Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

Posts tagged ‘Gardens’

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Macro Monday 6th July 2020

Cooler temperatures greeted us this week after the recent heatwave. The gusting winds didn’t go away, though, and that makes it tricky for macro. The constant blowing sways the plants where the insects are, meaning that the number of photos you’ll get in focus will be far fewer than if it was still. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, though.

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Though our small garden isn’t up on a hill, it’s beginning to feel rather exposed where it sits in the Arun valley in urban West Sussex. I’m open to letting more of the shrubs grow to create wind buffers, not that it will make a huge different. One of the buffers is this ornamental hedge (which, after 6 months I still haven’t checked the name of in a garden centre). I found this ladybird in a state of metamorphosis, shifting from larva to adult ladybird. You can see its shell appearing from the skin of the larva, like superman minus the phonebox and slower.

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In the raspberry patch I found a solitary wasp. My insect guide gives nothing close to a resemblence to any species.

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The most popular plant in the garden now is this mallow. Lots of different species are foraging from it, to the point where I know an insect has been there because of those massive pollen grains. This is a red-tailed bumblebee, as you can probably imagine.

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I’ve noticed this ichneumon wasp (one of over 2500 species in the UK) spending a lot of time flitting over the flower buds. I presume it is using that needle-like ovipositer to lay its eggs. It has a beautiful chrome-blue eye. Again it has a pollen grain on its shoulder.

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This is another yellow-faced bee that I haven’t managed to identify. I love how papery the petals of the mallow appear here.

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The wool carder bees are still busy in good numbers on the lamb’s ears. This plant has been a revelation this year. At most I’ve counted 5 wool carder bees and this week I saw 3. They seem to be more at ease with me now (if that’s a thing, probably not) and don’t fly a mile when I sit next to the plant to get photos. They also allow me to get much closer than I could back in May.

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They are really attractive bees. What interests me is that they aren’t at all interested in the mallow but only the lamb’s ears and a foxglove which has popped up nearby.

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The lamb’s ears continue to be a perch for lots of different insects. I would say this is a common froghopper.

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The hot weather really has killed part of the lawn but I don’t care. I haven’t even cut it since April! One thing I have noticed is that our yellow-legged mining bee friends have begun to proliferate further into the other living areas of the grass.

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This was one of those cooler days, so perhaps this bee didn’t quite have the energy to get going just yet. Or perhaps it was just wondering what a giant was doing pointing a camera into their doorway.

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On my way back into the house one lunchtime I found a moth fluttering around at the door. I didn’t think much of it with my normal human eyesight but the photograph shows up something far more beautiful. The (undiffused) flash exposes the carpet-like patterns of the scales, with a hint of tiger stripes to the wing tips. It reminds me of curtains closed in a living room.

Thanks for reading.

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Macro Monday 22nd June 2020

There has been a dry patch on my lawn that has really suffered this year. I’m not into lawns and am not of the generation that gets angry about an unmown garden. I let it rock and roll. This patch has been dying back to expose the soil underneath, a dry grey substrate. The lack of rain this spring has meant that it’s suffering. But recently I’ve begun to look at it in a different way.

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I noticed that there were some small burrows appearing in the exposed areas of soil. On closer inspection there were about 10-20 very small insects flying around the area. Some were going in and out of the nesting holes. They were mining bees!

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I waited around for a while. The weather was moving between hot sun and cloud, meaning the bees were busy but then would slow down and disappear into the burrows. Some were waiting to appear. I think they are yellow-legged mining bees due to their appearance and their nesting behaviour, but I’m not sure. The bee above was doing some DIY, cutting through a dead grass stem that was blocking its front door.

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The bees seem to gather pollen from trees or flowers which make their legs even more yellow. According to the book there is a second brood in mid-June, which would explain why I’ve only noticed them appearing now – in mid-June.

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I won’t be trying to water that area of the lawn anymore. It’s a reminder to me that it provides an element of a garden’s habitat mosaic. In the small space we have, I don’t think there would be anywhere else suitable for these lovely insects.

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While I was sat waiting for the chance to get photos of the yellow-legged mining bees, I was right next to the lamb’s ears. This plant has delivered the goods this year and I would encourage anyone who wants to support wild bees, especially solitary species, to plant it out.

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I counted five wool carder bees, which is a record so far in my garden. Two of them were mating at one point, as seen above.

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Nearby there were a couple of yellow-faced bees. You can attempt an identification from the markings on the bees, but I haven’t got round to that yet.

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The breaks from the sun and cool breeze did slow the bees down at times, which is very helpful.

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Earlier in the week, during a rather wet and unsettled day, I took a potential ‘portfolio image’. I’d noticed a leafhopper roosting in a grasshead outside my front door. Later I noticed it was still there. I pulled the grass down towards me and sat on the ground. The bug was so relaxed it posed for this photo. I am really pleased with it and shows how garden macro really is the best. It took a matter of a couple of minutes before I was back inside again!

