The Garden Diary 2011

April (part 4) 

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21 April - Another glorious day with a high of at least 24C and a pleasant south-easterly breeze for much of the day.

The tadpoles are now back in the pond. As I hoped, the tank water was within half a degree of the pond water by this morning, so the transfer was made before the rising sun could cast its warming light on the pond.

Work on the nest box cctv system meant that I didn't get to do any garden photography done today. However I must record a couple of things. First, I saw three 14-spot Ladybirds today, and two of them were mating as they dashed about a Red Campion plant. On that theme, our Robins were also engaged in mating, a process that was repeated a number of times amongst the branches of the Hawthorn. The male was so distracted by his partner and her fluttering wings that he was oblivious to a pair of Dunnocks feeding on the ground immediately below them!

While the Robins were paying close attention to each other in the Hawthorn, it was a neighbour's TV antenna that was the chosen place for a pair of Starlings to engage in their mating.




23 April - The temperatures continue to climb, but were very were close to getting rain today!

After it reached 24C again yesterday the Farnborough recorded temperature made it to 25C at 1pm today, and at 7pm it was still 23C. Here, a thermometer placed in a permanently  shaded spot at the bottom of the garden was reading 28C at 1pm, and tonight at 8pm it is reading 20C.

While it remains dry here, we spent the afternoon with our grand-children and their mum. For most of the time we enjoyed ourselves in their garden (less than half a mile away form our home), but late in the afternoon a line of dark clouds built up, mainly to the north but with a 'tail' that skirted overhead and to the south-east. As we played with the children large drops of water started to fall and soon we had to start collecting up things (like washing on the clothes line) to the sound of thunder in the distance.

As it turned out we were only on the receiving end of rain from the fringes of the clouds and it was soon dry again, although when we left we needed to take a detour before returning home and passed through one small area that had clearly received a soaking.

At home there was no sign of any rain having fallen during the afternoon, and this evening there are only the wispy remnants of those clouds persisting overhead.


Just one group of photographs today, of a pair of mating damselflies.

 Large Red Damselflies in mating formation, 23 April

When I first spotted them the pair were flitting about amongst the plants at the far end of the big pond, but by the time I collected my camera and change the lens they had come to rest in this classic pose, hanging from the leaf of a developing Bur-reed plant.

They are (I think) Large Red Damselflies (Pyrrhosoma nymphula). The bright red male holds onto the neck of the female while she curls her abdomen so that she can accept sperm, and in doing so they form this heart shape.


Large Red Damselflies prepare for egg-laying, 23 April




Once the transfer of sperm is completed the female's abdomen uncurls. However, the male retains his grip, and





Mating Large Red Damselflies rest on Branched Bur-reed, 23 April



the pair fly off together. Egg laying takes place with them still in this arrangement.

I expected this to happen when they landed on another plant. Unfortunately they look off again, and flew to another part of the pond. By the time I got up I'd lost sight of them, and decided not to continuing searching to avoid disturbing them.





24 April - After the more southerly breezes of late a swing to a northerly direction was confirmed this morning by the sight of a red balloon heading south over us. It wasn't a cold breeze but its effect was to hold today's maximum temperature to just(!) 23C in the late morning, with the rest of the day a degree or so cooler. Another change was noticeable in that the build-up of cloud in the afternoon that has been a feature of the very hot days was totally absent today - after an overcast start which evaporated quickly as the sun rose.

The 'distraction' of the drama of the Blackbirds' nest and essential jobs meant that my cameras remained unused today.





25 April - Another cloudless day, although the northerly wind is now having an increased effect - the day's high being 21C, and still some 6 degrees or more above the average for 25 April. The day completed one of the best Easter weekends that I remember for a very long time, and this afternoon was spent in the garden with our grand-children and their parents - a very enjoyable time was had by all!

First Ragged Robin to flower this year, 25 April



Two more first flowerings today. Over the years, around the edge of the big pond the Ragged Robin plants have been spreading gradually, and today several of them came into flower. Last year we had to wait until 20 May to see them.

I think that these flowers are delicate rather than ragged, and a very pretty addition to the pond edge.



