The Garden Diary 2006

December (part 2)

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17 December - Having commented about the mild, dull weather, we had a touch of frost this morning (although not cold enough to produce any ice on the birdbath)  after the temperature dropped, giving a high of 6C yesterday and 7C today under blue skies. The Hawkmoth is now in one of my sheds, in an egg box retreat within a cardboard box, able to leave when it gets warm again.

I'm afraid that I've been rather distracted from garden matters lately, and yesterday's pictures were the only ones I've taken in the last week. The garden has been very quiet with just the usual birds here to feed (must get new supplies tomorrow).

The computer seems to have 'lost its voice' - very annoying. It looks as if I may need to carry out a sound card transplant as my efforts with the software side of things have failed to persuade it to talk again.


18 December - After saying last night about not taking photographs I did go out to take a few pictures around 11pm. After a bright and sunny day it had turned damp so I didn't stay outside for long, but managed to record a few things.

A quick check of the big pond revealed the snouts of at least ten frogs - I must make sure I have the time and energy to finish clearing the spawning area of the pond in the next week or so.

The Ivy leaves seem pretty tough things, but nevertheless still get nibbled by the occasional caterpillar (top image). This was the only one that I could find on the Ivy, but I did spot a second, similar caterpillar on the Bamboo plant next to my workshop (lower image).

The woodlouse in the top image was one of a couple of dozen that I could see on the Ivy. I also found several Barkfly nymphs, but no adults on it.



The same bamboo plant also yielded a single small banded snail, out of reach of the camera lens, just one small spider (left image) and an ant, presumably after a night-time feed on honey-dew.



The bamboos that line the garden next to the parking area had more to offer. There were numerous adult Barkflies out in the open, on the upper surfaces of the leaves this time, and there were equal numbers of the very small, rounded Springtails that I photographed at the beginning of the year. This is the first time this winter that I have seen them in these numbers. Weather permitting, I'll try for some photographs of them tonight.



Before I headed back into the shelter of the house I took just one more photograph to record this hoverfly larva on the bamboo.




This morning the skies are grey once again, and with a temperature of 6C at 9am the Sparrows, Goldfinches, Blue Tits etc are feeding in the rain - the weather brightened up for much of the afternoon.

Earlier, I mentioned seeing a Girdled Snail last night. I found another one this afternoon. This is an alien species (Hygromia cinctella) which I first noticed here back in 2002 (14 November). Essentially a Mediterranean species, it was introduced into Devon around 1979 and has been spreading across the south of the UK ever since.

It seems to be quite a secretive snail as I see it only rarely here. The shell on this individual measured around 10mm across and has an obvious thin white line around the rim.

While I continued to check the bamboos I came across two examples of another small snail species on a fallen bamboo leaf.

Smaller than the Girdled Snail, it is a Garlic Snail (Oxychilus alliarius) so named because of the odour that its bluish body gives off when you pick it up!

The larger individual measures about 7mm across, and compared with the Girdled shell its shell is flatter and glossy, with a pronounced lip. Also, when you turn the snail over you can see a definite hole, called the Umbilicus through the centre of the spiralled shell - I must take a photograph to show that!

While the Garlic Snail only appears in small numbers (although more than the Girdled Snail) the dead leaves of the Bamboo at the side of the parking area are home to large numbers of even smaller snails, with the largest having shells no more than 4mm in length.

Unlike the previous snails, I'm not able to identify this one.



I haven't taken the Springtail pictures that I'd intended to, but as I searched for the snails I found several of this Springtail species, this individual's body measuring just under 3mm in length.

I think it may be Entomobrya intermedia.




21 December - Since the last entry we have been engulfed in fog, with the temperature dropping to below 0C yesterday evening and staying close to freezing today. As I write this at 2pm a rather miserable looking Wood Pigeon is wandering around under the shelter of the Hawthorn, looking even larger than usual with its feathers all fluffed up. Last night, even with the outside thermometer reading -1C there was still a frog to be seen in the big pond.



From a photographic point of view, this morning was disappointing in the garden with clear ice rather then a white frost. A lack of cobwebs didn't help and I had to head to the front of the house to find this one, attached to our front garden wall.