Thanks for reading.

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Macro Monday 18th May 2020

This week Boris Johnson gave us peasants the freedom to travel wherever we like. Just not to see the family I haven’t seen for three months. We were also allowed to go out for a dog-run-bike-marathon more than once a day. Better yet, we got 12 hours notice that we should go back to work if we could, by hoverboard. Safe to say, I kept my macro lens on a short lead and took it for a walk in the garden.

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A lot of people will be feeling like this dandelion head at the moment.

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Personally I find black and white photography in a digital format does not get anywhere near genuine 35mm film.

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We’re entering into a time when early summer flowers are appearing as the first spring blooms wither away. The weather this week has been far cooler and I’ve taken the chance to ignore the insects and focus more on flowers. This allium is just beginning to appear.

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These look like some kind of delphinium and are a remnant from the previous owner of our house. So far they have proven very attractive for bees, so they will be staying. Before flowering they look something akin to headgear from a sci-fi movie.

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Depth of field is an important part of macro. Macro lenses have a very shallow depth of field (ZzZzzzz), meaning that most of the image will be out of focus. It can produce incredibly beautiful and dreamy images. This is a creeping buttercup growing wild in the borders.

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Another remnant of the previous owner are chives. Like the allium this is another member of the lily family.

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These bulbous flowers have been threatening to reveal themselves for about two months. All through that time the ants have been patrolling the buds. I think they’re extracting nectar or something. Part of me wonders if they’re re-sealing the buds to keep them in this forever-state.

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I’ll finish this week’s flowery post as it began. This is what you should expect next week: bees+flowers. The bumblebee workers are now out in force, like this common carder bee. This is a potted scabious that we’ve had for two years now. Interestingly only this year have bees been visiting the flowers. Something must have been wrong with them in their store-bought state, perhaps they had chemicals in them at first? I don’t know. They’re one of my favourite plants and we’re entering into their time, when the remnant downlands of southern England will be plastered with them. For now, I’ll be in the garden.

Thanks for reading.

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Planthoppers on a sage leaf

Macro Monday 4th May 2020

This week I’m going to get my excuses in early. The weather in West Sussex has been cool and wet over the past week. The insect life has was shoved back into March, with April ending as many would have expected it to start. This is not good for fairweather macro photographers.

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Working from home for 40 hours a week doesn’t help. Lunch breaks are spent trying to make food, rather than having it ready to eat. This is also the time in the day when the insect life is most active – that is not necessarily a good thing because they’re too quick and the light can be very harsh. Last week it chucked down all kinds of rain during my lunch breaks. Saturday was much better though and the time for the flowering of lambs’ ears gets closer and closer. The image above shows my main studio.

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Up close you can see how attractive the leaves are for planthoppers. They look warm and easy to attach to. This planthopper had its own window through which it could look out onto the world.

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I noticed far fewer bees this week, though the bumblebee colonies are open for business. This fly was resting on a raspberry leaf.

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We have inherited most of the plants in our garden and I am waiting to see what these flowers are. For the past few weeks ants have been feeding on the leaves as they open, no doubt producing nectar or something that is useful to them.

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Zebra jumping spiders are one of the only species I ever see in my garden but for maybe one other. I’ve actually had one in the bathroom sink. At last, I managed to get one with its eyes in focus.

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I am very fortunate to be able to walk to the countryside from where I live. I haven’t driven or travelled to any green space other than on foot or by bike for six weeks. I believe very strongly that people should not be taking the piss at the moment. Also, the guidance from the police is massively confusing and I know it is acceptable to drive a short distance away if you need to for exercise. This is a nature reserve on the edge of the River Arun that I visited at the end of the week. My garden is small and in an urban location with little connectivity with wider green spaces. Here however there was much more going on.

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In 2014 I went to the Czech Republic at this time of year and there was a ‘plague’ of St. Mark’s flies. I have never seen so many insects as I did then in Czechia, they were in the towns and the countryside. I enjoy how chilled this insect is here.

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The hazel hedges are now fully in leaf. I found this species of lacewing with a beautiful jade eye and black and white markings to its body.

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I really have no idea what this fly is, perhaps a dancefly. That is a proboscis you don’t want to meet in a dark alley. It’s obviously used to suck the life out of something.

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This is a lovely time of year. I love when the trees flower. This is possibly the biggest clutch of oak flowers I’ve ever seen on one branch. If you can find joy in new things like this, you’re winning.

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The oak saplings are leafing in the grasslands, where people probably don’t want them to be.

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The first clovers are now coming into flower. Starting this weekly(!) blog in March means that now there’s a chance to look more at flowers. It will be very sad to miss the chalk downlands this year because it’s too far from my home to get to. One thing this time should teach us is how important green space is for our health. If this situation does not lead to greater protection for green space and the drive to provide more of it, then what will?