First Triangular-stemmed (Three-cornered) Garlic to flower this year, 25 April



And a touch of Cornwall as the first of our Triangular-stemmed (Three-cornered) Garlic plants are flowering - in 2010 the first buds opened on 12 May.

This is a plant from the Western Mediterranean that has naturalised in the UK.



I haven't seen any ladybirds in the garden over the last few days, which is a pity because the warm weather certainly has encouraged the populations of aphids to grow rapidly. This evening I had a good look at the Rosa rugosa plants at the front of the house. They are in full leaf and the first flower buds are developing, but so are the clusters of aphids around those buds. There was not a single ladybird to be seen, and I found just a single lacewing larva. That is a predator of aphids but we need a lot more than one to have an effect.

Another note of concern - back at the beginning of the month I recorded a hedgehog in the garden. Since that time I haven't even seen any indirect signs of further visits, with no droppings to be cleared from our veranda.




26 April - A mainly sunny day, although there were times when the sky was more grey than blue, and with the constant north-easterly breeze there was a distinct chill in the air as the temperature peaked at 17C this afternoon.

I've had one of those tired days, so little to report from the garden, apart from noting that the Blackbird is nest building again - possibly in the conifers again!

Harlequin and 1-spot Ladybirds on rose plant, 26 AprilThere are time when to have to be careful what you wish for. This morning a check of the roses in the front garden revealed two ladybirds. The first was a 14-spot Ladybird, the type that I've seen most of so far this Spring.

And the second was a really bright red, and much larger Harlequin Ladybird. This is the first one seen on our property this year, although I did find a Harlequin on a car parked outside our house at the beginning of the month.






28 April - The dry weather continues, just about. Yesterday morning there were raindrops on the cars when I first opened the curtains, although the ground looked dry. It seems that there had been a very slight shower, not enough to wash the car but only to rearrange the coating of yellow pollen that is being added to every day at the moment. Apart from that bit of rain the sunshine (and broken cloud) continues, and with a maximum temperature of 17C, today was just a degree warmer than yesterday, although it started a colder (8C at 9am as opposed to 10C at the same time yesterday).

Flowers in the garden continue to flower earlier than last year.

Herb Robert comes into flower, 27/28 April



While Herb Robert is only four or five days (the first may have opened yesterday) earlier than in 2010 (30 April),





First Field Buttercup flowers, 28 April




last year it was 20 May before the first Field Buttercup displayed its flower.





Over the last few days, while the Blackbird has become less vocal, another bird has taken to using the conifer tops as a stage - the male Chaffinch. He has been there morning, afternoon and evening, although he doesn't stay in one spot for very long, usually moving away as I soon as I switch on my recorder!

However, this afternoon he was more cooperative for a couple of minutes, as were the aircraft that didn't fly overhead, the traffic that didn't pass the house, and the neighbours who didn't start mowing their lawns ready for the 'big wedding day'!

Unlike the songs of the usual accomplished vocalists that sing at the bottom of the garden (Blackbird and Robin) that of the Chaffinch consists of a short burst of several repeated notes followed by a silence which in this case lasted between 10 and 17 seconds. In order to include a number of the sequences I've removed most of the gaps and you can hear the clip here (duration 41sec, file size 648KB).



To give a visual indication of how the individual sequences vary, below are the traces produced by Audacity of the final three sequences heard in the recording -

Chaffinch song sequences, 28 April





29 April - At noon it was 15C, but more importantly it was dry, and sunny - at least intermittently!

And while the newly weds were being driven to mum's big house in London, our humble garden was the destination for our own special visitor - a female Common Blue Butterfly.

The first Common Blue butterfly recorded in the garden, 29 April

Common it may be, but this is the first time I've recorded this species in our garden - a regal moment indeed!

It was resting on the stalk of a spent Dandelion flower and opened its wings for me as the sun emerged from being a cloud.

Frustratingly, the stalk is right at the edge of the big pond and I had to lean out over the water to take the photograph, trying to avoid casting a shadow on her.

Click on images to see larger versions


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