There are many unusual wasps and bees in my garden. I swear I see something new every day! I needed to look up this one gnawing the wood off my shed, to find that it is apparently a Median wasp drone, the largest of the UK paper wasps apart from the Hornet. I could hear it scraping the wood and it was definitely a shade bigger than the average wasp. It's quite a sleek thing, being largely black with just the slivers of yellow – a designer wasp perhaps.

Intriguingly that linked page suggests that these wasps can be dissuaded from attacking your picnic with a wave of the arm, whereas that only agitates the more normal UK wasps.

Excuse the title, but I'm confused. This picture bears many major similarities to a Ruddy duck, but it also displays some jarring not-quite-rightnesses: the beak shape doesn't seem entirely correct, the head not chunky enough and the body plumage doesn't match. But there surely aren't many ducks with a blue bill and black and white head? Perhaps it's a non-UK exotic, since I saw it at Pensthorpe, which might mean all bets are off! Is it a cross-breed, e.g. a Ruddy Mallard? Is that even possible? Answers on a postcard please (or in the comments below).

I figure that the one at the back is a Merganser of some sort.

Answer: no – it's not a Ruddy duck. It is in fact a Puna Teal, native to South America. Thanks to Blackbird for enlightening us all in the comments!


Last year at the end of June I noticed big fat insects buzzing around the tops of the birch trees in the fading light of the warm evening. It took a while but I determined that they were Chafer beetles of some sort. And this evening after a surprisingly warm day, they were at it again, presumably triggered by the right weather at the right time of year.

LadybirdEmerging1 LadybirdEmerging2

As I returned home this evening I saw that one of the ladybird pupae adorning the inside of my porch had spawned a fresh ladybird, with translucent orange wing cases and just the merest hint of spots. A number of hours later it was looking more typically ladybird-like. I assume it is a Harlequin, owing to the big black ‘M’ on its head and the orange legs. That’s the early and later photos above, with the empty pupae case on the right.


We have a neat bird feeder that attaches to the glass of our sliding doors which affords us close up views of blue tits and great tits for the main part. They seem entirely happy to be there just a few feet from you, though if you move much they dash off. This squirrel however is totally fearless and seems to understand how glass works – i.e. you can get as close as you like on the other side of it but you can't touch it.

This allows for some close-up squirrel photography, though reflections can be a bit of a problem, as can the dirty windows and lack of light on the side I'm photographing.


A quick shot of the RSPB's logo bird, for no particular reason.

I have seen a few tiny grasshoppers in the back garden recently, generally a sandy colour and less than 1 centimetre long. I'm afraid I don't have a picture (plenty via Google), but I was reading up trying to figure out what they were and I thought it worth sharing. Having spent a while trying to find a very small species of grasshopper I determined that they are in fact grasshopper nymphs (of I don't know what species) which are basically much like the full-sized adults but more 'babyish', with bigger heads in proportion to their bodies.

In general a nymph is an immature invertebrate that looks much like the adult and eventually turns into one via its final moult. This stands in contrast to larvae, which tend to be very different indeed to the adults and go through a pupal stage before emerging in the adult form.

I'm not going to fool anybody that this is an owl in the wild – the tethers dangling from its legs give that away, but it's still quite challenging to get a decent shot at a falconry display. An uncluttered 'natural' background and good focus are quite tough to achieve, though probably easy with owls that with falcons swooping around and greater speeds (I've tried and failed). Set camera to continuous focus and a high shutter speed and try to track it accurately so the autofocus can do its best. Still a bit of a hit and miss affair mind you!

This particular Barn owl is at Willows Farm Village in Hertfordshire, which is incidentally a good fun day out for young children! They have 46 birds in their falconry centre.

I have been lucky enough to see Barn owls in the wild too, flying in daylight at The Lost Gardens of Heligan and at dusk in Norfolk. Note that Barn owls don't go twit-twoo – that is in fact a call/response between female and male Tawny owls, though I heard a lot of that at night in Norfolk too, emanating from the woods.


You may have seen the striking male Mandarin duck on a visit to a park, as they are successful in the wild here in the UK, though they are originally from Asia as you might have guessed, with the UK population having grown from escapees. That said, according to Wikipedia and the RSPB (whose numbers don't tally but suggest 1,000 – 7,000 pairs) the UK population may be similar to those in their native homelands, due to exports and loss of habitat.

The BBC doesn't say much about them, but it does have a particularly interesting factoid: they're one of the few ducks that isn't hunted for food, as apparently it tastes really bad!


I was lucky enough to be invited to a photography competition yesterday held in London. About 35 miscellaneous bloggers were challenged by Microsoft to go out for a few hours and come back with photos representing London as part of the Your Britain marketing effort.

I'm pleased to say that UKNB won in the nature section, with the image above. Not particularly naturey to be honest, but containing plenty of iconic ingredients of a British summer: striped deckchairs, wind, roses, grass and gardening.

There were some rules that made things just a little bit more challenging. Because the images were theoretically destined to be the background for for a day (though mine wasn't winningy enough to achieve that glorious honour) they had to be in landscape format; not include human faces; not include obvious commercial branding; generally suitable for use in that context.