Thursday, 30 April 2009

IDCD, Camouflage and Thanks

Sunday 3rd May is International Dawn Chorus Day. Many events have been organised across the UK so that people can visit sites to hear the wide variety of our bird life signal the start of a new day. More information can be found on various web sites including Wildlife Trust and the IDCD site.

There are gradually more small moths appearing around the garden. These two are doing their best to blend in with the mortar between the bricks making up the garage wall.

Garden Carpet Xanthorhoe fluctuata

Camouflage Moth

Early Grey Xylocampa areola

Camouflaged Moth

Over the decades many moths have changed their appearance so as to blend in with an ever changing man made world. During the days of the industrial revolution, when coal was king, and through to the 1950s when the Clean Air Acts were introduced it was found that some moths had gradually developed darker markings which blended in better with soot grimed buildings and trees.

Thanks to Bennyboymothman on Flickr for identifying the above moths.

My thanks to Greenfingers of Cabinet of Curiosities and Beyond the Human Eye who suggested that the flying insect in my Invaded section might be Ichneumon speciosus.

Ichneumon Wasp?

This is a large group of parasitic wasps which lay their eggs in butterfly and moth caterpillars. I looked through many pictures of this group of wasps. Though I couldn't spot the one I had there were several similar and at least one site said that there were so many in this group that it was very difficult to identify an individual.

Also thanks to ShySongbird for suggesting that my unidentified bird in the Walkies entry may be a Willow Warbler.


Once I had an idea where to look in my books I could check through and that certainly seems the best match.

It is so nice when people are willing to help out when I am at a complete loss - which is quite frequently at the moment.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Feeding , Fluttering and My POM


The visiting birds seem particularly hungry these days. By the end of the day there is virtually nothing left over in the seed tray. The pair of Goldfinches continue to visit, sometimes singly but usually together.


A particularly welcome sight which took me completely by surprise was a visit by a pair of Siskins. The first I have ever seen anywhere, never mind in my garden. Suddenly there was a brilliant flash of colour as they came in to land. First they landed on the shed cables. One stayed there a little longer whilst the other sampled the peanuts.



After a short while they both moved over to the Nyger seed feeder where they spent several minutes tucking in.


That really brightened up what was ending up as a damp and dismal day. The light was so poor by this time, about 5.30 p.m., that I had to up the ISO speed quite a bit.

Sometimes you get the more unusual view of a bird like this one of a Starling which was determined to reach the bowl of seed without going right inside.

Starling - Rear View


The Jackdaws are now regular visitors but like the Rooks are easily scared away, like this one just taking off from the lawn.

Jackdaw Taking Off

The Rooks don't stray far and soon swoop back to try their luck again.

Rook in Flight

This Crow was making off with what looks like a tasty morsel from somebody elses garden.

Crow in Flight

Once again I was removing insects from the kitchen. This Bumblebee (I think an Early Bumblebee) is one of the largest I see around.



This is a purely subjective choice. I took a photo the other day just to see what it would turn out like. The Sun was shining on the water running down the pond waterfall and the colours of the old lichen at the bottom of the water were showing through. I really was pleased with the result which looks to me like a piece of amber which has started to melt.


Monday, 27 April 2009

Birding for Bad Weather

A few days ago I was browsing through Trisha's Bird Table News when I came across the following. It is in the form of a letter and contained in it are many names of different types of birds. The idea is to find as many as you can. I must admit I am a sucker for this type of thing. So - if you are having withdrawal symptoms when the weather is too bad to get out and spot birds and the rain on the window makes outdoors look bleary, cut and print out this in large print and see how many birds you can spot in the comfort of your favourite armchair. No prizes and I have no idea how many there are in total - yet. (I have found more than 20 and sent Trisha a list)

Bird-Watching Holiday

How many hidden birds can you spot?

