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Monday, 11 March 2013

Spring has sprung (2)

Part 2 - Insects and Birds

This last week has seemed so springlike and my newly trained bug searching eyes have been noticing every little thing that moves! The most noticeable thing though, for the senses, is the sound outside. Suddenly I realise that the gentle hum of honey bees whilst working in my garden was absent before, and just like when the Swallows come back and fill our currently empty spring and summer skies, it is like welcoming back old friends. I hear every little buzz as something flies by me.

It is not just insects, but the birds know that breeding season is approaching. For weeks now I've been hearing the songs of the Dunnocks and Song Thrushes, but now they are joined by the Chaffinches and Blackbirds. Our many Blue and Great Tits add to the general background chatter and the Robins continue to sing, although they are the one bird that will sing in winter too. Already the Crows and Magpies are picking up twigs and flying off to build their nests.

And butterflies! Well, my week was complete having seen three Peacock butterflies (or one, but on three different days) and the first Brimstone of the season. The latter are a lovely pale yellow colour and are one of the first butterflies to emerge in early spring. I have yet to capture one of these lovely creatures as they seem to be continually on the move, but that's my challenge this spring, to get a photo of one!

I've seen a few bumble bees too, of the black, white and yellow stripy varieties, but this beauty came along at just the right time when I was camera in hand, and fed ravenously on a pink primrose right in front of me. 

Possibly the Common Carder Bee, Bombus pascuorum.
It is the Queen which emerges first from hibernation and after feeding,
will go off in search of a nest site to lay eggs in, and start the lifecycle of a new colony.

ID is hard as there are two other species that look almost identical to the untrained eye.
However the Common Carder Bee is much earlier to emerge from hibernation than the others.

Whilst I was photographing this bee I noticed a tiny moth inside a yellow Primrose flower. From having seen photos of them last year I knew immediately that this was an Ermine moth (Yponomeutidae family), only I had no idea they were so tiny! They are not really good news in the garden as their larvae (caterpillars) will attack various trees and shrubs such as apples, and make a web around them which covers foliage in a rather horrid, hard to remove mess. If anyone remembers me mentioning the 'caterpillar attack' of my poor purple Sedums last year, it is a species of Ermine moth which is responsible! Here's a photo of the damage on one of the Sedums last year.

Ermine Moth inside a Primrose flower

Ermine moth (family Yponomeutidae)

Removing the carpet of weeds from the veg patch seems a bit sad as the weeds are just wildflowers, the vast majority of which are now flowering and attracting pollinators! They have to go or we will have no vegetables but luckily there are the same plants in other parts of the garden so there will be nectar and pollen available.

Honey bee on a Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum). The plant with the little white flowers is Chickweed (Stellaria media), a much hated weed which grows all year round
and is hard to remove due to very tenacious roots.
It's edible, but doesn't taste of much so not worth the bother, in my opinion!

And then there are the spiders! I saw many of my favourites, the tiny jumping spiders that are commonly known as Salties. Many of them were out and clearly visible on water butts, compost bins, the side of my metal barn/hangar, and the front of the duck shed. At one point on the duck shed there were two Zebra spiders (Salticus scenicus) and two of these tiny ones, as yet species unknown, which are about half the size of the Zebra spider and very cute. They are only about 3-4mm long.

However they were full of the joys of spring and just would not stop running around, so out of many shots I didn't really get any that I was very pleased with. Here are a couple of the best!

Unknown jumping spider on the wooden
wall of my duck shed

Unknown Jumping Spider in familiar pose

One afternoon I noticed a Peacock butterfly flying through the pophole into the chicken shed! I went inside to investigate and found the poor thing trying to get out through the 'window', which is just reinforced plastic against a mesh of chicken wire. It took me a while to get it out and luckily I had my pocket camera so my OH was able to take these shots of it as it emerged from my closed hands.

Peacock butterfly (Inachis io)

It stayed on my hand for about 30 seconds,
by which time I was taking the photo myself, one handed

Then suddenly opened its wings just at the moment
of taking this shot, and flew away!

These bird shots are a bit cheating as I took these some weeks back. But bird photography is challenging to say the least, and last week I was concentrating on macro again of my insect friends!

Dunnock (Prunella modularis) singing

Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos)
(Not taken at home)

One day last week I walked outside and heard an almighty noise coming from the far end of my garden up in the woodland area and around the far end of the lake. As I walked closer I realised that an enormous murmuration of Starlings had descended on practically all the trees! The sound was incredible and as I got closer it became quite overwhelming. It was quite a sight but eventually they flew off and all became relatively quiet again.

Absolutely hundreds of Starlings!

We have also put up two new bird nesting boxes in the trees. This is the old box that last year a Tit (think it was a Blue Tit) kept pecking away at from the inside. When we took the nest box down to see if anything had nested in it, there was only a bit of bird poo in the bottom. My OH realised that the new nest boxes said they were for Wrens (tiny birds) and their holes were the same size as the old box, so the Tit was obviously trying to enlarge the hole (although it didn't seem to have any problems getting in and out). So he has enlarged the holes on all the boxes now so they will be suitable for Blue and Great Tits. Wrens and small birds also use them as a roost in winter where they huddle together to keep warm.

Old weathered nest box

Finally, for a friend who always likes to see pictures of ducks, here's one for her, just to prove to her how difficult it is for me to get nice images of them! They don't want to be photographed and just start preening if I go close to them with a camera! So just a snap for her to prove it.

Left to right: Freckles, Rachel, Dirk and Doris

Now after spending Saturday in glorious sunshine in just rolled up shirt sleeves, the weather is wet, very wet, and tomorrow will be back to winter with snow forecast. So that's my week of spring over for now, and I look forward to spring proper returning!

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