The Garden Diary

May(Part 1) - 2003

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1 May - A last minute entry before heading for bed.

I was just heading out the garden to lock my shed at 10.15pm when my torch beam reflected back for the eye of the front hedgehog in this picture.

The pair were involved in courtship with the hedgehog nearest the camera going in circles around his partner snuffling and grunting as he went. My torch distracted them so I came back inside as soon a this picture was taken.

As I write this the pair are continuing under the hawthorn. I have been wondering when I would see the first hedgehog of the year. This morning I saw their droppings on the decking for the first time.


3 May - The hedgehogs were here again last night, with one going round the other in circles under the Hawthorn.

Before I forget again, on 1 May I saw an Orange Tip butterfly twice pass through the garden without stopping.

This morning, this visitor suddenly appeared in the house. It is an Angle Shades moth (Phlogophora meticulosa). Normally active at night, perhaps it came into the house yesterday evening. It is a common moth, resident in the UK and also a species that migrates northwards from Southern Europe each year.

The right-hand image shows how irregular its profile is. In the left image, notice how it's slightly crumpled appearance shows up in the side lighting.

These features may help it to blend in better when it is resting amongst vegetation.

On the bird front, things seem very quiet at the moment, with the exception that today for the first time a female House Sparrow discovered that she could get into the hanging mealworm feeder, and took away numerous mealworms during the day. This means that she is feeding young somewhere.

I don't think any of our sparrow boxes are being used this year, and I have a feeling that the flock is not as big as it was last year. I hope this is not a sign that our sparrows are in decline, following the pattern seen other parts of the South-East of England.

I have still to see a young Robin or Blackbird in the garden. The Starlings are taking away nesting material, and we watched as one tried to peel off strips of bark from the Birch tree. Dead bamboo leaves also seem to be a favoured material for them.


4 May - On a brilliant, sunny and warm day, the House Martins and Swifts are back, over a week earlier than last year. I wonder how many will choose our road to build their nests.




The first of the Buttercup flowers opened today. This picture was taken as it started to close in the early evening.



This tiny spider was spotted in our caravan. The pair of large palps suggest that it is a male spider. I haven't yet spent time trying to identify it.





The last of the Snake's-head Fritillary flowers has now lost its petals and has gone to seed, and there has been no sign of the Scarlet Lily Beetles that have appeared on the plants over the last two years and damaged the plants. We could have a good harvest of seeds this time.



6 May - We have not seen the Sparrowhawk since our return from Cornwall, but today, while I was treating some timber I thought that it had arrived in the Hawthorn. The Sparrows made a great deal of noise but most did not flee. As I looked into the tree I saw a sparrow struggling to escape the grip of, not a Sparrowhawk, but a Jay. The sparrow escaped and the Jay flew off down the road. I know that Jays will prey on nestlings, but I didn't realise that they would try to catch adult birds - I have yet to see Sparrow fledglings in the garden this Spring.

I dashed in to wash my hands and by the time I had finished there was another commotion, this time at the bottom of the garden, with the male Blackbird making the most noise.

I grabbed my camera and got back outside just in time to grab this image as the jay emerged from the Ivy where the Blackbirds have their nest. Although the bird is largely hidden, the blue stripes on the wing are a distinctive feature of a Jay.

This is the first time I have ever witnessed a Jay attack in my garden.

Last night another small fly was spotted inside the house. Its body was about 3mm long. The nearest I can get with an identification is that it is possibly a member of the Chironomidae - a non-biting midge.





The hedgehog pair met up again tonight. I was out in the garden after 10pm and watching the left hand one. Suddenly the other hedgehog appeared beyond the pond, made a dash past me,through the undergrowth to pass both ponds and straight to the other one, under the hawthorn again. It was almost as though the meeting place was pre-arranged! The two then spent a lot of time with the new arrival taking the initiative, moving round the other one and making lots of noise.

He(?) was very wary, and if I moved too suddenly he would dash off into cover while his partner stayed put. He would return within a short time, nose held high as he sniffed the air.

Click on the images to see larger versions



7 May - Just a short note today. The Jay was back again this morning, heading straight for the Blackbirds' nest. This time the male Blackbird didn't just 'stand back and make a lot of noise'. He prevented the Jay from entering the Ivy and then chased it all the way to the trees in the Brickfields Park. Later, he collected mealworms to take back to the Ivy. I'm not seeing much of his partner - I wonder if she is sitting on another clutch of eggs?

I also had a brief glimpse of what I think was a Speckled Wood butterfly pass through the garden without landing.


8 May - The weather has been good so far the Month and the plants in the garden are growing fast.

The seed heads on the Fritillaries are growing fatter by the day, (still with no sign of the Scarlet Lilly Beetles), as are the seed heads on the Cowslips.

This Dandelion seed head is one of the best formed I have seen for ages, and is packed with seeds - a gardener's nightmare!

