The Garden Diary

April (part 1) - 2002

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2 April - Only the occasional look at the garden today. I have been noticing quite a bit of activity by a couple of greenfinches up in the Leylandii trees - I wonder whether they are looking to nest there (remembering that I found old GF nests there last year). Also, Sheila thinks she saw a Sparrow take nesting material in the direction of some boxes mounted under the eves of the house.

Hay fever is getting the better of me over the last few days. I'm not blaming them for it, but when the wind blows you can see the clouds of pollen leaving the conifers behind our Leylandii.

One feature of warm afternoons and evenings is the bobbing flight of swarms of these insects, which may be a small type of Crane-Fly, although I cannot identify them using my insect guides. They measure about 5mm long with wings 8mm long (with much longer legs).

On the close-up you can clearly see the halteres. These are the bulbous shapes sticking out on either side. They are greatly modified hind wings that vibrate with the wings and act as stabilisers, especially in straight flight.

Click on the image to see a larger version


3 April - Another beautiful day with the temperature climbing to over 20C. I spent a bit of time tidying up around part of the big pond, taking care not to tread on the first daisies to open this year.

While Sheila and I sat having a cup of coffee we watched a couple of House Sparrows visiting the nest boxes up above our bathroom window. They went into different entrances at first, and then, after looking out several times one flew into the other occupied box. They both stayed in there for a minute or two before leaving to join the other sparrows in the Hawthorn.


4 April - Another day of sunshine, when the temperature again reached 20C. A bit more tidying done and another ladybird spotted!

The big bamboo plant is a good place to look for insects on days like this. This one seems to similar to a 14-spot Ladybird (Calvia 14-guttata) although ddifferent in clour and markings to one I photographed back on 7 July last year.



5 April - Another ladybird visitor to the bamboo this morning. This time it is a 2-Spot Ladybird (Adalia bipinctata).





6 April - Another short entry today. As I went down to photograph the BT nest a noise the other side of the pond attracted my attention. This hedgehog was drinking from the pond - the first time I've seen that.

Hopefully we will see more of the hedgehogs this year after their virtual absence in 2001.

Today I installed a slate stone path between the ponds, a job I have been meaning to do for ages. At 'high tide', when it rains, the narrow space between the ponds gets very muddy. The path should cure that problem.

The weather continues to be good, with lots of sunshine, although today we have had an easterly wind which made it very chilly in the shade by the afternoon. I have had to top up the ponds again today, so I suppose I should be hoping for rain, but I'm not!


7 April - The excellent weather has continued and given me chance to get some long overdue tidying up done at the bottom of the garden. It did mean that little time was spent watching the garden, but I my attention was drawn to this little bee down in the grass by the side of the pond.

It was impossible to get a photograph of it there so this one was taken of it under glass. The image is not as sharp as I would have liked because the bee would not stop moving and I did not want to keep it trapped like this for more than a few minutes.

Identification has been a problem for me. I think it is a bumble bee (Bombus sp.) (the nearest match I can find in my Insect guide is Bombus distinguendus). While its back has bright orange/red coloured hairs, the underside is completely black. To give an idea of scale, the yellow centre of the daisy is 8mm across.

This morning I caught a glimpse of a Sparrowhawk as it performed a quick fly-around of the Hawthorn in the early sunshine. The female blackbird is gradually becoming less wary of my presence in the garden. There are Starlings gathering nesting materials now, there are frequent mating tussles among the Sparrows, and The male chaffinch was paying a great deal of attention to his partner lunchtime today.


8 April - Another bright, sunny morning has seen the sparrows quite busy gathering nesting. In this picture, a male is about to take off with a beakful of moss from the side of the small pond.

Also I've seen the male robin feed his partner with a mealworm - as I write this (11.09am) she has just come to feed at the dish.

In the morning shunshine it is getting difficult to see through the Hawthorn now that the leaves are opening up, especially those on the lower branches.

It is cooler than last week and there was a touch of frost around dawn, but not enough to put any ice on the birdbath.


