Monday, 11 October 2010

Wood Mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)

I was sitting taking some photographs of the pond the other day when I kept hearing rustling noises coming from the top of the low wooden wall along the side of the garden. I couldn't see anything obvious, so I assumed it was a small bird or something in next-door's garden.

As I was preparing to go back indoors, I just happened to be looking at the right spot as something fast and brown disappeared into the tangled Sedum stems growing over the wall. A few minutes of watching and I discovered that it was a beautiful, huge eyed Wood Mouse, making repeated trips along the wall under the ivy to gather nesting material.

I crept closer and with a hefty dose of patience, luck and muscle cramp I got a few photos and this awesome piece of video. I quickly realised that the mouse was way too fast to get many decent pictures in the dark corner where it was emerging. A sudden flash of inspiration lead me to record this short video of the mouse cautiously emerging from the hole.

The mouse is easily identified as a Wood Mouse, with the ginger-red fur, white belly and insanely huge black eyes. Cute as a button.

I am thrilled that a wild mammal has set up home in my garden, and that I know about it. We have the occasional visiting fox, which is truly wonderful, but not the same as a resident. I wouldn't be surprised if there are other mammals living in my garden, but I've never seen them or seen evidence of them, making this one very special indeed.

Smooth Newt (Triturus vulgaris) Eft

The newt tadpoles have lost their gills and left the relative safety of the pond now. I keep finding these tiny, perfect mini-newts striding purposefully around the garden.

They are still only about an inch long and are called 'efts', although personally I think 'newtlets' is way cuter and suits them better. It will be at least 3 years before they are old enough and big enough to breed.

I worry a little that I'm going to accidentally hurt one while gardening as they hide under plants and in the bark chipping I use as a mulch. I'm learning to look carefully! They have also traversed the lawn path to reach the bed on the other side, so there is the additional worry of stepping on one hidden in the grass. I'm going to install some stepping stones on the path so I can see where (and on whom) I'm standing.

I've provided as many hiding places for them, and the froglets, as possible around the garden, from the log-pile full of leaf litter next to the pond to old terracotta pot halves full of damp dead leaves. Hopefully they will survive and thrive :)

I look forward to watching them grow big and strong, and seeing them return and breed in my pond in a few years time.

The Odd Couple

Flea Beetle and Snail, originally uploaded by Pipsissiwa.

The garden is full of these neat little beetles every year. I especially love their golden syrup amber colour. The swollen rear femoral leg sections allow them to jump powerfully, giving them their common name of 'Flea Beetle'. This species is Aphthona flava, but there are many others in the UK, all tiny, such as Phyllotreta nemorum and members of the Altica genus.

I chanced upon this one sitting happily and cutely on the shell of a small snail. The photo opportunity was too good to miss. :)


Mushroom, originally uploaded by Pipsissiwa.

Ah, it must be Autumn. Two large clumps of these attractive little mushrooms have appeared at the end of the garden.

I especially like the tatty, curly black edges, which contrast so beautifully with the white stem and brown cap. Those colours look like pure Autumn to me.

I haven't worked out yet what type they are with any certainty, and will update this post as and when I do!

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Common Wasp (Vespula vulgaris)

Wasps are unappreciated beauties, so striking in their yellow and black. Common Wasps can be distinguished from similar species (like the German Wasp) by the black anchor shape on their faces. Away from their nest, they are unlikely to sting unless you flail around and scare them, as so many people do.

Now that I have a pond, all sorts of new insects visit including lots of new hover fly species and a number of Common Wasps. I love watching them land on the pebbles or plant leaves and then bob down to drink.

One appears, drinks then flies away. A minute or so later another (or perhaps the same one) comes down and does the same. This goes on for hours. I have seen at most 4 wasps drinking at once. I assume they are harvesting water to make the 'paper' for nest building.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Garden Slug (Arion ater)

Garden Slug (Arion ater), originally uploaded by Pipsissiwa.

In the north of the UK, this slug is predominately black, whereas here in the south is is predominantly yellow. It has a distinctive black and orange striped skirt and can get very large indeed. This individual was over 15cm long when at full stretch.

A couple of these big ones have drowned in the pond recently, so I steered this guy away as he seemed to be heading for the same fate. I guess they can't get to the beach area or onto the plants in time.

I've learned to grow things that can survive a slug and snail onslaught, or that they dislike eating, as I figure they have every right to be in my garden. They may repulse some people, but to me they are beautiful and wonderfully simple yet successful animals. Hopefully the pond will attract plenty of things to eat them and so control their numbers naturally.

