The Garden Diary 2005

May-Part 1

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1 May - A beautiful start to a new month with hazy sunshine and a temperature of 18C at 9am.


To start the day, a matter of perfect timing by the Hawthorn as it lives up to its alternative names of May tree, May Blossom or Mayflower.

I spotted this first flower as we had breakfast on the veranda, and since then a second blossom has also opened.



While breakfast continued we were entertained by the local Starlings which were catching insects on the wing, and more sightings of Swifts and House Martins.

This fuzzy image replaces my even poorer one of yesterday as confirmation that the Martins are back.



Several butterfly species have passed through here today. I have seen Holly Blues five times, and a pair of Orange Tips seemed to be playing 'catch me if you can'.

A couple of Large Whites have fluttered across the garden, but this Speckled Wood was the only butterfly I've seen land here, choosing an awkward spot on the far side of the pond.


While we relaxed on the veranda a mouse once again appeared under the Hawthorn.

It would peer over the top of the log before dashing out to grab something to eat from under the sparrow feeder. It would then dash back behind the log to do the same thing over again some six times before disappearing.


I haven't seen the hedgehogs over the last two evenings, although trampled vegetation suggests that they visit later in the night. There has been no sign of them visiting the hedgehog house, and I suspect that this may have been taken over by this mouse, or its relations.

This afternoon I spent some time looking amongst the bamboo plants for any different ladybird activity. This time there were no Orange Ladybirds about and only 2-spot and 10-spot ladybirds mating.

There were two Dock Bugs very close together but I didn't see them actually meet up.

While I was down the West Wing I was buzzed almost continuously by a Drone Fly but, as usual, it darted off to one side or another every time I pointed the camera its way.

I did manage to get  these two images of this much smaller hoverfly (just over 1cm long) with a very skinny 'waist' to its abdomen.

This is seen clearly in the right hand image as it soaks up liquids from the leaf surface.

A look in my guides suggests that it could be Baccha elongata which lives in or around damp vegetation.



My final picture of the day is this small bug, around 6-7mm in length, found on a leaf of the Solanum crispum plant that grows up the fence.

I can't match it from my guides, but it does appear very similar to the Pine Flat-bug (Aradus cinnamomeus).



Today turned out to be the warmest so far this year, topping 22C this afternoon, not spoilt by just a few drops of rain in the afternoon.


2 May - Another magnificent day with more sunshine than yesterday ensuring that the temperature tipped 23C this afternoon. It's been another 'day off' as far as I was concerned, with no work done in the garden. 


It also seemed to be a quiet day for ladybirds, with fewer sightings than on recent days. However several pairs of 2-spot Ladybirds were seen mating, and I saw three Cream-spot ladybirds again.

This pair were mating late this afternoon, this time in a more 'camera friendly' spot than a few days back.


Down on the side of the water butt base, courtship of the spider kind was under way for much of the afternoon. I spent quite a bit of time lying down, watching and taking photographs.

They are hunting spiders, probably a species of Pardosa. The banding on the legs suggests Pardosa prativaga.

There were six of them in the same small area (3 male, 3 female), but although there seemed to be some interaction between them in general, courtship was going on between these two only.

The female is on the left and is the subject of frantic displaying by the male.

In the first image you can see the two small palps at the front of her head. These distinguish her from the male who has much enlarged palps, which act as carriers for his sperm.

The female's body was always held close to the surface, with her legs splayed out around her.


The male, on the other hand, kept its body raised clear of the surface whenever it was anywhere near the female. In this picture you can see clearly its dark coloured palps.

As he approached the female he would pause, raise his body higher and vibrate the palps vigorously. Then he would take another couple of steps and do the same thing over again.


I couldn't really follow the female's strategy in the courtship. She would stay still until he approached within a few centimetres of her, and seemed to signal to him by small movements of a front leg and the adjacent palp. However, as soon as he was close enough to touch, she dashed off into the grass leaving him just standing there.

He just stayed on the same bit of surface (which was in bright sunshine) and waited. Sure enough, the female would gradually return and the routine would be re-enacted. I must have been watching this for the best part of an hour and at no time did I see actual mating take place. A couple of times a second male would arrive on the scene, causing a quick clash before courtship continued.