Dear Ed,

Starting early we took it easily, and at the Bell Inn, Eton, we picked up Jack Dawling and Ernest. One chatted a lot, so time passed swiftly, but rain on the motorway was a grave nuisance. After lunch I decided to hand over the wheel and steal and hour’s sleep, before reaching Ullswater at midnight in gale-force winds.

Next morning on to Scotland, where our hotel is in as fine a glen as I have seen, with rushing stream at the bottom of a steep lovers’ lane. It is all that is now left of an old mill, but it is now renovated, and very smart inside - no other one for miles around! Eric rows, though awkardly, leaving Anne to doze in the stern. Excellent food - no good for taking off inches from the waist or keeping wide awake. Nothing is wanting, except perhaps regular kilts and pipers.

Love from all,


Reprinted here by kind permission of Trisha, Bird Table News.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

I'm Going Batty in my Old Age

Yesterday I had a look at Snowbabies blog entry Bats and was intrigued by the piece of video of the bats hunting round the garden. Also I had visited Urban Extension - The Weird and Wonderful World of Bat Noises last month.
There used to be a regular bat visitor or two to my garden which hunted every evening towards dusk. I had long wanted something to enable me to hear the sounds they make so last year I bought a Magenta Bat4 detector. I saw and heard one bat for about 2 seconds the day it arrived and then there was no local activity for the rest of the year.

Bat4 detector with Sony dictaphone

This year I am pleased to say that there has been regular activity though they rarely come in to my garden as yet. Not many moths around here at the moment. One bat does regularly hunt just past the end of my garden towards dusk. There was a bit of daylight left so first I set the camera to the highest ISO speed it would dial, fixed the focus and tried to get a photo. This is about the best of the few I took.


Out of focus as it was hard to estimate how far away it would be. Also it moves so darned fast the shutter speed was still on the slow side for a good capture. Daylight was fading fast and the brightest light was from a solar powered lantern near the end of the garden. My favourite as it gives quite a realistic flicker.

Solar Lantern

Now was the time to try for a sound recording so I got out the bat detector and a Sony dictaphone in an attempt to record the bat hunting. Click here for a bit of the recording. The white noise (hiss) is from the detector as, with the bat being so far away, I had to turn up the volume but the clicks from the bat are quite clear. I don't know whether I had the detector set for the correct frequency, it being set about 47KHz. I shall experiment more over future nights. I am fairly sure that what we have here are Pipistrel Bats. Certainly it was one of those which flew in the back door and ended up in my bedroom a few years ago. I had to call on a friend to help get it out again as being that close to it was not my idea of fun.

Missed Opportunity
While I was waiting for a bat to make an appearance I noticed a dark lump towards the top of the telegraph pole just past the end of my garden. I was trying to work out what it could be when it moved and then took flight and swooped down and out of sight. Although it was just a dark shape against a dull sky I had just missed an opportunity to photograph one of the local owls. All I could make out was that it seemed quite a bit larger than a Barn Owl. It had been perched on one of the metal foot holds you see near the top of the poles. If that is a regular perch then I must keep an eye out for any future opportunities.

Saturday, 25 April 2009


Some days I get the feeling I am being invaded. This morning there was such a noise. At first I thought a large bird had got into the conservatory but there was nothing there. Probably something on the plastic roof as it echoes every sound. Looking out of the kitchen window I saw not the usual one or two Rooks or Jackdaws but a whole clamor - so many in fact that it took two photos to get them all in! Just imagine how much seed it takes to fill all those throat pouches.


Well, at least they were clearing yesterdays left over seed I had scattered on the lawn.

A couple of days ago I lost count of the number of bees I rescued from the kitchen. I keep an old coffee jar and a piece of card near at hand just for that job. Put the jar over the bee, slide the card between the jar and the window, transport bee to the end of the garden and let it fly free. One more unusual invader was this flying insect. It is about 20mm long and beautifully marked. After taking this portrait I caught it and let it go in the garden.


At one stage the Sunlight was shining right through its body.