Thanks for reading.

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Macro Monday 13th April 2020

Happy Easter to both of my readers. Hope you and your loved ones are well and that the social distancing is proving manageable. Apologies if this is appearing twice, I was so prepared that I accidentally scheduled an unfinished version of this three days early.

The temperatures have entered the insect realm now and what was tentative in making an appearance in recent weeks is now flying around on its in-built magic carpet. More of those later.

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I have been trying out a new toy, a diffuser for my flashgun. I bought it on Ebay for less than a fiver and it so far has made a massive difference. All the images seen here have been taken with the combination above. It looks hilarious. I’m generally using my Nikon D5600 and Sigma 105mm macro at the moment when nipping out into my small garden at lunch times. It has a crop-sensor which crunches the megapixels into a smaller image, excellent for macro. Attached to the front is a Raynox macro attachment which gives extra magnification.

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More good news. After three years of trying at three different properties a red mason bee has finally found my bee hotel to be sufficient accommodation. Expect to see more of them as the spring progresses and I develop my lurking technique. The key I’ve found is that the location of the bee hotel recieves almost constant direct sun and faces south. Even if it faces south but the available sun sometimes gets blocked, it probably isn’t good enough.

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This is the single greatest insect hotel I’ve ever seen. It belongs to a forestry academic in the Czech Republic on the farm where he lives in Bohemia. It’s about 6ft high and has logs, bricks and lots of clay which many insects love. I spent about an hour lurking around it one warm August morning and the diversity of insect life on it blew my mind. This is what I would some day like to construct for myself. But in the meantime the typical shop-bought bee hotel will have to do.

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I’ve been spending more time hanging around my stachys plant and it keeps coming up with the goods. God only knows what it will be like when it flowers. I could probably do a whole blogpost about it. It’s da bomb. It has the common name of lamb’s ear which is perfect for this time of year. It’s also known as silver carpet (more like magic carpet). This is a groundbug that was perched on a leaf tip, perhaps it’s a birch catkin bug.

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Deeper within the silver carpet I found a capsid bug climbing vertically up through the plant. It took lots of attempts to get this picture. I love the labyrinthine or cave-like feel.

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I’ve recently re-watched The Little Mermaid and this empty spider skin or casing looks to me like one of the lost souls held by Ursula at the bottom of the sea! Those eyes are haunting.

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I’ve been pushing the extreme close-ups to the limit of my equipment. This insect looks somewhat like a relative of a mosquito or gnat. It was absolutely miniscule, barely visible to the naked eye.

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Most triumphant aphid of the week is this character here, claiming the sliver-carpet for itself. I read once that aphids can be carried across continents by sudden upsurges in windflow that draw them up into the sky and then, who knows.

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I’ve also ventured further into the back of the garden where it’s cooler and there are different plants growing. This leafhopper made a lovely contrast with the velvety leaves that are unfurling in the shade. I enjoy the cartoon eyes.

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A few days later I found what I expect are planthoppers in their metamorphic stage, moving from larvae to adult insect.

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This one was incredible up close, like some kind of armoured beast from a sci-fi programme in the early-1990s. I had toys that looked just like this when I was a child.

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Looking equally angry (and rather punk-like) this picture winged fly was poised to take off. As spring progresses, each week will start to show different species of plants and therefore insects. The first butterflies are on the wing now, so let’s see what happens!

Thanks for reading and stay away from each other.

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Here’s a recommended video from a very accomplished macro photorgapher, Thomas Shahan, which was posted this week:

 

 

 

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Macro Monday 6th April 2020

Phew, I made it to a second Macro Monday post! Also in the past week I’ve put together a macro page on my website showcasing my portfolio of macro work if you’re interested.

The warmer sun of last week gave way to early morning frosts, showers and a very cool breeze. It meant that when the sun did shine, the wildlife came out to play. When the sun went in, most of the insects were too cold to move. Perfect subjects!

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As ever with something like macro, the first steps require ‘getting your eye in’. I found this beautiful snail shell and plopped it on the table. Apparently images of spirals like this can create a feeling of calm.

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On Wednesday I was working from the living room which looks out onto the garden. I lost count of the number of times that queen bees thudded against the glass. This is probably a buff-tailed bumblebee. She was struggling to find the energy to fly away but after a short stint in the sun she took off, with a little help of course.

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One sunny corner of the garden seems to be the best place to look for life. This planthopper was very well camouflaged against this stachys leaf. Up close, you can see how hairy the leaves are, no doubt this is helpful to some smaller insects which can use it to grip. This was probably the most difficult picture to capture because the focus is so shallow in macro and the shape of this insect makes it very difficult.