Monday, 23 August 2010

7 Spot Ladybird (Coccinella 7-punctata)

I have an Artemisia that suffers from an annual invasion of cool black and grey aphids who sway in unison when disturbed. There are hundreds of them but amazingly the plant doesn't seem to be detrimentally affected. I can always be sure to find ladybirds on it, enjoying the banquet. This lovely 7-Spot was the latest visitor. Happily, I have seen plenty of native ladybird species this year and very few of the large invading Harlequins, unlike last year when the opposite was true.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Hornet Hoverfly (Volucella Sp.)

A huge hoverfly, when I spotted it from across the garden I genuinely thought it was a hornet. It has a distinctive yellow face and smoky coloured wings. I'm not 100% sure of the species, but I'm sure it is a member of the Volucella genus which contains a variety of bee and wasp minics.

Garden Orb Spider (Araneus diadematus)

Such a common spider, this beauty makes the familiar orb webs. I've photographed so many of them before but somehow I've never noticed that the distinctive identifying 'white cross' patterning is actually made from coloured fur! It is amazingly beautiful. So spiders are cute furry animals too.

The Pond

The Pond, originally uploaded by Pipsissiwa.

Complete! The transplanted froglets, newtlets, larva and diving beetle are all doing great.

Many of the larva have hatched into beautiful mayflies; I even got to watch one emerge which was amazing.

The newts and froglets are loving hiding in the plants - there were none at all in their old (now removed) pond.

I've planted yellow flag iris, some dwarf reeds, corkscrew reed, frogbit, water soldiers, water hyacinths, water mint and more. Not all native, but they mostly are. My options at the local water garden shop were limited, and I needed oxygenating plants and surface cover asap for the amphibians. There is a lot of the single celled algae in the pond atm, so I need to try barley straw to reduce it. Once the pond finds a balance properly and the surface cover plants shade much of the water, the algae will be mostly self controlling.

Common Blue Butterfly (Polyommatus icarus)

Not one of my best pics, but I was delighted to see this pretty blue butterfly in the garden for the first time.

Pill Woodlouse (Armadillidium vulgare) with Young

I have wanted to get photographs of this for years, and am thrilled that when I finally did they came out this well. Woodlice carry their eggs on their belly until hatching and the young go on their way. This pill woodlouse was fit to burst with hatched young. It always amazes me how so many babies fit into such a small space - when the egg sac bursts it is quite the explosion of young!

Common Darter Dragonfly (Sympetrum striolatum)

I've only had the pond a bit over a week, and this beauty has visited already. It enjoyed basking on the deck next to the pond, and spent ages skimming the water for prey. I let out an audible squeak of delight when i saw it. We've had the odd damselfly visitor before but never a dragonfly.


Wasp, originally uploaded by Pipsissiwa.

This wasp comes to my pond for a drink, then flies off for a few minutes before returning to do it all again. This carries on for as long as I've watched it, hours in some cases. I'm guessing it needs the water for nest building or something, as it can't be thirsty all day!

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Thick Legged Flower Beetle (Oedemera nobilis) Male

The male of this distinctive metallic green beetle shows the 'thick-legs' that give it its common name. The females do not have this feature. They eat pollen, usually very messily, and seem to love hardy geraniums and lavatera (mallow). Mating occurs in late spring/early summer.

Rose Sawfly (Arge pagana) Larva

These are generally considered a pest of roses and other garden plants. The female lays eggs inside the plant stem and leaving a distinctive scar when the eggs hatch out. The larvae then decimate the plant they are on. I sacrificed a rose sucker to photograph these as they developed. Sticking their rear end in the air when threatened combined with striking colouring makes them very photogenic.

The Pond Takes Shape

My new wildlife pond is on schedule and should be completed, at least to a functioning level (if not a thing of beauty yet), by Saturday 7th August. On that date I'm re-homing a swathe of newts, frogs and invertebrates that are being displaced when the landlord of a friend removes their pond.

Steps 1 & 2:

Steps 3 & 4:

I cannot begin to describe how excited I am. I have wanted a wildlife pond since I was a little girl, catching tadpoles from the local ditch to keep in a tank. My parents weren't so pleased about the hundreds of froglets that escaped all over the garden, getting in the veg patch and scaring my Auntie. I don't think a pond was ever really in their idea of a garden, let alone a wildlife one left to be messy and natural. With the 15-20 year old Cherry Tree at the end of the garden space was limited, but it sadly died (from unknown causes) and been removed. Redesigning options became available, leaving space for a pond at last! Something good coming from the death of a beloved and beautiful tree.

