MY FAVOURITE CARTOON AS A BOY..

Monday, April 30, 2007

HOBBY

I'm just about to finish work for the day in my 5th floor office, overlooking the Thames at Reading.

Its been a beautifully clear day, very warm out of the stiff easterly wind, and I'm just about to go to the weir pool at Caversham lock to snap a few photos of the Grebes there, if I'm, lucky.

I was just gazing out of our huge windows a minute ago, looking north, and I saw from a distance a falcon hot-winging it towards the office.

As I watched it get closer and closer, it became obvious that it was a Hobby! These are beautiful falcons, smaller than a Kestrel, (and Peregrine, therefore), with russet coloured feathers around their legs.
It sped over the office, right above my head, at speed, heading south.


They are incredibly agile and hunt dragonflies, swallows and martins - and slow moving prey on the wing, during the summer months. Hobbies are unusual amongst falcons in that they are summer visitors to the UK from Africa, not generally seen before April or after October.

The last time I saw one of these was last summer, chasing dragonflies over the Tottenham reservoirs. They can be seen at spots around the UK hunting in "packs" if you like, sometimes over a dozen strong, though it's each to their own following a kill!

In case you weren't aware, the inventor of the "Subbuteo" table football game wanted to patent his new invention as "Hobby", (not "Subbuteo"). The patent office thought that took the mickey a bit, so he decided to be sneaky, and call his new game the Latin name for Hobby - (Falco) Subbuteo. That is how "Subbuteo" (the table football game), got its name.

BLUE TITS (33)

We can confirm this morning, that all is well with our Tits.

Before going to work this morning, we both saw the male bring at least two juicy brown caterpillars in to the Box for the female, and heard her "rattle" inside the Box to call him in with said breakfast!
Phew!

So.... I'm still expecting the eggs to hatch in 2-4 days, (around wednesday this week), if my calculations / assumptions are correct...

Sunday, April 29, 2007

BLUE TITS (32)

After gingerly peering in through the Nest Box opening (involving standing on a high stool and using a low-power torch) I think she is still safely sat on the eggs.

Something definitely "clicked" at me from inside the Box...

I think we're ok! (she's just spent a LOT of time on the eggs today)!

BLUE TITS (31)

Breaking (bad?) news regarding our Tits...
Even though I was at work until 14:30 again, I haven't seen the female at all this afternoon.
Worse still, I have seen the male perch bolt upright on the chopstick twice now, chest puffed out, belting out a call at top volume.

We hope he is rejoicing in the fact that the female is inside the box and the first chick has hatched (though I can't hear anything in the Box).

We hope he is not trying in vain to call her back to the Box, for she has vanished somewhere. (Much more likely I fear).

I'll keep an eye on the Box this evening, and with luck, report good news later...

Fingers crossed...!

CRAB SPIDER

We've just been snoozing in the garden after work, and a very big roast chicken lunch.
Anna found one of these in the arm of her 'garden recliner' - a small Crab Spider.
These are very 'cunning' spiders that have the rare ability to change colour to match their surroundings, and are therefore very difficult to spot.
They are more commonly found in the south of the UK, on yellow or white flowers mainly, (not like the spider pictured above).

They will lie in wait, often looking just like open petals, with their legs outstretched, ready for a fly to land on the flower. They are not afraid to attack insects much bigger than themselves, and are often dragged into the sky by their prey.
The flight doesn't last long though, as the Crab Spider's venom acts quite quickly...

I've popped our Crab Spider into a red pot, to see if it loses its green colour and turns a bit pink...

Nothing has happened yet...

OIL SEED RAPE

We did manage a little drive up towards Henley yesterday, to photograph a field of wonderfully-coloured (at this time of year) Oil Seed Rape.
I'll write a little more about this (horrible smelling) bright yellow "crop" and post some (with luck as good as the Bluebells) photos, when I get the film developed.

Watch this space...

04/05/07 And here they are. Not great, but they'll do. Click on them to enlarge.


Saturday, April 28, 2007

BRIMSTONE MOTH



Last night (as in the changed time and date of this post), we were having a post-curry coffee in the garden, (we meant to go Badger-Watching, but the wind was coming from the wrong direction), and I spotted one of these beautiful moths fluttering around the garden, in the dusk light.

This moth is unmistakeable, being a bright brimstone-yellow colour, rather like its Brimstone Butterfly namesake (see earlier post on the Brimstone Butterfly).

When I first became really interested in moths a few years ago, this moth was one of the first I noticed and looked up in my book. A very 'delicate' moth, with a thin fluttery wings and a delicate floaty flight, is how I'd describe it.

The Brimstone Moth caterpillar has a wonderful camouflage strategy - it looks EXACTLY like a small budding branch. The adults are around at night from April to October (2 main broods or hatches), with the second hatch being noticeably smaller in physical size, than the spring hatch.
These moths are not rare, love gardens and hedgerows and are attracted to lights from windows at night.
NB. 21st August 2007, I've deleted the original photo of a Brimstone Moth which WAS on this post, and uploaded one of my own, taken this morning. Another Brimstone Moth "blew" into the garden this morning, carried on the blustery winds and rain. Aaaah, what wonderful weather we are having (STILL!!!) this summer...

CANADA GOSLINGS

As we walked home from our picnic, we happened across a pair of Canada Geese with nine goslings in tow!



I've never really understood that "ugly duckilng" song, as I happen to think that Cygnets and Goslings are as beautiful as Ducklings!



