The Garden Diary

May - 2001

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1 May - A little bit of bad news to start the month. This morning's dull weather gave way to periods of heavy rain as the day went on. This was accompanied by windy conditions that caused the leylandii branches to move about quite a bit. This afternoon I found two broken white eggs on the ground under the part of the trees where I thought the collared doves were nesting. The condition of the egg contents suggests that they have only recently been laid. Last year they had nested in almost the same spot, on the thin branches where the trees are most susceptible to any north winds. It looks as though they will have to start again.

Two of the robin fledglings made numerous appearances near the house today. There was an interesting moment when we had both adults and both fledglings more or less together on the deck this morning. While the male was intent on feeding them, the female stood next to one of them and chirped in her begging way. The male gave her a mealworm before carrying on dealing with the young. He is also heading off in other directions with food, suggesting that there is at least one more fledgling somewhere in or around the garden. Shortly afterwards one of the fledglings happily took some mealworms itself.

2 May - A damp day saw the blue bells starting to open in the garden. I did not get to take a photograph in daylight so this will fill the gap!

For the first time for weeks a dunnock made an appearance in the garden, and spent sometime on the bird table and under the hawthorn until the male robin chased it away.

The robins' behaviour fascinates me. This afternoon the adult pair came to feed on mealworms near the house. While the female stood next to then chirping, the male picked up 3 or 4 in his beak and flew off to the other end of the garden, presumably to the fledglings. He returned quite soon with the mealworms still in his beak and fed the female who had ignored the other mealworms on the floor in front of her!

The blackbirds continue to carry beakfuls of worms etc up to their nest

When we had a bit of sunshine late this afternoon I spotted the mouse again, foraging amongst the plants at the side of the small pond.

3 May - Robin behaviour continues to puzzle me. During the day there has been far less urgency about the adults collecting food. While I seen the male feed one of the fledglings, I have also seen it chasing a fledgling out of the garden. the one in the picture has repeatedly come down to the house end of the garden searching for food and has hidden from the male several times. Just after this photograph was taken the male swooped on it and chased it away.

The female has played no part in this. In fact she has repeatedly been calling with a long, plaintive, squeeky call from the hawthorn. She also continues to 'beg' for food when the male is about.

The solitary bees were very active in the sunshine of the early afternoon. Watching them, I caught sight of this little hunting spider which was going around the bee hotel. It was going into the open holes and did not seem to be too worried when a bee got close. The body was just over 5mm long (the hole it is pictured in is 7mm across). My spider book does not have a picture that exactly matches, but it belongs to the genus Salticus - jumping spiders.

4 May - Today has brought another step in the progress of the blackbird family as their chicks have left the nest. This one I spotted first, tucked between the main stems of the burberis bush, later it was hidden under the foliage of a group of bluebells. A second fledgling spent much of the day hidden behind a couple of ladders and a third is in my neighbour's garden. The one I have seen has not yet developed its tail feathers.

When they are hungry you can hear their call which is a sort of 'squeek with a sore throat'. The adults seem to call to them with a quiet, high pitched squeek.

Two robin fledglings are still about. The one pictured yesterday still finds itself being chased out of the garden while the second one is not. Perhaps the first one is a male and as such is seen as a rival. Anyway, it spent a great deal of the afternoon perched in a small shrub, seemingly enjoying the sunshine.

5 May - A bright, sunny day, although temperatures were kept down in by a cool wind. Today was a day for doing some woodwork under the caravan shelter. The adult blackbirds were around all day but I did see or hear their offspring, although food was being taken to them.

The robins continue to puzzle us. The male seems solely interested in the female now, taking food to her and I think I caught a glimpse of mating taking place. In the meantime two fledglings still hang around the garden, begging for food whenever the male is near. He ignores the pleading and frequently chases the one that is most reluctant to leave. The poor thing spends a lot of its time hiding among the shrubs. Last year, once the fledglings has left the nest we only caught an occasional glimpse of them over the next few days before they disappeared completely.

The television news today included an item about the decline of the bumble bees in the UK. Well, their population in this area is quite healthy. They are frequent visitors throughout the day, especially to the white dead nettles at the moment.

We had just one visit from a butterfly ths morning - I could not get close. It was a Fritillary, but I am not sure which one.

6 May - Just a brief entry to say that I saw far less of the robin fledglings today, being chased, as usual.

7 May - Well, it looks as though the blackbirds are into their third nest. The female has been gathering mud and moss from by the pond and carrying it off into the line of conifers a couple of gardens down the road. There has been no obvious taking away of food by the parents today. Could they have lost all three(?) of their young?

I couldn't resist including another juvenile robin picture, on the garden gate this time and the only time I saw it today. It is surprising how much more 'grown up' it appears to be in just a couple of days.



It is not going to be much longer before the hawthorn bursts into bloom.

This picture shows how the buds and the stalks supporting them have developed since the last image was recorded on 20 April. There are still a couple of last season's berries on the tree.


