Weekend Round-up, 26th-28th May 2018

It’s been the second Bank Holiday weekend in a row where we’ve had gorgeous weather, so it was a great opportunity to spend some time in the garden.

On Sunday I constructed a makeshift hide out of potted plants and trees on the top patio and sat out for most of the day with my camera. This got me a little bit closer to the bird feeder and the change of angle meant that the background was a lot more pleasing to the eye (taking photos from the kitchen window catches the brick wall of the garage as the backgound) –

I also had a great view of the bird bath and was pleased to get my first ever picture of our regular Coal Tit visitor. He’s normally in and out of the garden in a flash, shooting from the hedge to the feeder and back again in seconds. I also hadn’t seen him use the bird bath before so this was a real treat –

The bird bath was busy for most of the day due to the heat. I have to say I was slightly jealous at this point – I was so warm that I’d have loved a human sized pool in the garden.

The first fledgling Sparrows were out and about too. They aren’t too sure about the bird bath yet, having a quick dip and then retreating to perch on the garden furniture to dry off.

The Bumblebee nest is still going strong, though I am slightly worried about the Red Mason bees. We started off this season with 22 completed nest tunnels, and yet now the Mason Bee season is starting to end we only have one completed nest tunnel. I have to say I’m a bit upset about this as I was sure we’d have loads of completed nest tunnels based on the amount of bees we had this year. The majority of them seemed to disappear over a weekend and left nest tunnels half completed.

I was watching the bee houses when I noticed activity in a house that so far hasn’t been used this year. At first I thought it was an early Leafcutter bee, but Twitter informs me that we are hosting our first ever Orange -Vented Mason Bee (Osmia leaiana). These bees seal their nest tunnels with plant mastic – essentially chewed up leaves, so I am eager to see a completed nest tunnel.

She’s to be found mainly pollen gathering and drinking nectar from the Cornflowers in the garden. They must be her favourite as she visits them all in turn several times a day.

So all in all, very much a weekend of mixed fortunes.

NQ Growboxes – late April to Mid May round-up

As Spring has finally arrived and the weather has warmed up, NQ Growboxes has come to life.

The Spring flowers attracted an early solitary bee species, Gwynne’s Mining Bee (Andrena bicolor).

This tiny bee collects pollen on her hind legs, making it appear that she is wearing pollen pants. These bees nest in soft ground, so I think the nearby car park and canalside are ideal.

While watching this tiny bee, I saw a flash of gold out of the corner of my eye. It was a large insect, but unlike anything I’d seen before. Not wanting to spook it, I followed at a safe distance distance while it flew round the boxes, until finally it settled on a sage plant at the border of the site.

Close up, it was absolutely stunning – it’s gold body glittered and sparkled in the sunlight. It sat sunbathing on the sage and soaking up the heat for a while, then flew away.

Later I discovered that it was a Honeysuckle Sawfly (Zaraea lonicerae). These insects are stingless wasps which feed primarily on nectar. I’ve seen Sawflies before, but never one this big or this round – at my initial glance out of the corner of my eye I’d been convinced it was some kind of bee.

On May 1st instead of a white rabbit I got a Red Mason Bee. Or several, in fact. I saw several males patrolling the boxes – male solitary bees tend to hatch out first and then spend their time waiting for the females of the species to emerge. Every so often, one would drop to the side of one of the boxes for a rest and to draw warmth from the wood.

Mason bees are aerial nesters that like to live in holes in wood, which is why they are a common visitor to garden bee hotels. At NQ growboxes I think they must be living in holes in the structure of the boxes themselves, as well as the wooden fencing.

The same week saw the arrival of tiny, metallic Lasioglossum or Furrow bees.

There are 4 metallic species of these that look so similar they can only be distinguished from each other using a microscope. I think several are resident at the growboxes, as they were the last bee I saw flying last year in September/October and no single species is active for this much of the year.

Mid May has seen the emergence of one of my favourites – the Blue Mason Bee. The males of these are a glittering gold colour and have stunning large eyes in various shades of blue. They are a remarkable looking bee, which didn’t arrive in my garden last year so I was particularly pleased to see these!