This final picture is included to give a female's eye view of a displaying male. In the large image you can see how he is literally on tip-toes as he displays, and waves his palps.

To get this shot I used a front-silvered mirror which I held in place as he started his display. I was surprised that he continued even though the female was now hidden from view!




3 May - A sunny start but there were lots of clouds about and there have been a few showers.

Just one picture today, taken in morning sunshine showing the state of the Rowan and Birch trees today. The top of the Ivy tree is in the lower-middle of the image.



4 May - A dull, cool (it felt cold!) day with the temperature remaining below 12C - mind you, I did see the sun briefly at around 6pm.

I should be including a few photos, but they will have to wait until tomorrow.

Today I saw a Great Tit in the garden for the first time since last August, and a couple of Long Tailed Tits visited the veranda this afternoon. Our old friendly Robin (the one with the white feather on his head) was happy to receive mealworms from me this afternoon. I was beginning to think we had lost him.

5 May - A dry day with sunny periods and a temperature of just under 17C at 2pm. We've just got back from voting in the UK General Election. There were only two other voters there at the same time as us - I hope there will be a few more by the end of the day!

The last couple of days have been almost camera free for one reason or another, but here are a couple of catch -up shots.

First of all, from the night before last (3rd), here are two moths from the windows at the back of the house.

This one is (I think) a Nut-tree Tussock (Colocasia coryli). About 17-18mm long, it is a moth that lives in hedgerows  and open woodland.



The second, much smaller visitor was this Clepsis consimilana (probably!) which is a common moth in woodland and gardens, with larvae that feed on privet and Ivy, amongst other plants.

This moth was just over 1cm in length.

Last night, no moths turned up.


At about 10pm last night I spotted one of those creatures I look out for each year on the nettles and on the Geraniums that grow at the foot of the Birch tree - our first Bush Cricket nymph of the year.

Tiny, with a body only just over 2mm in length, it already has antennae that are three times as long.



This afternoon I had to get a step ladder to get close to this small fly on a bamboo plant. I think it was around 6-8mm long. It had its wings apart when I first saw it (left image) but closed them  as soon as I had taken that image.

I think it is a Picture-wing fly although it doesn't match any of the pictures in my insect guide.




While still perched on the steps I also collected this image of another 2-spot Ladybird banded variant.



I was just about to get down when another ladybird caught my eye as it dashed up and down the bamboo leaves.

Definitely different to any I have seen before, I at first wondered whether I was seeing a Harlequin Ladybird ( an alien species that has appeared in South-East England and is a threat to our native species). Because of this I took a couple of photographs and then captured it for closer inspection, although I thought it was probably a bit too small, at just under 7mm in length. 

A look through my copy of 'Ladybirds of Surrey' helped me to decide that the most probable ID is the Cream-streaked Ladybird (Harmonia quadripunctata).

The species is normally found on pine trees although there is a record of some being found on Conifers in gardens. Perhaps the conifers just over the fence from the bamboos are responsible for its presence here?

6 May - Another dry day with bright periods.

First, a bit of bad news, again. The female Blackbird has to start all over again. Yesterday I wondered if one of the local cats had found her nest in the Ivy tree. This morning she was building again, or at least trying to build a nest at the top of the latticework down the West Wing. I don't think she will be successful there as the position is just too narrow. She obviously agreed as she had stopped before lunch.

late in the afternoon, after making sure that she wasn't active in the garden I spent some time pruning the Ivy tree, a job that had been on hold until nesting had finished. I reasoned that it was sensible to get the job done before she, or another bird decided to use the Ivy tree for nesting again. The job is not quite finished and if possible I'll complete it over the weekend. The Ivy had started sprouting new shoots on a grand scale and by doing the job now I hope to improve the chances of good growth through the summer and plenty of flowers come the Autumn.

This Magpie was busy looking for insects between the tiles on my neighbour's roof. The small birds do not like the Magpie being this close and there was a lot of calling until it left.

