Autumn Arrives

It feels like five minutes ago that we were baking in the never ending heat and dryness of the Summer, and wishing for rain. Then, as meteorological Autumn arrived on the 1st of September, Summer seemed to heed the calendar, ending abruptly and the Autumn weather arrived with a bang. We’ve so far had two named storms and a 48 hour stretch of rain. Following the rain, the lawn seems studded with orange. It’s going to be a good Autumn for fungi, if this year’s crop of Deceivers is anything to go by. I’m hoping that their cousin, the Amethyst Deceiver will put in an appearance under the hedge this year as it does from time to time.

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After a fairly quiet and uneventful few weeks in terms of garden wildlife, this too has started to return. I was chuffed to see my favourite fluff-tastic flying lollipops, the Long-Tailed Tits arrive in the garden for the first time since the unseasonal snowy spell back in March. There seems to be a group of four or five of them that have teamed up with a couple of Blue Tits. It’s only having seen a Long-Tailed Tit feeding next to a teeny Blue Tit that I’ve really begun to appreciate just how small they actually are.

I’ve been keen to get some close up shots of Long-Tailed Tits since they started visiting the garden, so I was pleased that they’ve started to investigate the feeder nearest to the house, which allowed me to take photos of them through the kitchen window. They seem VERY interested in the kibbled peanuts on offer here.

This is the earliest that the Long-Tailed Tits have arrived in the garden – they normally turn up once Winter has properly set in. Do they know something that we don’t, I wonder – are we in for as cold a Winter as we had warm a Summer? I’m now just waiting for the Bullfinches to come back to the garden and then all our normal Winter visitors will be present and correct.

I’ve continued putting hedgehog food out nightly, but sadly no takers. Of the prickly variety, anyway. A couple of weeks ago I noticed that the bowl had started seemingly emptying itself overnight, so I set up a trailcam and soon the culprit was revealed – our Field Mouse!

Up until now he’s completely ignored the hedgehog food, so I think the colder weather has urged him to feed up and lay down some fat reserves ready for Winter. I felt bad for him, so started placing a hazelnut or two in the entrance of the feeder every few nights. These seem to be going down a treat! He often picks these up and runs off with them, probably to cache as part of his Winter store cupboard, but sometimes he can’t seem to resist and eats them on the spot!

I hope this is somewhat closer to his natural diet than the hedgehog food. I’m still really hoping a hedgehog finds its way to us this year – I’d love to have them around regularly.

Our first Garden Owl!

I’ve thought for a while that there may be owls around in our local area – where we live was planned as a ‘Garden Village’ after the war, and so we’re lucky enough to have small parks and open spaces at the end of most of the streets. These contain a lot of tall trees ideal for roosting and watching the activities (and potential prey) in the gardens below. I’d heard a Tawny Owl call from somewhere behind the house a couple of times in the middle of the night, but I’d never actually seen one around.

So I was thrilled to see a shape drop out of the sky at dusk the other evening, and alight on our next door neighbours roof. I was just thinking that the Woodpigeon was out late, and then it turned it’s head enough for me to see it’s silhouette – an owl!

It perched for a few minutes, from the movements of it’s head I suspect eating an evening snack. When finished, it flexed it’s wings a few times before flying off into the night. I so hope it comes back! I’m guessing it was a Tawny Owl, as it’s the species that makes most sense from the perspective of the habitat in our area.

I’d love to get a better look at it – I’ve only seen a Tawny Owl close up during a photography session at a Birds of Prey centre near me, from which the photos on this post are taken. I’m wondering if I rigged a trail cam to point upwards, whether that would work. Even if not, I’m just thrilled to have confirmation that we have them in the area, and that they are coming so close to the garden.

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.

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 –