Sunday, 5 June 2016

Nature Notes - Glorious June

Summer turned up early this year, at least in this part of the country - not so good in London, or, indeed, in Paris as I write these words, but some remarkable early June weather just here. Whether it will last into July, and perhaps we have the barbecue summer someone always promises, remains to be seen.

But it’s probably one of the reasons why our garden has been so busy. I’ve never seen so many birds, and they’ve been eating me out of house and home. That’s partly because the local blackbirds have learned the trick of perching on our fat ball feeder, and, boy, can they get through it! They look quite ungainly, and flap their wings a lot, but they manage it. As do the local house sparrows from over the road. They don’t normally come into our back garden much, but they love the fat balls.

I decided to not fill that feeder for a few days, just to quieten things down and encourage some of the regular users to look elsewhere for food. But when I did refill them, it took no time at all for the birds to return. I had a nuthatch on the feeder by the time I got to my back door, and when I came out again a few minutes later with a cup of coffee, the blackbirds and house sparrows were there in force.

The fine weather has also increased the number of insects in our garden. These include a lot of bees, I’m glad to see. We’ve added a second and rather larger insect hotel to our garden this year, with a combination of bamboo pipes, wooded bits and pieces and shavings that will provide suitable habitats for a range of insects, some bee species among them. Our first one was well used last year.

Ann found an unusual ladybird the other day, and imprisoned it under an upturned glass so we could identify it. Perhaps it was one of the harlequin ladybirds, a large immigrant species that is - sadly - feeding on some of our native ladybirds. But no, this rather attractive orange ladybird with yellow spots is a leaf-eating ladybird which seems to lack an English name, but rejoices in the Latin name of Halyzia 16-guttata. It has sixteen spots (you might have worked that out), and is associated with woodland, especially if there are sycamore trees. My book tells me that it was thought to be rare in the UK; not here, it isn’t. I quickly found another two in our garden.

We’ve also had quite a few bright orange-red cardinal beetles, which are quite free flying and regularly visit flowers. They look at first like flying ladybirds, before you realise that this is a much longer insect. The larvae live under the bark of fallen trees.

And then, on a particularly warm and sunny day, we were visited by a ruby-tailed wasp. This is a small insect only about a centimetre in length, but remarkable in colour - the body is a vivid metallic blue, with the abdomen a bright ruby red. There are several closely related species of this wasp, whose larva is parasitic on other wasps and solitary bees. More insects next month, if the fine weather keeps up!

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