The drawback – these are seriously tiny bees and very flighty. If those big blue eyes see the slightest hint of movement they are gone, meaning it’s difficult to get a good close up shot of one.

One thing I have noticed about their behaviour is that once they’ve chosen a spot to land on, they return to it again and again. I decided to spend one lunchtime exclusively staking out boxes 5 and 6 where this little beauty kept landing.

Unfortunately there’s no controlling which direction they are facing when they land so I have a lot of shots like this –

But eventually my patience (and the severe cramp) was rewarded!

There seem to be 2 or 3 of these patrolling the boxes at the moment, so I will continue stalking them for the next few weeks.

The first bumblebees are starting to arrive. This beautiful Red Tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) worker visited what looked like every single flower in box 10.

By the time she’d finished she was boasting the fullest pollen baskets that I’ve ever seen.

There was also an unusual visitor to one of the boxes, a larger species than I normally photograph and my first ever mammal sighting at the growboxes.

Apparently field mice are particularly partial to Brassicae flowers, who knew?

Weekend Round-up – 19th/20th May 2018

From the continued good weather and lack of rain you’d think it was already Summer!

I’ve noticed that over the past week one of the male Bullfinches has been visiting the garden on his own – I’m hoping that this means that his partner is looking after eggs somewhere. I’d be beyond thrilled if they bought their young to the garden to feed.

We’ve also had our first young fledgling visit the garden. I was taking photos one evening after work when I noticed movement on the back fence…

And it was this little fluffball! I think it may be a Dunnock.

The first Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum) workers have finally started to arrive. They are late this year, but then I am still waiting for the Cornflowers to wake up! I like to think these are the daughters of the Queen who I found with her head in the Solitary Bee House all those weeks ago.

A couple of Starlings have started to visit daily and seem to have made it their personal mission to help me run down my stock of suet balls.

I adore Starlings. They, and Sparrows, are the garden birds I have the most vivid memories of as a child. I clearly had a thing for brown birds, though I’m not even sure a Sparrow counts as a brown bird with that iridescent sheen and those white flecks.

Finally, a new visitor to the larger pond. I’ve been silently hoping for dragonflies and damselflies to start using the ponds for a while so was incredibly happy when I saw a familiar skittering movement out of the corner of my eye on Sunday afternoon. I turned to see a female Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) perching on one of the plant stems.

She stayed for a few hours and kept moving from leaf to leaf. I hope she’s chosen this as her territory, or better still was laying eggs here. I guess that in a couple of years I’ll find out!

A case of mistaken identity

When I got back from the apiary on Saturday afternoon I went straight out into the garden to finish off some small jobs I’d started in the morning. Only to come flying back in straight away to grab my camera as I’d seen that another batch of Mason Bees had started hatching out.

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A huge male Mason Bee hauled himself out of one of the tubes – I’m guessing he was causing a bottleneck as three smaller males tumbled out straight after him. The large male plunged straight to the floor so I picked him up to move him to a safer place.

He was so comfortable on my hand that he started an extensive grooming regime which included pooing liberally on me – this is a first, and I think it must be some kind of post hatching cleaning ritual. Poo aside, this was great as it was lovely to be able to get right up close for a good look at him and to take some pictures.

As I mentioned, this boy is huge for a male Mason Bee – he’s about the size of a female. This meant that every time another male saw him, they presumed he was a female and grabbed him. There wasn’t a great deal he could do about it, as newly hatched bees seem a bit woozy at first. All he was trying to do was get himself clean and come around from his long winter sleep. But every time he was spotted, a confused male bee would latch on.

On arriving home last night the first female bees had started to emerge, so I’m hoping that this poor chap will finally get some peace!

Weekend Round-up – 12th – 13th May 2018

The garden is continuing to burst into life now that Spring is finally here!

The first workers have started to emerge from the Buff Tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) nest in the garage wall. They’ve found a really good pollen source somewhere – they are bringing bags of it in. I’m really looking forward to being able to watch this nest at close quarters over the summer.

