Another week of some sun, some showers, and some temperatures that got close to freezing. That sentence may turn out to be a spring epistrophe, but more of that later. In Scotland it reached as low as -5C. April 2023 has been a mishmash of seasons. Here’s what I encountered in my garden on 22nd April.
One of the joys of this time of year has to be the red mason bee. They are tricky to catch up with sometimes away from their bee boxes, but I managed to get close enough to this red-haired male in the skimmia hedge.
This is a mining bee that I can recall seeing each year early in the season. I’m not sure of the species, but it has a likeness to the chocolate mining bee.
I tried with this rather slender-shaped mining bee, but it didn’t like Homo sapiens approaching with a camera and macro lens, however small that equipment is nowadays.
He’s not quite in focus but this hairy-footed flower bee stopped for a snap. Never mind his hairy feet, look at those legs! They do look a bit like tiny Highland cows to me.
To finish this week’s post, I noticed this medium-sized hoverfly in the skimmia. Putting it on iNaturalist I received a quick response, identifying it as spring epistrophe. It has a huge range, from Sweden to northern Spain, and then as far as Ireland to the Caucasus (Russia). Its name obviously means it’s a spring arrival, but ‘epistrophe’: “repetition of a word or expression at the end of successive phrases, clauses, sentences, or verses especially for rhetorical or poetic effect” – via Miriam-Webster.
I’ll have to listen to the hoverfly more closely next time.
This time of year will probably always remind me of 2020, when most people were entering into Covid-19 ‘lockdowns’. That spring was early, warm and sunny in SE England, which seemed to contrast with the extreme anxiety of the situation we found ourselves in over here. As the lyric in ‘Someone Great’ by LCD Soundsytem goes, ‘the worst is all the lovely weather‘.
This spring feels different: later than recent early seasons, wet, cool but also quite hot. On Monday I got a bit of sunburn on my neck (despite wearing suncream) and on Tuesday it was quite cold in comparison. This all affects wildlife in a far more immediate way.
On Sunday 16th April my garden thermometer (kept in the shade, don’t worry) read 16C, and the garden was alive. Here’s what I found in the space of about half an hour.
My first find is not actually pictured here. I was about to clean the kitchen hob when I noticed a small deceased insect on it, what turned out to be a lovely male red mason bee. I was surprised and a bit annoyed, so went outside to put its tiny little body into the flowerbed where its cousins were zipping around.
Nearby, I noticed my first bee-fly of the year, doing their usual flowerbed hovering. You can see from the image above why this fly is sometimes referred to as the ‘dark-edged’ bee-fly.
There were a large number of drone-flies in and around the Japanese skimmia that makes up much of the hedgeline in my small garden. I’m actually a big fan of this shrub, which provides excellent cover for invertebrates and seems to be a solid nectar source.
I’ve not seen any birds eating its berries which are held for a long time. I would pick this over the dreaded cherry laurel any day.
This is a common hoverfly, which I have come to know as ‘the footballer’ but is also called ‘sun fly‘. Their mimicry is to fool us predators into thinking they’re wasps and therefore able to sting. What this fly doesn’t know is that I’ve read books and have iNaturalist so I know it’s a hoverfly.
Meanwhile, there was quite a bit of activity from the wasps, with two or more queens busy in the skimmia. This queen was less busy so I could get a photo of her basking. To any new readers, I’m a wasp supporter, and I don’t mean the rugby team.
I have another non-native shrub that is proving itself to be a valuable resource for pollinators in my garden. This has flowered for the first time since it was planted three years ago.
This is probably a the black garden ant. I hadn’t seen them nectaring like this before. I’d also seen red mason bees visiting these flowers, which is great news as it’s providing another source of forage for a wider range of pollinators.
This ant was definitely getting stuck in to the nectar on offer here!
On my recycling bin I spotted this green shield bug, a fairly common sight in my garden. They are lovely insects but are also known as stinkbugs in North America because of their pungent scent that is deployed when they’re in trouble.
The hawthorn was in full leaf. I have since coppiced this hawthorn sapling to allow it to form more of a hedge, compared to the spindly tree it was forming.
Hazel is also in leaf. I love their small leaves when first appearing. You can see where I topped this sapling last year. I have also recoppiced it since to form a hedge.
The dog violets are flowering between the brickwork on the twitten (a Sussex name for a type of path).
So too were the pea flowers of what I think is broom. It didn’t flower last year for some reason.
I think this close up helps to show how nice herb robert flowers are up close, with the yellow pollen grains highlighting their attractiveness to bees in particular.
This morning I recorded a 3 minute video zipping through the key areas of my garden and how they support wildlife. Just before I pressed record a sparrowhawk nearly took my head off as it was chased away by a starling! Wish I’d caught that on the video.
Here I quickly outline the key habitats and luckily manage to film some bees demonstrating why ‘weeds’ are important, too.
I think I promised something like this a few months ago, so enjoy! Of course I’d love to do some more in future if I can find the time.