There are also invaders in the pond. These are much slower moving but harder to catch. Some of the plants are sending out long roots running along the bottom of the pond and then up pop new shoots every so often. Hard to reach in the middle of the pond but I don't want them to become too invasive.

This is most probably Horsetail and is spreading like wildfire at the moment. The closer view shows how intricate its structure is.

Horsetail Horsetail

Another, as yet nameless, plant is also spreading well. Again a close look at the 'flower' shows the delicate way nature designs things.



There you have it. One way or another I am being invaded by plant, insect and bird life. Not that I really mind - within reason.

Friday, 24 April 2009


For once I took the camera with me on an earlier than usual afternoon walk. It was soon after midday and I was hoping to get a clearer photo for the blog title. At least there is some green in the foreground field now but the hills were still hazy and the sky cloudless in the distance. Should have better luck as we approach Summer.

We went along Old Mill Lane and at first the only sign of life was a single rabbit which didn't hang around long enough for a decent portrait.

Old Mill Lane

On the ground were some pieces of wool. Whether dropped by birds or blown by the wind I'm not sure but the nearest sheep are quite some distance away.

Wool Having a Good Sniff

We were enjoying a very leisurely stroll - you know who investigating every new smell and me listening to the birds in the distant hedgerow and admiring the way the Sunlight was illuminating the hedgerow blossom.

Hedge Blossom

I did spy a couple of butterflies, a Small Tortoiseshell and a Woodland White.

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly

Woodland White Butterfly

Eventually I managed to spot a couple of the birds high up in the branches of a tree. I think this one is a Yellowhammer. My identification skills are nearly zero still but if it is then this is the first shot I've managed to get of one.


As usual we returned via the churchyard and it was good to see one of the next generation of trees making an effort to grow right next to the place where people walk through.

New Tree

Passing near one of the very few remaining wild areas in the village I could hear another bird singing. Much to Bobby's disgust I spent ages trying to get a decent photo of it. The Sun was in the wrong place and I couldn't get to a different angle. I haven't the foggiest what the bird is though.

IMG_2472c IMG_2475c


Although it was singing my song identification is worse than my visual identification. This is an area I have never developed and I really must try to find someone local to teach me.

Last item spotted was the lichen (Xanthoria parietina) covering the top of an old concrete post. I'm pretty sure of the identification as I have recently bought some guides from UK Safari to help me.


It really was uplifting to have a gentle ramble in the Sun after a long dreary Winter.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Clean Your Drains Sir?

This morning I was pottering round the garden waiting for the postman when I noticed a female Blackbird disappear down into one of the drains. After a while it came back up with something in its beak but I was too far away to see what it was. I assumed it was looking for snails or slugs which live down there.

From Blogger Pictures

It is quite a drop, maybe ten inches, to the grating and with the three pipes which drain into it it is a tight squeeze to get my hand and arm down there to clear it out. She disappeared completely so she must have gone right down to the grating.

I though no more of it and carried on taking a few photos of the plants for future use. I can't resist putting up this one of a group of Narcissus as I really like the contrast between the yellow and the white.


Meanwhile Bobby was taking the chance to Sunbathe while he waited for the postman.

Waiting for the Postman

A while later, as I came out of the conservatory, there was a female blackbird watching me with an expression which definitely relayed the feeling that I was too close and in the way.

Female Blackbird

Not long after that I spotted her once again disappearing down the drain and up she came again with a full beak. Is that really what I think it is .........

Female Blackbird

Yes .... definitely ... a clump of soggy, smelly leaves!
I have read that birds do not have a very strong sense of smell. Good job they don't!

Female Blackbird

She turned and faced the camera square on and finally flew up to the roof top.

Female Blackbird

Then she flew out of sight. Is she really going to construct a soggy nest? What is wrong with all the dry material scattered round the garden? Maybe she has some other use for old wet leaves. Life is full of mysteries. At least I am getting my drain cleared cheeply (couldn't resist that).