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This area has some bare soil where the wolf spiders sun themselves. This may not be a wolf spider (planning on buying the spider book soon) but it was using the leaves of winter hellebores as a place of rest. The curves of the leaves can create a lovely effect.

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This spider looks like something from the Muppets Christmas Carol, it is so hairy it’s almost like felt. Obviously its prey wouldn’t see it in the same way.

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Head on, it actually looks rather innocent.  I know a lot of people definitely don’t feel that way, let alone its prey!

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This is a good time to see red mason bees. I usually look for bees by their lagging flight, almost like something hasn’t quite loaded or buffered! These bees are often found in bee houses but as their name suggests they also enjoy the masonry of real houses. I totally fluffed a photo of a hairy-footed flower bee because I made the mistake of lazily relying on my lens’s autofocus. This week we’ve ordered a flowering currant for our garden to ensure there is nectar for them next year (it’s coming in October so don’t have any choice) and it should be easy to get them involved.

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The flowers of the unnamed shrub I mentioned last week have again been a big draw for insects. This flower beetle was so tiny but I still managed to snap this pic of it drinking nectar. Down it! Down it! Down it! Up close you can really see how sugary sweet the stamens appear. Not far off a sugar-coated jelly sweet.

Thanks for reading.

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Macro Monday 30th March 2020

Like 25% of all humans, I am now confined to a new way of living. Work from home if you can and exercise in your garden if you have one. It’s not military arrest, yet. So like many others who are promoting our #NaturalHealthService online I’m starting a weekly Macro Monday blog series.

This is one of the best times of year for photography, the days have just grown longer and the warmer weather means more wildlife is making its way out of the woodwork. Much of the stuff I see with a macro lens literally comes out of the woodwork.

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I’m lucky. I have a small garden, something that is a total privilege when many people do not even have a home. If anyone doesn’t have a garden and wants to see some wildlife during the next few weeks and months, here it is.

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I have been photographing wildlife in the garden attached to the place where I’ve lived for a long time now. Above is a personal favourite, a red mason bee living in a garden gate! For me going on safari is not attractive, because of the cost, the trauma of long-distance travel for both me and the environment, and because if you have a macro lens of any kind, you can see so much close to home. You can appreciate the beauty in the everyday. I think there’s a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote for that.

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Let’s see how this goes, an outlet for the frustrations to come but also a view into the world that will continue its natural cycles despite what us humans do. This week I have had to apologise to neighbours on several occasions for hanging around the hedge with a camera. I have several macro lenses and one of them is quite long and could easily be mistaken for a snooper’s telephoto lens. To the person who is a couple of gardens away but too far for me to apologise, I’m sorry.

The hedge I’ve been hanging around was one I actually intended to remove because it’s quite dominant and I’d prefer a mixed hedge which will support a greater range of insect species. But this hedge has been brimming with life, especially droneflies, a species of hoverfly that look much like a honeybee. Hold on tight:

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You may already have lost count of the amount of images of animals close together with the caption ‘ha, they don’t care a damn about social distancing!’ so I’ll leave that one alone.

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The insects I look out for most of all are the bees. We have over 200 species in the UK and the diversity is astonishing. I think this is a yellow-legged mining bee. I’m not sure why but bees and wasps do seem to be more attractive in their side eyes and the three ocelli on top, also providing optical vision.

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This is probably one of the leafcutter bees but I’m not sure. It was happy to be approached while basking on the shrub that all the insects seemed to enjoy.

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Away from the insects, spiders have a predilection for the wooden fence on one side of the garden in the early morning sun. This zebra jumping spider gave me a right run around. Later that day I actually found one in the house, not the first time, but I think it had squeezed its way under the window.

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Early spring is also a time when spiders are basking in sunny spots on leaves. I bought this stachys flower last year and planted it out, only for it not to really do anything. Since moving house I transplanted it and am hoping it will come to life this year. It’s a member of the dead-nettle family and proves very good for bees.

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Perhaps a little more sinister, this spider looked to me to be eating salt from the soil. I have no ecological basis for that argument other than I know butterflies and other invertebrates do the same.

Thanks for reading.

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Painted lady, London, August 2015

Fifteen minutes in the garden or a green space (or brown space) is all that’s needed to complete the Big Butterfly Count. My fifteen minutes were sumptuous. Not only did a painted lady remain for far longer than the allotted time, but a common blue appeared for the first time ever in my garden. This was the second new sighting locally in two days. Patrick Barkham has written that a hot August will help them. Do have a go, you’d be amazed at what you might see. You have until the end of August. Hanging around buddleia is advisable if you’re competitive.

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Capsid bug

The garden, London, June 2015

This is a capsid bug, but I’m not sure whether it’s a common green capsid bug or a potato capsid bug. At first I thought it might be a shield bug but the head is completely different. Whichever one it is, it was on a privet bush in the garden, not doing very much.

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