From nesting birds, garden reptiles, butterflies and moths and other creatures.
Halfway through May and we have finally had some good weather after nearly two weeks of cloud, rain showers and cool winds. Finer weather meant that we could finally sit out in the garden and watch the nesting birds.
Starlings have taken up residence in the gap in our roof where some mortar has long fallen out. They often land on the top of our roof before deciding what to do next (image 1). Judging by our observations they are collecting food for their nestlings from a variety of sources. We have seen them digging in our lawn and bringing in insect larvae to their nest (image2), they raid our bird feeder taking sunflower kernels, and we have also seen them bringing in pink suet pellets from some other bird table (not ours). Having fed their noisy nestlings, they fly out with large faecal pellets dropping them as they fly off to find more food (image 3).
We have two nest boxes taken over by Blue Tits. Our oak tree has now come into leaf providing food for winter moth larvae which then get taken by the blue tits (image 4). Robins squabble across the garden and watch out for worms from freshly dug soil (image 5). Sparrows have started to explore their nest box. A Wren has attempted to build a nest on a narrow ledge in our shed bringing in and dropping a great deal of moss. Unfortunately, the ledge was too narrow, and the wren seems to have given up and moved on. Red Kites continue to fly overhead and we love to see them catching the sun showing their reddish plumage and white wing markings (image 6).
Lifting our garden wildlife tins, Mary found two Grass Snakes coiled in the warmth (image 7) and we now have three Slow-worms sheltering under the tins. Adult male slow-worms tend to be greyish while the females are often copper coloured with black side stripes (image 8).
We are now into No-Mow May and the Daisies are putting on a fine show on the lawn (image 9). We have two patches that we allow to grow on during the rest of the summer and autumn to provide a succession of flowers for butterflies, bees, and other small creatures.
Butterflies seem to have been few this spring, the exception being the pale-blue coloured Holly Blue which we see flitting over our holly hedge and around the village green (image 10). The village green has a small colony of the small but brilliant Small Copper butterfly, and it was good to see the first one the 14th May (image 11) and hope to see more soon. Individual Red Admirals have been around for a time and like sunning on the south facing laurels along the edge of the village green (image 12). Small numbers of Peacock butterflies have been around and this one was feasting on apple blossom (image 13).
It is a bit early to find the larger spiders, but Lace-weaver spiders reside in funnel shaped silken webs in cracks in the outside of our shed and go wandering at night for prey (image 14).
Several beetles have shown themselves. This brightly coloured carnivorous Red-headed Cardinal beetle with its amazing antennae was seeking prey on some nettles I was cutting down at the end of our garden (image 15). Large Black Sexton burying beetles have again turned up in the moth trap which beetles would otherwise be burying dead small mammals as food for the larvae and pictured in my last posting at the end of April.
Moths have not been common this spring but new species for the year turn up in the trap at night including the Streamer (image 16), the Mocha (image 17, the Waved Umber (image 18), the Shoulder Stripe (image 19), the Lesser Swallow Prominent (image 20), the White Ermine (image 21) and the Oak Hook-tip (image 22). Those large buzzing Cockchafer beetles (image 23) are common now and dominating appearances in the moth trap.
Craneflies (daddy-long-legs) are emerging from their underground pupae and while many species wait until late summer to emerge, the Green-eyed Cranefly Tipula vernalis is a spring species and out at the moment (image 24). Cranefly larvae (leather jackets) can be a garden pest feeding on plant roots, but they also provide abundant food for starlings and crows capable of digging them up.
Finally, the first False Puffballs have appeared. We normally see them on dead hazel stems, but we have had several occurring this spring on the soft outer rotten rings on firewood cut from our felled dead oak tree. These are strange creatures (a species of slime mould) that start out as tiny amoeboid plasmodia living within dead wood and feeding on bacteria, moulds, and yeasts. When conditions are right, they emerge overnight as globular colonies (often from beetle holes), and form a pure white dome-shaped soft knobbly mass from 1-5cm across (image 25). After only a few days, the structure solidifies forming a tough grey outer skin within which brown spores are formed and finally released into the wind as the structure falls apart.