Just before lunchtime I spotted this bug on the bamboo. I cannot identify it from my guides, other to sayt it is either a Sheild Bug or a Squash Bug. It could be a member of the family Coreidae, similar to C. marginatus. These Squash Bugs are so called because some are pests of squash plants in North America.

While the camera was on a tripod to take these photographs, a Holly Blue butterfly landed on another part of the bamboo. The first time I saw one of these last year was not until 23 May!

Click on the picture to see a larger version

On a walk down the garden this afternoon I disturbed a warbler that was perched in the birch tree - no chance of identification as it left too quickly. That's the first 'different bird' seen in the garden for ages. While I haven't seen them carrying anything, the greenfinches are definitely active about the Leylandii.



Before I forget again, the Birch tree has had long catkins for most of the last week, in groups of two or three, and some of the leaf buds have started to burst - how long will it take for the leaves to obscure our view of the birdbox entrance?



9 April - A somewhat overcast, cool day, but remaining dry.

I'm including this shot of a male Chaffinch under the Hawthorn this morning as it gives us a chance to see a back view of its plumage. I forgot to mention yesterday that there were two males seemingly competing for a female in the Hawthorn.





This picture is a disaster, but I'll include it anyway! Look closely and you will see the eye and the tail of the male robin (hidden behind the foliage on the left!) as he is about to feed the female (blurred on the right!). The auto-focus on the Olympus could not cope with the increasing foliage on the hawthorn, and neither could I.

Shortly after this picture was taken they mated.


11 April - A rather dull start to the day, although the cloud started to break up around noon. It remains chilly in the Easterly wind.

A couple of notes about yesterday - the Sparrowhawk was here again in the morning, and last night I could hear a great deal of sniffing and grunting from behind my neighbour's fence - I think there was a bit of hedgehog courtship going on. Unfortunately, they remained out of sight!

This morning I saw the female Blackbird take away a beakful of mealworms for the first time. Her nest is somewhere in the Leylandii.


12 April - The Blackbird has been taking mealworms away again today. Here she is juggling with nine already in her beak as she looks for another.

I did not get close enough to get a picture, but a couple of Starlings spent time this morning gathering dead bamboo leaves for their nests - quite a sight as they flew off.


Here is a picture of the House Sparrow nesting boxes that I have put up under the eves of our house. I have seen sparrows going into three of the four so far.



On the plant front, the last couple of days have seen our Bluebells starting to open, more than two weeks earlier than in 2001.




14 April - On a cool, mainly cloudy day I have caught my first sight of Solitary bees around our bee hotel. here is the first image of one, sheltering in one of the holes (7mm diameter). Last year it was the 29 April before I saw activity like this.

Yesterday we went for a drive around some of the garden centres in our local area to see if any had wild plant species on sale (other than in seed form). Their lack of interest in such things is disappointing, although one centre did have a few, so the trip wasn't wasted. This morning the new additions have been planted in what I hope are suitable positions.



The plants are Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis), which I have planted (11 plants) under the shade of the Hawthorn; Cowslip (Primula veris), just one which has been put in at the far end of the path between the ponds; Oxlip (P. veris) - pictured here, planted by the North-West corner of the big pond; Valarian (Valeriana officinalis), a couple of these have gone in in front of the Stinging nettle patch next to the Ivy tree; lastly, Thrift (Armeria maritima), three of these plants have been put in next to the water butt where there will be no shade, next to where there are already Ox-eye Daisies.


The Blackbird's enthusiasm for take-away mealworms means that she fills her beak to over-flowing. A little while ago I was outside, less than 2m from her as she tried to pick up the best part of twenty at one time. How she does it is a real puzzle, and she got really frustrated when she dropped a couple, spending ages trying to recover them!

I should have said at the beginning that we had a small amount of rain last night, the first 'proper' shower for at about three weeks. Also, during a bright spell yesterday, a Speckled Wood butterfly appeared briefly by the bamboo plant.

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