8 May - A bright, sunny morning brings another surprise. The blackbird must have had second thoughts about moving out. This morning she is busy building a nest right in the heart of our hawthorn tree. If I just lean back where I am sitting now I can see the side of the nest, about 5ft off the ground. At 10.15 am she has just left the nest and I have been watching a house sparrow trying to pull bits out from it! The backbird hen has just returned and she is pressing herself down into the nest cup and it looks as though she is using her feet to shape and compact the sides just as I have seen the blue tit do.

9 May - A dull day today slowed the solitary bee activity that was extensive yesterday (forgot to mention it!). The blackbirds were a lot less evident today. The female was only seen at the nest in the late afternoon. The nest is in the darkness of the hawthorn, directly in line with the gap in the foliage behind the sparrow in the picture.

The picture is included to show what happens when a wood pidgeon tries to visit the feeder. The green tray is supported by a ring of high density foam which will just about put up with a collared dove but tips the balance when woody arrives! I should point out that the feeder was refilled after the picture was taken. The green tray has greatly reduced the amount of spillage onto the ground below.

10 May - We will have a good display of Red Campion by the small pond this year. The first flower opened this morning to brighten up a dull, if warm and humid day.

The female blackbird spent some of the day sitting in her nest. The male on the other hand found himself confronting another male among the conifers. At one stage I noticed a different female collecting nest material which she carried off through (or into) the conifers. It seems as though neighbours are close at hand!

Except for one appearance of the female this morning, only the male has been about today. I assume the female is sitting on eggs again(?).

In the afternoon I was distracted skywards by the screeming of the first swifts of the year. I wonder how soon they will be followed by the house martins. I think there was only one nesting pair in the road last year.

11 May - This morning's hazy sunshine is witnessing the emergence of a number of small, red-eyed flies from small openings in some of the sealed solitary bee holes. I suspect that the fly larvae have been parasitic on the bee larvae. The flies measure about 4mm in length.

In the meantime the bees are very active, although they seem to ignore these intruders. I also noticed a different type of solitary bee visit the 'hotel' today. They were dark, nearly black with an almost hairless, shiny abdomen. I must try to get a picture if they will stay in one place long enough.

While I was trying to get this photograph, two male blackbirds were having a confrontation in the birch tree and on top of the bird box. It was more a battle of posturing rather than outright agression. I have hardly seen the female all day. She was sitting on the nest at one stage this afternoon but was away from it most of the day. She is there tonight, with just her tail visible as it sticks up.

I did not have to wait long to see the house martins. They appeared high in the sky above us this afternoon as the thunder clouds formed. Unfortunately, the storm missed us this time ( we had the edge of one yesterday).

13 May - A hot weekend saw temperatures in the garden of close to 30C yesterday, and today is going to be another nice day.

This morning has brought the first of the hawthorn flowers. It will not be long before the entire tree will be covered for an all too brief display of blosom.

Yesterday saw the first sparrow fledglings being fed. I have not seen a great amount of nesting activity from the sparrows this spring. I hope this is not a sign that our population is following the pattern of decline seen elsewhere.

The male blackbird is in an almost continuous contest with the rival at the bottom end of the garden. In the meantime, the female spends more time sitting in the nest. When she leaves it to feed she is a lot more wary than previously. I wonder if this is because of the contest going on between the males.

14 May - After two very warm days with temperatures reaching the upper 20's, today is back to a cooler 12C this cloudy morning (10.45am). Nevertheless, two more plants have come into bloom, on the left the ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi) and on the right the wild garlic (Allium ursinum).

The male blackbirds continue their squabbling on or around the blue tit box. Yesterday evening it went on long after the female had settled down for the night.



15 May - A dull start became a very pleasant, warm day which saw a lot of activity around the bee hotel, including the arrival of this solitary wasp that is now tucked up for the night in one of the 4mm diameter holes. I cannot match it exactly to any of the wasps in my Collins guide, but the way the wings are folded longitudinally suggests that it is one of the Mason wasps.





16 May - Quick snaps of two types of solitary bee using the hotel today.

Sunshine brought them out of the holes but they were still cold enough to be slow to react to my presence.

My two Collins insect guides confuse matters slightly as the illustrations for a particular bee are sometimes quite different. The one on the left looks similar to a Osmia rufa and the other one is similar to a Megachile centuncularis. Yesterday's wasp was still about this morning.

18 May - No digital camera available today as Sheila is using it on a school geography field trip.

While doing some sorting out at the bottom of the garden, behind the leylandii I have just discovered why there has been an ongoing dispute between the two male blackbirds. There is another female on a nest with eggs in a nestbox I made out of a piece of plastic pipe. It is hidden behind ivy about 4ft off the ground.

The little parasitic(?) flies photographed on 11 May have an interesting escape strategy. I have been removing them from the bee hotel whenever I see them emerging. When surprised, instead of flying away they just drop to the ground and fly off from there.

21 May - A different visitor to the bee hotel today in the form of this insect. I have not been able to identify it as yet. It is possibly a solitary wasp or an ichneumon wasp.






On the side of the caravan I spotted this ball of newly hatched spiders, about 1cm across. A couple of hours later they had disappeared.