I didn't manage to get a photograph of another visitor that caused panic, this time a Jay, a bird we rarely see here. It landed in my neighbour's Birch tree, its presence causing the male Blackbird to launch into its alarm calls. The Jay left too quickly for me to get a photograph.


The first Starling fledgling appeared today, and the adults are very busy hunting for food, both on the ground and in the sky.

I had a couple of sessions of trying to photograph the moment of insect capture as the Starlings jinked about in the air.

The left hand image shows some rather blurry insects that escaped as one of their number is carried away.


7 May - A bright and breezy morning, with the ground wet after a small amount of overnight rain.

The first thing to note this morning is that at 8am Mrs Blackbird is busy building her nest in the spot mentioned yesterday. It's on top of a trellis panel, partially hidden by the branches of a Chilean Potato Vine (Solanum crispum Glasnevin).

The picture shows the nest and its position in the vine. To the sides of the picture you can see the bamboos that yield may of my insect pictures, and the lower right image shows the flowers that have started to open in the last week.


It looks as though the West Wing may have to become a restricted area for a while.

She spent much of the morning working on the nest and then had a break for several ours before resuming at the end of the afternoon. The wooden fence that supports the trellis is topped by a wire mesh extension. This has a large mesh size and I was concerned that a cat that climbs up the other side of the fence might get a paw through to the nest. As a precaution, this afternoon I attached a fine mesh wire panel behind the portion above the nest.

I had another attempt at photographing the Starlings catching insects, although with a strong, and rather cool North-Westerly breeze there seemed to be less insect activity than recently.

This was one of just a couple of shots I managed to get. It looks as though the Starling has caught several insects.

It was photographed against a hazy background with sunlight illuminating its feathers from behind, making it look as though it has been cut out from the sky!


The Blue Tit bird box continues to stand empty, at least unoccupied by birds. However, the area behind the box is home to numerous spiders, with webs starting to extend around the cctv camera. I will be clearing some of these tomorrow, just in case we get a late nester.


At the top of the box there is a small 12v lamp that is on continuously (via a variable resistor so that it is very dim).

At the moment, the area around the lamp is acting as a warm nursery for a large number of young spiders, with one of the adults seemingly watching over them.


8 May - A cool day, with sunny spells, continued blustery winds and just the odd spot of rain.

The Blackbird continued work on her nest, on and off throughout the day.

When we planted the Rowan I wondered how long we would have to wait before it flowered - well, it will not be long. This morning I noticed this single florescence of flower buds.

It may not yield many berries, but, as long as the flowers are successful, at least we will see their colour next Autumn.




Next to the veranda, the soil is yielding a small group of Ink Cap fungi. These last appeared in this same spot last September, and then again in October.



9 May - A less breezy and warmer day with sunny spells between dark clouds - only a few spots of rain felt before 2pm.

I had been wondering where the female Blackbird was this morning, but now I know - she has been sitting in the nest!

As I write this  at 1pm the male is in his usual spot in the conifers, singing for all he is worth. In fact, he has hardly stopped all morning.


Later, at 2.45pm, the reason for her time in the nest is revealed - the first egg has been laid.

This afternoon both Blackbirds moved away from the garden for a while, giving me the chance to check the nest and take this photograph via a front silvered mirror (after watching from a safe distance for some time to ensure that the female wasn't nearby).



10 May - A day that started without a cloud in the sky soon turned grey and cool again, although there has been no rain up until now (1.45pm).

I have been spending a bit of time at the pond so there is just one important update from the rest of the garden - as the picture shows, our Blackbird has produced her second egg.

I think the new egg is the top one in this image - it is slightly more mottled than the first one.

Unlike yesterday, I have seen much less of the pair today, and the male has only had brief moments of song.


First thing this morning there was a moment of panic when I heard the prolongs clattering of a Magpie that was obviously very close. When I went outside I spotted it in the conifers beyond the bottom of the garden, and the reason for its noise was a cat, perched on top of the Blue Tit box! The cat disappeared quickly, followed by a jug of water. The Magpie seemed happier, stopped making its racket, and flew off a few moments later.

I didn't mention it, but yesterday the Jay was about again, this time Sheila saw it in a garden across the road from us.

Click on images to see larger versions

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