NQ Growboxes Round-Up – Late June & July 2018

Late June brought very warm temperatures and a distinct lack of rain. The wildflowers were starting to look a touch wilted, but still attracted loads of bees, like this Hylaeus (Yellow Faced Bee) who clearly takes her common name very literally.

The first Cinnabar Moths were flitting around the site. Soon, hopefully, we’ll see their bright yellow and black caterpillars feeding on the Ragwort around the site.

I found this fluorescent spider on one of the Ox-eye Daisies. It’s a Green Orb Weaver, and is a common UK species though this is the first one I’ve seen. Despite it’s vivid colour, it camouflages against vegetation incredibly well, I almost missed it completely as I scanned over the flower heads to check for bees.

On one dull day when I was sure there was nothing to be found, I saw a ladybird hatching! This is the first time I’ve seen this, and I was surprised to see this bright yellow, plain looking ladybird emerging. Reading up later, I discovered that all ladybirds hatch out with yellow wing casings and without their spots, which develop slowly and patchily over the next few hours, along with their final colour.

Later that week I found another ladybird going through this process.

I’ve been seeing plenty of birds at the Growboxes this year. This female Blackbird is around a lot, collecting worms for her chicks.

This poor Blue Tit looks KNACKERED.

I’m also pleased to be seeing more and more House Sparrows around the boxes this year, taking advantage of the rich pickings available.

As July began the scorching temperatures and distinct lack of rain continued. At NQ Growboxes, as with everywhere else, this meant a distinct lack of forage to be found. The wildflowers at the edge of the site have been particularly hard hit. I’m not sure whether t’s the lack of forage or a combination of different factors but, as in my own garden, this seems to be bringing the bee season to an early end this year. Compared to the same time last year there are far fewer bees around – last July the bee season was still in full swing, not so this year.

The upside to this is that you are pretty much guaranteed to see something interesting if you head to one of the flowers that IS still in bloom. I found this Leafcutter bee visiting each Borage flower in turn – Borage is a fantastic bee plant as it refills with nectar incredibly quickly after a pollinator visits it, and it was one of the most popular bee plants on the site in early July.

There were a few Ox-Eye Daisies and Asteracae left – these are normally occupied by female Colletes (Plasterer Bees) gathering pollen with which to provision their nest cells or just using them as a place to warm up on a dull day!

These bees are very common at the Growboxes at this time of year, so much so that I think their nesting site must be somewhere in the near vicinity. They are ground nesters and aren’t nesting in the boxes themselves, so I suspect they may be nesting somewhere in the adjacent car park. I must have a walk round one day to see if I can find them!

One insect that seems to be doing incredibly well in the heat is the butterfly. Large and Small Whites, Commas and Red Admirals are a common sight flitting around the boxes at the moment, usually in groups of several at a time. I was thrilled to find a species I’ve never seen before nectaring on one of the lavender bushes – a Large Skipper. The name is deceptive though – it’s a really tiny creature, so much so that I thought it was a moth at first. It was such a beautiful, iridescent shad of golden orange – it glittered in the sun. It was a rare butterfly too, in that it was happy for me to get right up close with the camera and just continued nonchalantly feeding.

My favourite Hylaeus (Yellow Faced) bees have all but gone now. There are just a few females to be found busily gathering provisions but nothing like the numbers there were a few weeks ago.

A new arrival though is this Blue Lasioglossum (Furrow) bee. These arrived late on in the season last year and may be another sign that the bee year has been accelerated somehow and is coming to an end.

I found this distinctive looking Shield Bug hiding in the lavender. Shield Bugs are a common sight in gardens, where they can be easily recognised by the distinctive shape that gives them their name. They are apparently also known as Stink Bugs because they emit a foul odour when they feel threatened – a theory I have not personally tested! Most of the Shield Bugs I see are in shades of green and brown, but this one was mainly pinky-purple with almost a checkerboard pattern of black and white round the site. This is the Hairy Shield Bug, Dolycoris baccarum, which is mainly found in the South of the country but is spreading Northwards as temperatures rise. There are only a handful of records for this species around Manchester so it’s another great find for NQ Growboxes!

As you pass through the Growboxes at the moment, you find your movements tracked by a strange, buzz-like ‘song’ coming from the sides of the boxes or the ground by your feet. You may see a small something spring across the path in front of you, or at the side out of the corner of your eye. These will be the Grasshoppers, who are all around the boxes at the moment. They seem to like to sit on the edge of the boxes sometimes, watching the world go by, and are fascinating when viewed up close. Pictured is the Common Field Grasshopper, Chorthippus brunneus on box 9.