After Mark from Beating the bounds left a comment I had a look on the RSPB site to see what it said there about Blackbirds and their nests. Apparently they plaster the nest with mud before they line it with grass. There is little or no mud available round here as we have had precious little rain for weeks so I guess this enterprising female Blackbird has found a substitute.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

A Murky Underwater Encounter

I was going to go out today as the weather was glorious again, reaching 20C by the tea time. I had ordered a couple of new plants for the pond which arrived in the post today and as they were bare root they needed planting ASAP. First I had to make a new ledge for them to stand on as they are marginals. To this end I put in a couple of old well weathered bricks and found a left over section of plastic fencing. With the plastic on top of the bricks it also made another shelter for any aquatic life.

As I was assembling this little lot I disturbed a newt.
From album

This one is paler than others I have seen in the pond. Amazingly after a few short minutes newt after newt came to examine what was going on. I know I saw five different ones and maybe a sixth. They really are doing well in there. As one approached its tail was curved right round. At first I though it was damaged but after examining the nearest brick it straightened out its tail.

A while later I saw the same thing happen again. As the newt approached one particular spot its tail became more and more arched forward along its body. The reason for this - another newt virtually hidden in the silt at the bottom of the pond. I guess this is either a defence mechanism or a show of aggression.

This murky sequence shows what was happening. The head of the second newt can just be made out on the right of the photos.

Newts - a Close Encounter

Eventually the hidden newt surfaced from the silt and each went its separate way.

By this time, nearly 1pm., I though I might as well pot up a few plants I had bought recently and save the trip out for another day.

For a short while I had a flower power dog. Bobby decided to walk through one of my dwarf weeping trees whose catkins were in full bloom. Good job he doesn't suffer with hay fever! A good roll in the grass got rid of most of it.

Bobby Covered in Pollen

Monday, 20 April 2009

A Zebra in my Garden

No - not a large four legged stripy horse but a 7mm eight legged predator. Yesterday the Sun finally showed its face about 3pm. As I opened the back door to the garage I just spotted a movement on the wall. There was this tiny striped spider. I dashed in, collected the camera, screwed the +4 close up lens on and hurried back. At first I though it had disappeared but eventually I found it again.

From album

This is one of a group of jumping spiders. They do not spin a web. Instead they slowly stalk their prey and when ready to pounce they attach a thread to the surface they are on and leap to catch the next meal. If they miss then the thread enables them to return to the spot they started from. Their prey is other small spiders and insects much their own diminutive 7mm or sometimes larger.

Zebra Spider

Though jumping spiders have six eyes two of them are large and forward facing. This gives them good stereoscopic vision to judge distances.

Zebra Spider

It is easy to see why it is called the Zebra Spider (Salticus scenicus) though as a leaping predator I think I would have called it a tiger spider. Either way it has beautiful marking for such a small creature.

Zebra Spider

As I spent quite a while watching and photographing the spider I was impressed with the speed it could move. Though it stayed pretty well in one place every now and then it would spin through 180 degrees in a fraction of a second.

I could see it was holding something but it wasn't until I cropped and enlarged the pictures I could see it was making a meal of what appears to be an even smaller spider. Even with the +4 close up lens the spider occupied only a tiny fraction of the picture frame.

The only other insect (I know - a spider isn't an insect) about was this Plume Moth, the first I have noticed this year.

Plume Moth

Fascinating the way they roll or fold up their wings.

Today, once the Sun burned off the early morning fog, has been gorgeous. While I was waiting at the bottom of the garden hoping to get some shots of the birds bathing in the waterfall a drone fly insisted in hovering in front of me. So that was what I ended up photographing in the hope it would be happy and go pester someone else.

Drone Fly Hovering

Drone Fly Hovering

Such long legs compared with the rest of the body. Large compound eyes as well. The green background is actually the lawn out of focus. Believe me it looks far better out of focus than in real life!
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