understand why when you find your plants stripped down. But the main damage is done after flowering has finished, and they come back each year just as strong as before, so maybe the plants aren't weakened too much. The only year we didn't have a bad infestation was when there were blue tits nesting in the garden.

The distribution map from the NBH website (1) shows the distribution to be quite sparse. Though this may be due to lack of reporting, as opposed to lack of insects.


Monday, 9 June 2014

More moths

I took the chance and put the moth trap out on Saturday night. The weather forecast predicted that it would be mild and dry, if cloudy. Well it was almost right. There were a few light showers, but nothing like the major thunderstorm and downpour Friday night. So I wasn't sure if there would be much in the trap when I switched it off in he the morning.

It turned out to be my best haul so far, with 8 different species - 2 of which escaped before I could take any photos to help with the ID. And it turned out those photos I did take weren't up to much either so I'll only put a couple up on this post.

The full list included, excluding the two that got away:
Buff Ermine: Spilarctia luteum
Large Yellow Underwing: Noctua pronuba
Heart and Dart: Agrotis exclamationis
Light Brown Apple Moth: Epiphyas postvittana
The Flame: Axylia putris
Mottled Beauty: Alcis repandata

This brings the total of moths I've managed to identify in the garden to 19 so far. Not many by some standards, but I'm hoping for more.

My favourite moth of the day is the Buff Ermine. The colours are beautiful, and there is something about the furry ness of the thorax. It's almost says if the spots have been painted on with care.

I think this one is a male because the antennae are so well defined.

But the one I was really pleased with was the Large Yellow Underwing. This one is so much bigger than the others in the trap at a lost 40mm in length, especially when compared against The Flame. It was very active and quite feisty, refusing to sit still for long, and making it very difficult to take the photos. An it spread it's wings there was a shock of orange/yellow colour - but never at the same time as I was taking a photo.

Many of the common names given to moth in here UK were given by creative Victorian and Edwardian naturalists, and often related to the markings on the moths's wings. In this case the Heart and Dart doesn't disappoint. There is clearly a heart on each wing, with a simple dart like line above.

The smallest of the moths caught is easily The Flame. This is was only 15mm in length. Smaller than a Pill Woodlouse. Sorry about the quality of the photo, but it clearly shows the way in which it folds it's wings tight against it's body, very different to any of the other moths I've managed to identify so far. This makes it look somewhat like a piece of twig.