So another month comes to a close. It’s been a very strange year for wildlife, and the bee season especially seeming to be coming to a premature end when it would normally still be in full swing. It’ll be interesting to see how the rest of the year unfolds.

Garden Round-Up – July 2018

Normally July sees me spending as much as my free time as possible out in the garden following insects about. This year, the bee season is almost finished now – I wonder if the sheer amount of sunny days means that the bees have ‘burnt out’ early? Additionally there is real pressure on forage – flowering plants also seem to have finished early, and those left have struggled with the lack of rain.

On the other hand, the one insect that seems to be loving the weather and thriving is butterflies and moths. We’ve had some cool moths in the garden this month, I really must invest in a moth trap!

I found this Herald moth when I flipped the garden table over to paint it –

And this Silver Y was roosting on one of the beehouses when I got home one evening. It was so well camouflaged against the leaves in the tubes.

I’ve been doing some more experimenting with the trail cam, using with close up filters to allow the camera to focus closer on the birds. These are taken using the 1x filter.

The Blackbird appears to have started to moult – either that or the pressure of bringing up youngsters has turned him grey!

I was pleased to manage to capture this next picture, as I’m rarely seeing the adult and young Blue Tits together these days as the young birds have started to branch out on their own.

The hedgehog has not been back to the garden, though I am still putting the camera out as well as food in an effort to persuade it to become a regular garden visitor! The fox, though has returned – and it seemed to spot the camera this time.

This weekend I’ve been using a 4x filter on the trailcam to get even closer shots.

It works better for still images than video, as the depth of field (the area of the frame that’s in focus) is really thin. I’m pleased with the results though, and if I can get the birds to stay in one particular part of the frame it will work well.

I’ve also managed some shots with my DSLR – I wanted to get some more shots of the fledglings as they’ll be adult birds before we know it! We had some rain this past weekend, which must be all new to them. This young Great Tit certainly seemed confused by the wet stuff thay had started falling from the sky –

There are also at least two young Blue Tits visiting the feeders regularly. I can’t get over just how tiny they are.

The squirrel has started visiting the garden again and is looking really red at the moment. I think this must be it’s Summer coat.

Finally having had a decent amount of rain this weekend means the frogs are once again moving around the garden. I nipped out on Sunday evening at dusk as the rain had just started falling and they were everywhere.

It’s so good to see the rain. I can only do so much with a hose, even after just a couple of days of rain the plants are looking lush and green again. Never thought that living in Manchester I would say that I missed rain – I’ll certainly appreciate it a lot more in future!

Robin (almost) Redbreast

The garden birds have started to moult in earnest now – the adults, who’ve been looking quite tatty after weeks of exhausting work looking after their chicks, growing a smart new set of feathers in preparation for Winter and the fledglings donning their adult attire.

I must confess that the first odd feathers found round the garden made me panic a bit as we’ve recently been host to a particularly murderous cat. But then I saw the strange ‘half and half’ outfits that the birds had started sporting and put two and two together.

Nowhere is the process more clear than with the young Robin. His Red Breast has started to come through in earnest now, in contrast to how he looked just a few short weeks ago on July 10th –

And now –

It’s only going to be a few weeks until the birds start to disappear to complete the moult – without the protection of their feathers while moulting they are pretty vulnerable, so often retreat to the safety of the hedgerows in late Summer, returning as if anew in Autumn. So I’ve been eager to spend as much time as possible taking pictures now while I can.

I’ve had the trailcam set on the birdtable today – I’ve been putting food up there daily recently to try and reduce the amount of birds feeding on the ground because of the aforementioned cat – and I noticed the young Robin has been feeding there regularly through the day. I put out a fresh supply of mealworms and settled down to wait. What bird can resist a mealworm?

I didn’t have long to wait before the Robin arrived to take advantage of the feast on offer, and gave me the opportunity to get some close up shots.

Leafcutters in Action

I’d been quietly hoping for Leafcutter Bees to start using the bee hotels since I first put them up in 2016. I was seeing small Leafcutters such as the Patchwork Leafcutter Bee (Megachile centuncularis) foraging regularly, but there sadly were no takers for the residences available. That is, until last year. For the first time I’d put out a beehouse of my own making containing bamboo and drilled wood blocks, and the holes had ended up a little larger than those in my purchased houses. This seemed to have attracted one of the largest Leafcutter species that we have in the UK, the Wood-Carving Leafcutter Bee (Megachile liginseca).