No picture for obvious reasons, but late in the afternoon I heard a couple of geese fly over. I couldn't help wonder how they would find their destination. I could not see them - could they see the ground?


This evening the fog has become a bit thicker, and the air is full of water droplets that showed up in the torch beam when I went down the garden after 7pm.

The air temperature was hovering just above freezing, and the Discovery was covered with ice, but with the pond water still at 5C there were still five frogs peering out from the Duckweed.


Back at the Bamboo, there was neither a snail nor a Springtail to be seen - they must have retired down into the layer of dead leaves.

I decided not to disturb the leaves tonight, but was still able to see this Barkfly that was in its very damp silk shelter on the underside of a leaf.




On the upper side of another leaf, the damp air had helped to show up this very neat arrangement of silk.

Although I couldn't see any Barkflies near by, I think one was probably responsible for this web.




22 December - The fog is still with us, although when we went out this morning to do a bit of 'almost last minute' real shopping (too late now for any more web shopping!) the fog seemed to have lifted a bit. This evening it's murky again in our road, but the temperature has risen just a degree. It has been enough to melt any ice on the trees, and out in the garden at 5pm the dominant sound in the garden is that of water dripping everywhere.

Disappointingly, the fog has meant that there was no chance of seeing the Space Shuttle pass over us for the last time before it was due to land this evening.

I spent a bit of time  this afternoon searching the bamboos for activity but found precious little beyond the groups of Aphids under the leaves, and the occasional Barkfly.


On the Ivy leaves that I looked at, I didn't see any live Barkflies this time, but despite there being ice on the upper surface of this leaf, I did find these mites busy around what looks like a dead Barkfly.




On another Ivy leaf was this single Owl-midge, with its hairy wings giving the impression that it is wearing a suitable 'fur coat'.




The day ended with a positive note as I watched the shuttle Discovery returning safely to Kennedy Space Centre. It's hard to believe that it is more than 36 years since I was there to watch Apollo 15 launched on its way to the moon in July 1971.


25 December - Christmas Day

A Christmas Card from Sheila and David

It's a dull, grey, and mild (6C at 9am) overcast morning here. Whatever the weather is like for you, I hope you have a happy and safe day.

We had our first(!) Christmas dinner yesterday with two of our sons, and Kirsty, back home after her 'round the World' adventure, and today we are off to the third of our sons and his partner for another feast.....

Out in the garden, the birds seen less interested in food, and so far this morning I have only seen a couple of visitors to the well-stocked feeders.


27 December - Well, three days of Christmas get-togethers complete with meals(!) are over. We had an enjoyable holiday period despite the constant dull, grey skies and now we are preparing for a bit of New Year chaos as our new log burning stove is being installed. There hasn't been a fire burning here for over 32 years so the chimney has to be re-lined, and we have a lot of preparation work before the installers take over after the New Year holiday.

As a result, the diary may well continue to be a bit unreliable for the next week and a half. I hope to get the new calendar uploaded to the site by the end of the week, and with a bit of luck I'll have the diary set up for 2007 before New Year's Eve!

As I said earlier, it had remained overcast all through the Christmas holiday, with daytime highs around 5-6C and going down to 3-4C at night. It has been mild enough to encourage hedgehogs to venture out again. I haven't see any, but there were fresh droppings here this morning. Today I finished building a log shelter at the side of our veranda ready for the new fire. By the time I was clearing up this afternoon there were actually breaks in the cloud and a bit of sunshine. Tonight it is cloudy once more, and damp outside.

At 9pm I was able to see ten frogs in the big pond, three close enough to be included in one photograph.

Interestingly, if you look closely at the large version of the picture you will see that as well as the Duckweed the Starwort (whorls of eliptical green leaves) seems to be thriving at the moment, something I don't expect to see in the Winter. Mind you, with an air temperature 8C at 9.30pm, the water temperature is 6C.


Another sight that reminds me that I still need to complete the clearing of the pond's shallow end.

This pair have been in this pose for several hours - not something I expect to see until February. Their size, and their pointy noses suggests that they are probably too young to be thinking about spawning. Just a friendly get-together on a balmy night, perhaps!



29 December - Well, it looks as though we could be in for a stormy finale to 2006. Yesterday I was looking at the big pond and wondering how much longer I could leave emptying a water butt into it to top up the level. Tonight it is full to overflowing.

