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Sunday, 20 December 2015

December bees, fungi and garden birds

We managed to beat the record this year, by two whole days, of the latest date that the lake has filled completely (18th Dec)! We now have the familiar and somewhat comforting sound of running water again. Somehow the ducks and moorhens seem more active when the lake is full, though I have no idea why.

Still there are no frosts and the weather continues unseasonally mild with plenty of flowers for the few insects still about. Yesterday when I was out I had a look around the overgrown jungle that was once a pristine veg patch and saw a couple of bumble bees buzzing around feeding on the borage! There were also dung flies on the plants too but as I had to use my zoom to try to get pics as I can't really get into this jungle to get close to the plants, I only had distant blurs of them. I also noticed the usual sunny winter day critters about, wolf spiders which come up on the wall of the duck shed to sun themselves, and Fire Bugs which also like south facing sunny surfaces.

This bumble bee is covered in mites - I cropped this shot so that you can just about see them. These are the kind that hitch a ride from one bumble bee nest to another feeding on the detritus in the nest. As far as I understand they are not actually harmful to the bee, i.e. they are not blood sucking mites, but they can weigh them down, making flying and feeding harder for them. This is called commensal symbiosis and this page about bumble bees explains more about the different kinds of symbiosis, the word meaning "interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both", whilst commensalism means "an association between two organisms in which one benefits and the other derives neither benefit nor harm". Having looked at many parasites and hitchikers through my macro lens I find this kind of thing very interesting.

Hitchhiking mites and so cool to see those pollen sacs -
amazing that they can get filled in Decmber!

The other bumble bee who I don't think has any mites.

Surprise! Purple Sprouting Broccoli already. Only on one plant though.

Yeah OK, look it's good for the wildlife......l

Here's a crop of the same shot showing in the centre and just off to the left some self seeded brassicas - originally I thought they were all PSB but some are actually kale. What is interesting is that the self seeded kale is not purple like the parent plant, but does have purple stems. And it isn't so curly. Anyhow I've been pulling them up and the chickens have been going crazy eating them! If there was a way to (1) herd them in, and (2) fence off the brassicas that I don't want them to eat, I'd let them in here to help clear the plot. Trouble is Blondie got in here one day and all she did was scratch up the paths. Maybe it was too overgrown even for the chooks? Hmmm!

Spot the self seeded brassicas.

Borage again in another of my overgrown plots.

The recent rain has brought forth some fungi, although most are very small and I have to watch my step! I'm glad to see the coral fungus appearing under the pine trees again - I only noticed them for the first time last year. The photos of them are further down.    

Tiny fungus, there are lots like this and yes,
I did get very wet knees taking these 'shroom shots!

Bigger fungi.

This was interesting for the gall on the oak leaf - the donut like thing is a Silk Button Gall and is caused by wasps (Neuroterus numismalis) laying eggs in the buds in spring. There are usually a number of these galls on one leaf and this species has two generations, whose eggs cause two different kinds of gall on the leaves - a better explanation is found on Nature Spot here. I found it interesting the first time I found out what it was, as I remember 'oak apples' (another kind of gall caused by another wasp) from when I was a kid, but didn't know, nor probably cared, what caused them.

A solitary Silk Button Gall on an oak leaf.

Top right is unknown fungus on fallen dead wood, probably oak,
and the rest are Coral Fungus.

There have been a couple of new visitors to the bird feeders so I've managed some quick, grab the camera and shoot, shots. These are all taken through filthy double glazing so I'm quite pleased with them.

The first time Goldfinches have deigned to visit our peanut feeder!

And then a second one came along, sharing the peanuts with a Blue Tit.

Goldfinches and Blue Tits.

We haven't had a Marsh Tit visit for quite a few
years so it's nice to see one back again.

Nuthatches are back again too.

To be honest we probably see more birds in winter -
top left is an annoyed Blue Tit, top right a Great Tit,
bottom left a Song Thrush, and bottom right a male Blackbird.

A cute Blue Tit, again taken through dirty double glazing!

I don't really want to mention that C word because this year I couldn't care less, probably even less than I did last year when I was suffering radiotherapy burns. I'm not sending C cards this year either; if people who know about my health problems want to know how I'm doing they can either search for my blog or email me. There are a few people who I am not in touch with except for at C time who don't know the situation, so I will send a couple of email greetings with my not exciting or interesting news, and one that'll involve a snail mail letter, but I'll do it all in good time, when it suits me. I feel a bit guilty for these people as I know what it's like when you don't hear from someone, then wonder if something happened to them (particuarly if they are elderly).