The Bluebells are starting to look tired now and one small patch under the Hawthorn has been trampled flat by the activities of the hedgehogs.


There are an increasing number of spiders appearing around the garden, most of them very small. I spotted this one hidden under the leaves of a small Oak tree I am growing in a pot.

Measuring just under 4mm long the spider is a male (as ishown by the large palps at the head end - see the right hand picture). The red spot above the spinners indicates that it is probably an Araniella cucurbitina. These are common, widespread spiders.


I was interrupted while taking the spider pictures by the unmistakably creaky sound of a swan flying low overhead - a marvelous sight. With the camera set up for close-up pictures, a swan image was out of the question.

There was no sign of the Jay today.

A late addition at 10.30pm - As I write this the caterpillar in the photograph is busy devouring its way through the central part of a Stinging Nettle leaf.

I have just been down the garden to try to spot what has been nibbling the geranium leaves ( I hope to see crickets on those in the near future). I had no luck there, but a quick check of the nettles revealed this character.

I couldn't get to picture it from below, and to give an ideal of scale the hole measures just under 1cm, from bottom-left to top-right. When you get this close the nettles spines begin to look pretty menacing, but obviously not to the caterpillar.

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9 May - The colour of the moment certainly is green, with my first sighting this season of a Common Green Shield Bug (Palomena prasina).

Pictured on the Oak sapling, the top and left pictures show clearly its piercing rostrum with which it sucks juices from plants. In the left-hand image it is stowed away, while the top image shows it lowered to the leaf surface.



10 May - A good start to the day - A check of the geranium leaves brought me my first glimpse of our bush crickets this Spring, quite a bit earlier than the last two years.

There were two of them basking in the morning sunshine. They are very sensitive to changes in lighting, so casting a shadow over them causes them to move immediately.

This one has a body about 3mm long, with antennae I estimate to be about 10mm in length.


11 May - A change from green today as the first of the Ragged Robin flowers have opened on the far side of the pond.

The day has seen a mixture of sunshine and a few brief showers, and has stayed relatively cool. A cloudy start meant there was no chance of looking for crickets this morning.

Before I forget, yesterday evening I caught a glimpse of the Sparrowhawk - it seems ages since I last saw one here. It left the garden with nothing in its grasp.




Sheila reminded me that I have not got a general picture of the garden showing the hawthorn in flower, so here is one taken when the sun had dropped behind the trees this evening.

Below and slightly right of the hawthorn you can see the duckweed covered small pond. To the right of the picture the three tall stalks belong to the Reedmace plants, and have now lost any sign of the seed heads produced last year.

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12 May - A day of sunshine and showers, including our first thunderstorm of the year. It brought a torrential downpour of rain and hail which overwhelmed the water butt within a very short time. I could only risk grabbing one poor image of the caravan shelter roof as gusts of wind drove the rain right under the shelter at the back of the house.

Just before that deluge I saw a fledgling Robin for the first time.

I have spent a bit of time updating the technical section of the website.


15 May - I have not done too much garden watching these last few days, but a few things need to be recorded.

The hedgehog pair were going round in circles again on the nights of the 12th and 13th as courtship continues! This afternoon there was a Sparrowhawk attack on the sparrows in the Hawthorn. I continue to check on the crickets each day - I only see two each time I look.

A young Robin made its first appearance under the hawthorn today, accompanied by an adult. The Blackbirds are down to feed frequently, although I have not seen any signs of young ones as yet. The male is doing a lot of singing at the moment. Another male must have set up its territory further down the street and the two seem to engage in singing contests!



16 May - Another day of catching up with myself, and the garden.

First of all, the middle of the week (the 13th) saw the first of our Oxeye daisies flowering. This is a lot earlier than the last two years. There are lots of buds, but damper weather now seems to have slowed down progress and today it is still the only flower open.




Last night I took a stroll down the garden around 10pm and took several photographs. The first is of two ants passing in the night. They are on one frond of the large bamboo plant by my shed. There are ants on patrol all over the plant. As summer goes on the leaves become covered in quite sticky droplets and although it is a bit early as yet, the ants are already searching for these.

Later, this food source will be attracting a variety of flying insects.


Another insect becoming a 'regular' is this spider beetle (possibly Ptinus fur), measuring about 3mm long with antennae of at least the same length.

Seen on the bee hotel, and also pictured there last May, it is a beetle that scavenges and breeds on dry organic matter - perhaps in old, disused bee burrows?




The Geranium leaves yielded not only a pair of crickets, but also a couple of these small orange flies. This is the third year that they have appeared on this same plant (June 2001, July 2002).

The body is about 4mm long and they have quite long and slightly tinted wings. Using my guide books, my best guess at an ID is that they belong to the Dryomyzidae, but I would need to take a close look at the wing vein patterns for a better identification.

Click on the images to see larger versions

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