This species normally nests in dead wood and are very particular about the size and shape of hole that they use – when selecting a place to nest they fly around an area, ‘auditioning’ any likely looking holes or crevices by climbing in and thoroughly inspecting them to narrow down the options. Once they have made their choice, they perfect the tunnel by shaping it with their powerful jaws. Loudly. The first indication I had that my Leafcutter had arrived were scraping noises coming from the beehouses.

I followed ‘my’ Leafcutter through the season and she was amazingly tolerant of me and my camera, often coming forward in the tunnels to investigate when I was there.

At the end of the nest season she’d completed 7 nest tunnels, so I was eagerly waiting for these to hatch when the Summer started. The males hatched first and spent their early days sunbathing on the top of the beehouses and waiting for the females to emerge.

A few days after the males, the females hatched out and once mated wasted no time in beginning to nest build. I quickly noticed the tell-tale circular holes appearing in various leaves around the garden, most notably the Snowberry which seems to be a firm favourite. They are using an incredible range of leaves in the garden this year, as well as in the gardens beyond.

For the first time this year I’ve managed to get some pictures of the Leafcutters cutting leaves. Still not the best pictures as they are incredibly fast, but am happy to have been able to capture this at last!

Unlike her mother, one of this year’s Leafcutters is an incredibly feisty bee. The minute she senses movement outside the nest tunnel she comes barrelling out to move the culprit on in no uncertain terms.

Others are more accommodating, and have let me get close enough to capture some shots of them finishing off the outer layers of their nest tunnels with leaves. It’s incredible to watch them carefully fold them into place.

At the time of writing, the Leafcutters have sealed a massive 22 nest cells. Last year our Leafcutter was around until September, and while I’m not sure that her offspring will manage the same – due to the hot weather there’s a serious lack of forage around and bees are starting to struggle – I’m hoping for a few more and a bumper Leafcutter year in 2019!

Recycling – Solitary Bee Style

Our resident Hylaeus (Yellow-Faced Bee) has finally stopped nesting in the Oasis house… and the new spot she has chosen is interesting to say the least!

She’s taken over a cell that has recently been vacated by a Mason Wasp who hatched out this year. I initially saw a small, black insect going in and out of the cell and assumed that it was another Mason Wasp, perhaps one of the smaller species, until one morning I saw this tiny face looking back out at me.

When she’d sealed the cell, it looked like this. Hylaeus bees use a form of resin to seal their nest cells which is almost transparent. It doesn’t photograph brilliantly but it’s to the right of the nest hole here with the Mason Wasp original mud capping still in place on the left.

After finishing this nest hole the Hylaeus moved to another (empty this time) cell in another part of the same beehouse. She seems very protective of her nest cells and is unwilling to leave them, even at night. I found her bent double in this almost finished cell – the only way she would fit. This didn’t look like the most comfortable position but she was still there the next morning!

I’m not sure how common this type of nest tunnel recycling is, but if anyone knows I would love to find out! I’ve noticed the Leafcutter bees re-using cells that have been vacated by Mason Bees – but they clear out every trace of the former occupants, whereas this Hylaeus seemed to be taking advantage of the tunnel size and shape left by the wasp.

Blue Mason Bee

The remaining Blue Mason bee at NQ Growboxes is spending most of his time tucked up in the nail hole in the fencing at the end of box 9, just coming out occasionally to forage. He’s looking tired now – he’s lived a long time for a bee.

He was close to the front of the hole one day last week, so I was able to spend some time photographing him. As I did, the sun came out and hit the fence and clearly warmed him up enough for him to emerge.

These are some of the favourite pictures I’ve taken so far this year I think. I spent so much time stalking this little guy earlier on in the Summer and I’m really quite fond of him.

Fledglings

It seemed that no sooner had June arrived, then suddenly the garden was full of baby birds! I’ve really enjoyed time spent out in the garden with my camera, watching them get to grips with life outside the nest.

There’s an awful lot of trying to understand how things work –

Time spent standing around looking majestic –

Mum and dad are often around too, keeping a watchful eye –

But even if they aren’t, there’s normally someone else about to share a drink with –

Although sometimes this big new world is all a bit too much –