Our original plan was to place the pond next to the new shed at the end of the garden, but it felt too out-of-the-way. We've now decided to put our pond in a prime location next to the deck so we can watch it in comfort, though I suspect I'll spend most of my time laying on the ground with my nose (and camera) a few centimetres off the surface. It was scary having to dig out loads of beautiful established herbaceous perennials and find new spaces for them, and sadly a few haven't made it, but any excuse to go and buy more is welcome! I managed to see a lot of cool species when digging the deep hole too, including several species of centipede, beetles, worms, various larvae, harvestmen etc.

So excited!

Field Grasshopper (Chorthippus brunneus)

Field Grasshopper (Chorthippus brunneus), originally uploaded by Pipsissiwa.
Identification via mountainashe (Ashley Wood) from Wild Things / Chinery / McGavin.

A grasshopper doing what they always do, hiding on the other side of a thin stem and thinking they can't be seen. The way light reflects on their huge eyes makes a 'false pupil' effect, giving them cute, slightly shifty-looking expressions.

Blackbird (Turdus merula) Fledgling

Every year blackbirds nest in the bushes at the end of the garden, so I get treated to an annual spectacle of beautiful youngsters. This one was cautiously enjoying honeysuckle berries and kept me company as I painted the new shed. With just a trace of 'baby beak' it's almost grown up.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Comma Butterfly (Polygonia c-album)

A wonderful copper and dark brown coloured butterfly, with distinctive 'raggedy' wing margins. They love feeding on the copious numbers of ivy flowers growing on my fence. The name comes from the comma shaped pale mark on the underside of the wing.

Scarlet Tiger Moth (Callimorpha dominula)

This moth is quite large and unmistakable. There are similarities to the Cream Spot Tiger Moth (Arctia villica), but the thorax doesn't have white edges and the hind wings are red not orange. I often find them dozing the day away on the ivy which covers the fence down one side of the garden.

Green Orb Spider (Araniella curcurbitina) Female

One of the more colourful and distinctive spiders found native in the UK. A gorgeous lime green abdomen with yellow/green body and legs, and a red patch around the spinnerets. They are pretty small and well camouflaged on leaves.

Field Grasshopper (Chorthippus brunneus)

Field Grasshopper (Chorthippus brunneus), originally uploaded by Pipsissiwa.
Identification via mountainashe (Ashley Wood) from Wild Things / Chinery / McGavin.

The garden is buzzing loudly with the mating calls of these gorgeous, architectural insects. You walk over the grass and loads leap out of the way. Awesome.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Beetle (Lagria hirta)

Beetle (Lagria hirta), originally uploaded by Pipsissiwa.

I've seen several of these beetles in the garden this year. Never seen them before, so I was quite excited! This is a male as it is relatively long and narrow, females are wider. It has lovely golden wingcases which are distinctly furry, and long, black, many-sectioned antennae. It was also a capable flier.

Carder Bee ( Anthidium Sp.)

Carder Bee ( Anthidium Sp.), originally uploaded by Pipsissiwa.

This year I have a whole mob of these beautiful, chilled out bees enjoying my Stachys (Lambs Ears) flowers. They are there, without fail, every day. I've been privileged enough to watch them eat, bask and even mate. Haven't yet seen any harvesting fluff for their nests, sadly, as I did last year.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Thick Legged Flower Beetle (Oedemera nobilis) Female

The female of this gorgeous iridescent green beetle does not have the 'thick-legs' for which the species is named. Only the male shows these thickened femoral sections on the rear pair of legs. The beetles in my garden can always be found messily eating pollen on hardy geraniums and bindweed. They fly, although when you see them doing so they look very ungainly.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

False Widow Spider (Steodata grossa)

False Widow Spider (Steodata grossa), originally uploaded by Pipsissiwa.

These spiders are large, shiny and long legged, and can look a lot like dark brown versions of the famous Black Widow. They look a bit intimidating and they can bite people (I gather its no worse than a bee sting), but only the very biggest can pierce skin and even then you'd really have to annoy it. They like living in sheltered outdoor places, such as behind stacks of old pots which is where most of mine seem to be.