23 May - I have been doing some woodwork in the garden over the last couple of very sunny days. I had expected to see more butterflies about but only a small white that did not land and this blue have appeared. This one returned several time today to rest on the leaves of a bamboo plant near where I was working. When it was at rest it did not open its wings and I could not get a good look as it flew. The best match my Collins guides come up with is a Holly Blue female (spring brood).

Both female blackbirds are sitting on their nests and their partners still have their games of chess around the bird box and bike shed and among the branches of the leylandii. With an incubation period of about 13 days, hatching in the hawthorn nest should take place by the end of the week.

The female robin only makes occasional appearances and I have seen the male take away mealworms, so I assume that she has another family in the making at the moment.

We had four greenfinches eating together on the bird table this morning. One of them seems to be getting used to my passing by and lets me get quite near. If it is about tomorrow I may try to take its photograph.


24 May - A few days ago I prepared a block of wood with hole sizes from 2 to 8mm as a new bee hotel. Today the first bees arrived. Here a bee is putting the final touches to sealing the entrance, having laid eggs and placed supplies of pollen in there first.




25 May - A couple more cells were sealed in the new bee hotel today. Also in the early evening I spotted that one of the larger holes(8mm) had two grubs in it. The one that was visible was still alive, just about. The were probably put there by a solitary wasp. I went back a number of times to check on it but nothing had arrived by dusk.




At the base of the ivy tree we have stinging nettles. Each year I usually spot a bush cricket on them. Today The first one appeared today, not on the nettles themselves but on a daisy growing below them. This tiny youngster was not much bigger tha an aphid on the daisy next door. It seems to have picked up some daisy pollen on its antennae.



While the red campions and the ragged robin plants are thriving and obvious, almost hidden behind the big pond is a display of ground ivy flowers.



Along side them the first buttercups have opened.






The dreaded lily beetles made another appearance today in the form of the amorous couple. Why should such 'nice' looking beetles be such pests?




26 May - I had another look by the stinging nettles this morning and found two crickets, both on daisies and the same size as shown yesterday.

While I was taking some more pictures, this tiny fly with striking yellow/black markings appeared and stayed on a blade of grass (measuring about 2.5mm across) long enough for me to capture this image. a look in my Collins guides suggests that it belongs to the Thaumatomyia family. It is similar to the Small Cluster-fly T. notata, although the head markings are different.


This Sow-thistle has grown by the birch tree. The flower heads opened this morning and are about 70cm above the ground. Its leaves are deeply cut into lobes (pinnatifid) which are quite spiny. (see below)

I still have not seen anything return to the hole with grubs in it in the bee hotel, but when I was taking the pictures of the Sow-thistle a solitary bee landed in the vegetation at its base and disappeared - I assume it has a burrow there.

27 May - No pictures today but a couple of things to record. First is the appearance of a juvenile blackbird. It came into the garden twice this afternoon and was chased away by our resident female both times. She took mealworms back to her nest today. She started building the nest on the 8th, so allowing for 4(?) days for egg laying and incubation of around 13 days, I looks as though I shall be seeing a lot more of the male now as it helps in the feeding of the chicks. When the blue tits have fledged I may try to set up a camera to watch the nest (from a distance) although camera angles may be a problem.

On a disappointing note, the blackbird's nest I found at the bottom of the garden nine days ago is now empty - just as with our resident blackbirds' nest the eggs have vanished - gone completely with no broken fragments and no apparent damage to the nest. If they had hatched there is no sign of any chicks. It is puzzling.

Just after I discovered the empty nest I found a hedghog sleeping between the stems of an ivy plant and the fence, below the nest. Although I have not seen any signs of hedghog activity in the rest of the garden so far this year, the presence of droppings nearby show that this one is active. I must watch out for it in the evenings.

28 May - A fine day that started off cloudy but became sunny later saw several plants in the garden come into flower. The flags irises are pictured in the pond diary.


On the stinging nettles by the Ivy tree the very inconspicuous flowers are now starting to open up.


Around the water butt the ox-eye daisy flowers are starting to open.



30 May - A brilliantly sunny day today brought several butterflies to the garden, although this is the only one that landed long enough to snatch a photograph. A damaged front wing reveals a dark border on the upper surface. This suggests that it is a male Holly Blue. Also seen were an Orange-tip and a brown coloured one that I did not get close enough to to identify.





Unwelcome visitors to the garden are mosquitoes. I provided breakfast for this specimen when I went to the bird box this morning. It is a large mosquito with striped abdomen and legs. I think it is Theobaldia annulata.


I am not seen much of either the robins or the blackbirds at the moment. I am concerned that the blackbird may have lost her third brood.

31 May - One item for the garden diary today - I can confirm, sadly, that the blackbird has abandoned the nest in the hawthorn and is now building her fourth attempt of the season. This time it is in the apple tree of a neighbour and she is using mud and moss from my ponds to build it.

I found two tiny featherless chicks dead at the bottom of the garden, one had been beheaded. I could not identify them as blackbird chicks but it seems to be a strong possibility as the female had started to take food to the nest.

She had made three attempts before she was successful last year, and on top of that she survived an attack that left her with a drooping wing ever since. This must be her last attempt this year and I cannot help but feel a great deal of sorrow for her.

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