There was another big Mason Bee emergence on Saturday, still only males so I am presuming that the females will start hatching out soon.

I was honoured to see that my all time favourite bee, the Ashy Mining Bee (Andrena cineraria) made a visit to the garden! This appeared last year, predictably just after I’d driven all the way to Brockholes nature reserve to see them! It’s a beautiful bee with black and white stripes. I still don’t have a decent picture of one, so I hope it comes back.

I was also pleased to see another Orange Tailed Mining Bee on one of the new clematis we have just put in – I think she approves!

And another unidentified Mining Bee hanging out on the trellis. I need to find a way to create a suitable habitat for them to nest in here!

On the mammal front we were supervised during an early morning gardening session by a Field Mouse I have nicknamed Ferdinand. I haven’t managed any daytime pictures of him yet, but I have managed to capture him on the trail cam.

The Sparrow Clean Up Crew

We are lucky enough to have a flock of House Sparrows that live in and around the garden. Since I’ve been watching them they’ve become one of my favourite garden birds – they are such little characters.

Recently, there’s been a lot of behaviour indicating that they’ve started nesting. I keep seeing Sparrows visit the feeders carrying a feather or other nesting material, which they put down to help themselves to a snack before continuing on their way. They are also regular customers at the nesting material holder I’ve put out.

Over winter, I deliberately don’t over tidy the garden. I prune anything that is particularly unruly but leave a lot of the ground cover vegetation in situ – thinking that it provides good cover for wildlife. Last year we planted a really pretty bronze sedge by the side of the big pond. The dead grass from last year’s growth has been there ever since and I was just starting to think about clearing it away when I noticed that there were Sparrows hovering around it, looking very interested.

Every so often one would grab a strand of grass, pull it out of the ground and fly off with it! I presume they are using it as nesting materials – but they are clearing the area so effectively they are like a mini clean-up crew!

Over the weekend I set up the trail cam to get a closer view –

These two Sparrows seem to be working as a team and arrive to collect grass at the same time. Of course this doesn’t always go according to plan – there you are, minding your own business and choosing the perfect strand of grass and what happens? Some rotter comes and steals it right out from under your beak!

May Day Bank Holiday Weekend Round Up

With the mini heatwave we had over the bank holiday weekend, the garden seems to have exploded into life. Luckily I was able to spend most of the weekend at home and outside so I had a great view of everything that was going on!

Firstly I set up the trail camera by the hanging bird feeders. I’m experimenting using close up filters with the trail camera for a closer view. It’s early days yet and I need to find a way to get the filters closer to the lens as I am getting some weird reflections / refractions, but all the same I am really pleased with the results so far!

Crenova Trail Cam + Polaroid 37mm 1x Close Up Filter

The male Red Mason bees continued to emerge. The older males spend their time mainly patrolling the outside of the bee houses waiting for a female to emerge –

As soon as they see movement from within a cell they dive onto the emerging bee. At the moment the females have yet to hatch, so it is other males they are usually divebombing and a small scuffle ensues. After one of these I found this poor chap on the floor, a little worse for wear as his wing seemed to have been damaged.

I also noticed a female Orange Tailed Mining Bee (Andrena haemorrhoa) on the lawn and attempting to dig!

We are getting Mining Bees in the garden a lot at the moment – they never seem to nest here though as I suspect the soil isn’t to their liking being clay-based. For an upcoming project I’m going to try setting up a planter for them if I can work out how to get the soil a bit drier first – watch this space!

On Sunday morning, I saw a flash of blue out of the corner of my eye. It turned out to be a Holly Blue butterfly! I’ve never had any of the blue butterflies visit the garden before so I was very pleased – and I saw it sporadically for the rest of the weekend when it seemed to be patrolling our garden and the one that backs onto it. I hope this is a sign that it is going to stick around!

Having learned that the hedgehog is still around, I put some food out and set the trail cam up to see if it visited. I didn’t capture the hedgehog, but the food did not go to waste –

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