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