It's not just my depression/lethargy which is making me want to forget this time of year (which I hate anyway), it's all the deaths and illnesses that have befallen our family and friends this year - more than I have mentioned on this blog - which make both of us not give a toss about a superficial commercial load of rubbish. Bah humbug to you all. :-)

P.S. I might make some mince pies though! 

P.P.S. Thank you to those who have sent cards, I do appreciate it. xx


  1. perhaps your volunteer purple kale would be worth eating? We have been steadily eating our way thru an endless row of tomatoes lined up on the kitchen windowsill. From ONE volunteer plant!

    1. I already have plenty of kale plants for eating but we are waiting for a proper frost before tucking in, just to be sure of not finding any caterpillar surprises, plus 'they' say that veg like kale tastes better after a frost. That's great news about the tomato plant. They spring up here out of the compost too!

  2. Loved seeing the mites! So interesting and I'm happy they're not parasites. I'm really envious of your lake and loved seeing all the life in your garden.

    Regarding C... I'm really sorry to hear about your losses and can see it would bring you down and keep you there for awhile. And I totally understand and agree with you re commercialism!

    Enjoy your weather and the effects on your garden. I Look forward to your next post :-)

    1. Hi M - I shall post a macro of the mites on fb so you can see them up close. If I'd thought about it I could have posted it here - maybe next post. It's a bit gruesome looking but at least they aren't those blood suckers, which I find creepy!

      As for everything else, thank you - it's just been a year that's taken it out of us and we just keep hearing more and more bad news and you wonder when it will ever end. Some happy news would be nice to hear!

      I still need to drag myself to the village to take some shots of the Christmas lights. It's not quite the same as your light show though, haha!:-)

  3. Another interesting and informative post and beautiful photos as usual, despite the windows. One teeny thing though, tiny birds have tiny curved claws which can easily get caught in the mesh around fat balls so they are best removed to avoid damaged limbs...or worse.

    Your garden is so lush, I can't imagine our chickens not wading in given the chance, there is a stampede when I go out to cut veggies! It's good that there is plenty of greens this means they are starting to lay early.

    More important to some of us than C is the 21st....the only way is forward to spring.....whatever the weather will throw at us. Would you believe there is rape and some stray sunflowers blooming? Crazy weather

    1. Hi D - thanks for the warning about the birds. I think with these feeders they tend to hang on to the metal bars, at least that is what I see in my photos. I have had some problems with strawberry netting though and a few birds getting caught inside - all but one weren't stuck to the netting but just trapped inside, but one I had to entangle so I know what you mean. Always wonder how when they trap small birds for tagging etc they can get them out of the mesh though!!

      My hens are all laying because they are youngsters so we are getting 2-3 eggs a day which is more than we've had for ages! I need to bake more but I haven't been interested of late.

      I've seen a field with some sunflowers in too - I bet we'll get a big freeze at some point though!

  4. A really interesting and informative post Mandy with some great photos :) I remember oak apples from when I was little too - once my grandparents had pointed them out to me I was looking for them everywhere on oaks (and still do!!).

    Good to see so many birds on your peanut feeders. I stopped feeding peanuts here as they were always ignored as the birds go mainly for the sunflower hearts and fatballs!

    I am so sorry to read about your losses and agree with you about the dreadful commercialisation of Christmas.

    1. Thanks very much RR and Happy Christmas to you. xx

  5. Just wanted to pop in and see what you were up to, love the shots of the garden birds, was hoping to get one last post in this year but the it's raining again ! not had much time of and when I do it's... well raining...I wish you well for the new year..
    Amanda xx

    1. Lovely to here from you Amanda, and Happy Christmas! xx

  6. I'm so sorry to hear about your losses Mandy.
    Sending you warm wishes from across the pond.xx

    1. Thanks very much Deb. I've just looked in on Facebook and learned of another friend who died of cancer - it never seems to stop! Well here's to a better 2016 and Happy Christmas to you, Deb. xx

  7. Replies
    1. Thank you Virgil and I appreciate your visit. Love you my friend. xx