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.

 

Massive Garden spider

It’s been a little while, so time for an update! Summer lingered late into September, and I even found myself eating lunch al fresco in October last weekend. Autumn has finally landed however, with plenty of wet and wild weather to knock the leaves off the trees.

  • Garden spiders are everywhere, stringing their massive webs across paths, waiting to trap unsuspecting arachnophobes. The one pictured above was on the front my recycling bin and was about the largest I’ve ever seen. Absolutely massive!
  • One evening I watched a smaller male Garden spider tentatively approaching a female in order to mate. She wasn’t keen and batted him away a few times before he managed to get in there. I might post the video sometime soon.
  • I’ve run into a few foxes recently, in my own garden and whilst out running. I’m always a little nervous when only a couple of yards from a fox – you don’t know what they might do, especially if they’re desperately hungry, ill (usually mange) or feel threatened. Usually it’s “skulk away”.
  • Such a long hot dry period, and yet when the rains come, the slugs and snails are there right away in incredible numbers. I could imagine people of days gone by imagining that they actually come down in the rain itself overnight.

Blossom

Wow it's been a strange winter – very wet, though I'm glad to say I live on high ground, but remarkably warm overall. I only remember a few mild frosts and the temperature has been in the mid teens for the last couple of weeks. My garden seems to be well ahead of the game compared to last year and I have some things that have just kept on flowering through the winter. I expect a harsh frost to descend in April and kill everything.

But apart from that, here are some things I've noticed recently:

  • The blossom is out on many trees and is beautiful. I presume it's banks of hawthorn along many motorways that have been making them a pleasure to drive along.
  • Massive queen bumble bees have been bumbling for a few weeks now, looking for nest sites.
  • Butterflies are on the wing – I think I've mostly seen Commas but they didn't stop long enough to be sure.

SnowdropsAconites

Apart from all the rain it's seemed a very warm winter, at least here in middle England. The snowdrops are not pushing up through snow, but into sunny 10c+ days. These examples are at Anglesey Abbey – worth visiting at this time of year for the winter gardens alone. The rest's great too.

Time to come out of hibernation! Here is a random assortment of things:

  • Did you know that Harvestmen (Opiliones) cluster together in a dense mass? Neither did I, but there are some great videos out there. People tend to name them incorrectly as spiders mind you. Note that Americans call them Daddy Long Legs, but we use that name for Crane Flies mostly.
  • If you missed WinterWatch on the BCC over the last week, it's all available online, incluing "Live: Winterwatch at the Big Garden Birdwatch" throughout this weekend.
  • I wish someone would invent a bird feeder that's impervious to terrible weather. I find that mine get wet inside courtesy of the rain driving in sideways pretty much every day. Then the contents stick together and go mouldy, requiring a full clean out only a couple of days after filling them. Does anyone know of such a feeder?

IchneumonWasp (1)

This strikingly beautiful wasp appeared as I worked in the garden, perhaps disturbed by my activity. I'm confident it is Pimpla rufipes, common in the autumn and fairly widespread. It doesn't have the enormously long ovipositor (pointy bit at the end of a female, for laying eggs) that some ichneumon wasps do. See my previous ichneumon post for a cracking example of that.

HouseSpider

The Society of Biology is recruiting you (yes you) to help research the lives of UK spiders around the home. You can record sightings online, and there's even an app available for iPhone and Android to make it easy to send in reports and identify species.

This is the time of year when male house spiders typically come inside our homes, looking for love. But surprisingly little is known about them. That's where you can help!

The BBC also has a great article about the survey, including a quick rundown of common species. It alerted me to the Cardinal spider, the UK's largest house spider, which can have a leg span up to 14cm according to Wikipedia, brilliantly illustrated with one comfortably straddling a floppy disk. Remember floppy disks?

PeacockButterfly
Here are some things I've noticed recently.

  • Butterflies, butterflies everywhere. Mostly small whites all over the purple flowers in the garden, and the brassicas of course. Also small tortoiseshells and peacocks. A perfect example above, alighted on my shed.
  • Bumble bees too, including some really big ones. It turns out quite a few live (lived) in my compost heap and make an angry buzzing with their wings when disturbed. Probably red-tailed bumble bees in the heap, according to this great reference page)
  • Garden spiders are starting to make themselves conspicuous, with webs spun across pathways waiting to catch me out in the morning.
  • Wasps are now well established, after being a bit thin on the ground earlier in the year. They can't half wreck a nice outdoor meal, though luckily my kids don't fear them yet.
  • Lots of leaves off some trees, presumably due to the very dry spells recently.
18. July 2013 · 3 comments · Categories: Seasonal

MiniRainbow
Way up in the middle of the sky a little bit of rainbow, shimmering in the wispy clouds.

BigChafer

It's that time of year again! Look up in your garden on a hot, still evening (just like today's) and you may very well see fat insects silhouetted against the dusky sky, lazily buzzing around the trees. Perhaps bumblebees at first glance, but in fact they're probably chafer beetles. Look down at the lawn at your feet and you might see one that's landed, presumably to lay eggs in the soil.

I've posted about them before, at the same time of year, and this evening as I walked through the garden I thought "it's that sort of muggy summer evening – I bet the chafers are abroad!" And I was right.

What do those eggs turn into? Great big, ugly larvae living under your turf!

ChaferGrub