It’s been a while, but I’m back, with a fresh house and garden to provide new nature opportunities. That’s not why I moved of course, but all the same…

I’ve already dug a pond, and seen a fair few things. Notably the following.

  • A fox, bold as brass on the lawn in the middle of the day.
  • A nuthatch on a couple of occasions, which I think comes down from the woodland I can see from the garden.
  • A hedgehog, just the once so far.
  • A muntjac deer walking down the street and into the pub car park. Quite surreal.
  • Pond life: dragonflies, frogs by the bucketload, including one that hopped into the house, pond skaters, water boatmen etc.
  • Lots of jackdaws and parakeets. They roost in the woods – an incredible noise as they return each evening.
  • Just the one smooth newt, under a rock.

I will be blogging about the pond build soon.

Shield Bug Nymph

Veronica sent in some picture that she speculated were green shield bugs. She’s right, but they are the juvenile “nymphs” which lack wings, hence the slightly different rear ends to the adults that most people would recognise.

False Widow Guard Spider  Guard House Spider

Who needs a guard dog, or guard goose, when you can have a guard spider? I have two good examples above my front door: a large false widow, and a house spider living just a couple of inches from it.

The false widow (Steatoda nobilis) got a lot of bad press over the last couple of years, as a relative of the infamous Black widow, and being an ‘immigrant’ the papers love to demonise them. An immigrant from over 100 years ago mind you. Still, if that keeps tabloid-rading miscreants from my door, then all the better! Still, I doubt those miscreants are well informed in spider identification.

It does surprise me that two large spiders can live so very close to one another without any aggro. Their webs literally intermingle, and I’ve seen them sitting within an inch of each other.

Arty Bee

This bee paused for a breather on my brick path, and was good enough to stick around for a few photos. I assume it’s a mining bee of some sort, though I’m not going to try to identify exactly which one. This is about the extent of what a plain iPhone 6 can manage for close-up work.

Mining Bee On Path

Wasp nest building

Time to emerge from winter hibernation, somewhat belatedly, as it’s already been a warm, dry spring in the UK, hitting 25c at one point and doing a passable impression of summer.

This is the most exciting time of the year for nature lovers, at least in my opinion, as new life bursts all around. Also, I find myself spending a lot of time in the garden, and so I’m well placed to notice what’s going on outside.

  • A wasp started building a nest on the ceiling of my shed, which was fascinating to watch, but realistically couldn’t be allowed to continue as I use the shed a lot. You can see it pictured above, with the beginnings of the central set of hexagonal cells handing from the centre of the outer shell.
  • Plenty of butterflies are about, with the bright yellow/green Brimstones being particularly noticeable.
  • Ants never seem to let up. How can there be about 3 nests (all different colours and sizes) per square metre in my garden! Do they all survive the winter or have they grown up from nothing in just a very short time? A little reading suggests they just go deeper underground below the frost line.
  • Jays and Magpies are everywhere and very noticeable. Just that time of year.

 

Gorse Webs

A blast from the recent past here – September of last year. My own dear father sent this picture of fine, dense webs on gorse bushes. If you look closely you can see that there are multiple layers.

I had assumed that these must be the work of caterpillars, like the webs that sometimes enshroud whole trees and cars. But a little research suggests they might be the work of tiny red Gorse spider mites. Apparently it is damaging to the plant and is even used as a biological control in some parts of the worlds, to keep Gorse down.

Tiger Beetle

Thanks to Peter Hunt for sending in these marvellous images of a beetle I didn’t know about before now. In his own words:

“It may be of interest to your readers to see The Cliff Tiger Beetle, Cylindera germanica, that is found along the south west coast of the Isle of Wight, on our crumbling cliffs.

In July I came across this beetle as it scurries around after prey. It has a formidable pair of jaws and tends to pursue its quarry on foot rather than taking flight. A magnificent beast and a rare one in the UK too.”
It’s perhaps no surprise I’ve not heard of it, as apparently it has only been found in Dorset and on the Isle of Wight since 1970. Peter has blogged about it on his own excellent site, with more local wonders.

Tiger Beetle

Irreplaceable Woodlands Book

Charles Flower has been custodian of the 25-acre Mapleash Copse for thirty years, and in this book he records his knowledge and passion for British woodland and everything that lives within it. He has done an incredible job, as this truly is a masterwork and an absolute joy to read. It blew me away with its depth and breadth and sparkling photography. Brace yourselves – this is going to be a gushingly positive review.

Like many people, I love a walk in the woods, at any time of year, and this book brings those British woods to life. It starts with an in-depth history of Mapleash Copse mixed in with the evolution of British woodland and its place as a critical resource over the millennia that people have lived in these isles. This history is detailed and fascinating, ramming home just how important woodland was, and how deliberately and intensively it was managed. Each type of wood had its particular use, from wheel hubs and spokes to tool handles and charcoal. Really it’s only in the last hundred years that this has ceased to be and most woods have been largely left to their own devices.

People like Charles however have been learning how to manage woodland, via coppicing, pollarding and careful species selection. In this respect the book is a detailed practical guide to managing woodland, especially Hazel coppice, and the 30 years of hard-won experience documented here is gold dust for anyone in a similar position of responsibility. Or simply for anyone that finds it fascinating learning about the surprising intricacies of the woods they walk through.

Irreplaceable Woodlands Pictures

The level of amazing detail extends into the later chapters on the flora and fauna, including super-close up views of lichens, mosses and slime-moulds, alongside woodpeckers, moths and dormice. The photography throughout is top-notch and the publisher has done it justice with loads of full page images, luxuriously printed.

All in all this book is a treasure that has taught me a huge amount and that I will be passing on (or recommending) to several other people that I know.

Irreplaceable Woodlands is available on Amazon for £17. Price correct at time of publication.

Disclosure: I was sent a copy of this book for review purposes. My review is entirely objective however. This post contains affiliate links.

 

Elephant Hawk Moth Larva

Peter Hunt sent in this cracking shot of an Elephant hawk moth larva. Apparently marooned a couple of inches above the waterline on a pond plant, he moved it to a Fuschia. Caterpillars generally only eat a few specific plants and that’s on the list, so Peter probably gave it a good chance.

Thanks for sending it in!


Red Garden Spider

I saw this very large Garden spider (Araneus diadematus) crawling slowly up my porch – and latterly on the hessian bag where I tempted it for a better photograph in the light. It was a very large example and strikingly coloured a deep red with dark brown legs and ruby red abdomen. I’ve never seen a red variation before and marvelled at it for some time. I had to check online to reassure myself it really was just a standard Garden spider and I hadn’t discovered a new species. What a magnificent brute!

RedGardenSpider2