It has been a damp, blustery day, and at 9.30pm there is heavy rain. It is mild, just over 10C and the pond water is now at 8C! In the short time that I spent by the pond a few minutes ago I counted fifteen frogs in view, including several mature individuals.

The forecasters suggest that we could be getting much stronger winds tomorrow....

The 2007 calendar is now available for downloading from the website's front page. I have checked out that the links work, but if you find any problems please let me know. Also, I'm in the process of adding the framework for the 2007 diaries (you will see a button at the side). That may not all function correctly until we actually step into 2007!


30 December - After last night's downpour, bright, sunny skies greeted us this morning, but it wasn't to last.

As the afternoon progressed so the dark grey clouds rolled in, and around 4pm we had a torrential downpour with strong gusts of wind. With the soil already saturated, the storm was too much for our Buddleia bush. Its full covering of leaves acted like a sail and it keeled over, tearing some of its shallow roots as it went. After a quick trip to the local garden centre for some tree stakes, Sheila and I did a bit of gardening by torchlight, and the shrub is now as firmly back in place as the very soggy soil will allow. We will just have to wait and see how well the Buddleia copes with the loss of some of its root system.

The storm caused no other damage in the garden, and within an hour we were able to look up at the stars!

During the morning sunshine I spent a bit of time checking the bamboos. The aphids continue to thrive, and the lid of our recycling bin, parked half under one of the plants, is now largely black as a result of the growth of mould on the aphids' honeydew. I usually need to clean some off it during the summer months, but this is most the bin has been affected all year.

The only other creatures that I could see on the bamboo leaves were Barkflies. Although I could only see comparatively small numbers, the present conditions are obviously allowing them to survive with little trouble.

This first picture shows one apparently guarding two clumps of eggs (some just visible under the silk veil) on the underside of a leaf.

If you look at the larger version of this picture, on the right-hand side of the upper clump you can see what looks like the abdomen of a nymph (newly emerged?). In a second picture, taken just afterwards, it appeared to have moved - or is it just a different camera angle?

I will be checking the leaf over the next few days to see what happens (if the bad weather doesn't blow or wash them away).


On several other leaves I was able to see nymphs without adults present, their position clearly indicated by the large number of droppings stuck to the silk threads that they make.

As usual, they were on the underside of the leaf, and reacted to the leaf being turned over by running around. As soon as I took this picture I turned the leaf back over to (hopefully) avoid them becoming dispersed.


Back on 21 November I photographed the newly laid eggs of another Barkfly species on the same bamboo plants. These eggs are still in place, with no adults about. In fact, I haven't seen any examples of that type recently.


Over on the Ivy I could only find one adult Barkfly, also with a nymph, and with a mite in attendance.

There is still no sign of mites on the bamboo leaves.




31 December - The end of another year which included numerous memorable events for us, ranging from the visit by the team from Radio 4's Shared Earth programme, to a couple of insect firsts for the garden, the first Cinnabar Moth to take advantage of our Ragwort plants to lay her eggs, and the first Harlequin Ladybirds - a not so welcome arrival, but inevitable as the species spreads across the country. On the macro scale, for the first time I was able to watch the diminutive caterpillar of an Apple Leaf-miner moth working on its fantastic hammock (recorded on the July page of the 2007 calendar).

Together with it being the warmest year on record, it has also been very dry (although you wouldn't think it over the last couple of days). Now, apart from the deciduous trees the garden looks very green, with plants like the bamboos continuing to thrive and plenty of worm casts indicating that the earthworms are busy in the relatively warm soil. I have been rather surprised that I haven't seen more flowers appearing out of season.

There have been no photographs taken today as we take things easy before the chaos of the next few days - the only trip out this morning was to stock up on dust sheets and masking tape!

I did check on the Barkflies that were photographed yesterday, and they were all still in place despite the afternoon storm.

It doesn't look as though tonight's miserable weather will encourage the fireworks that have become a normal part of the New Year's Eve celebrations. It will be interesting to hear how many will be sent up into the clouds as midnight passes.....


Click on the images to see larger versions -

2006 Garden Diary Index.................. ...Last Month........................ January 2007

September trip to Cornwall