Canada Geese (a non-native British species) Goslings are bright yellow in colour whan they're born, and are wonderful to see on the river, quietly peeping to each other constantly, unlike their noisy honking parents. Until I take the camera to photograph the nine that we saw, I'll post a standard photo of Canada Goslings, taken in the U.S.A.

THISTLE TORTOISE BEETLE

Anna found one of these little bright green Leaf Beetles on her phone brochure on our picnic yesterday (as in the changed time and date of this post).
It looks a bit like a tiny geen Tortoise (but with antennae!) , and is in fact closely related to the more common Green Tortoise Beetle.

This beetle though, can be distinguished from the similar Green Tortoise Beetle, by looking around its elytra (wing cases). The Thistle Tortoise Beetle has what looks like a red/brown "Y" shape on its back, whereas the Green Tortoise Beetle lacks this, and is just bright green. The Thistle Tortoise Beetle looks like its wing cases are suffering from a bit of rust really - thats the best way to describe it!

These beetles are not rare, and as their name suggests, like to chow down on Thistles. They are quite sweet little things, about 7mm long, which clamp down onto a surface when disturbed, pulling their antennae and legs tight in under their "shell", like a tortoise. When ready to move off again, they raise their shell up, extend their legs and antennae and tip-toe off. A bit like one of those old Citroen cars which raised up, before moving off!

BEE-FLY

As we sat down for our picnic, I saw one of these little blighters. I'm sure you'll recognise them, as they're not rare.




This is the very intimidating-looking Bee-Fly. A Fly that looks like Bee, with a HUGE long sturdy proboscis sticking out of its face - looks a bit like a syringe that could do a human arm some damage! They are far more agile than the Bees they look like, hovering with a distinct whining sound, trailing their long spindly legs beneath them.

The Bee-Fly may look nasty, but is in fact absolutely harmless. It is classed as one of the "Robber Flies" as its larvae feed on the underground larvae of Mining Bees. The adult hovers low to the ground, landing on many low-growing flowers such as Forget-Me-Nots or Grape Hyacinths to feed on nectar.

You can see from the photo above that the Bee-Fly actually has quite a small body, which looks bigger thanks to its dense covering of gingery-brown "fur" (hair), which does make it look a bit like a Bee!

COMMON TERNS

[(c) Arthur Grosset again, many thanks Arthur]


Finished work at 14:30 today, and as it was a sunny, warm afternoon, Anna and I went for a little stroll by the river for a little pic-a-nic.


First thing I noticed (heard really, and then saw) was a few Common Terns over the weir pool at Caversham Lock.


Known as "Swallows of the Sea" (even their Latin name, "hirundo" (the "Hirundines" are the Swallows, Martins etc...) suggests this), these are beautiful, graceful birds, with a forked tail, very pointed wings and a "pointy" beak and head shape too.

Common Terns are summer visitors to the UK. Time was they just nested around the coasts, but these days they nest in many, many inland bodies of water - in fact I clearly remember seeing my FIRST ever Common Terns at a Marina near Reading over twenty years ago. They do, for some resaon, seem to be more prevalent in the south east of the country, rather than the south-west, (they've obviously got no taste...!).

Both Common Terns and Arctic Terns are very vocal birds, constantly calling to each other with a high-pitched "kik kik kik"! One can tell the difference between Common and Arctic Terns in the following ways, as their plumage is pretty well identical!

1)Common Terns have a black tip to their red bill.

2)Common Terns are longer in the leg, (smaller body but stand taller) than Arctic Terns.

3)Arctic Terns do nest mainly in the north of the UK, and mainly by the coast.


NB. 04/05/07 - A photo from my own fair eyes. Click on it to enlarge.





BLUE TITS (30)

Well now. I am still expecting any eggs to hatch in around 5 days time, and for Anna and I to hear the nestlings start peeping.
The female is still sitting in the box most of the time, although she does leave for 5 minutes at a time to stretch her wings, and maybe grab a bite to eat or wash.

The male is still doing his job reasonably well as far as we can tell. He will pluck a caterpillar or small insect from a nearby branch, fly to our neighbours' tree where he can see the Box and also see if the coast is clear to approach, call her (with his mouth full of food - has he no manners?), she'll rattle back to him from the Box and he'll then fly in and deliver her meal.

Meals have varied between brown caterpillars, green caterpillars and small insects. Sometimes he flies to the Box with a meal for "the layyydeh o' the hoose" and she'll be on one of her 5 minute forays, so, confused, he'll fly away with the caterpillar and (I assume) eat it himself.

This morning, just before I set off for work, the male flew between Anna and I with a small insect for his other half. Because we were both in the garden, he spent 30 seconds on our fence (nearer where Anna was sitting) before flying to the Box.

Anna got a good look at what he was carrying for her, and when he left the box and flew away, (after giving her some breakfast), Anna said: "Was that all he had for her? If I'd have been her, I'd have been a bit pissed off with the size of that meal after all my hard work!"

It's true to say, that normally, after she's been fed, she stops "rattling" to him, but this morning, after he flew away, she did continue to make a bit of a racket, and did seem to be a little angry, in the Box!!
I don't know! Bleedin' ungrateful if you ask me!

On another note, I've noticed that beautiful Magpie (mentioned in a much earlier post) much more over the past week. He's getting very bold, and has looked at the Nest Box, from below, and above, but hasn't approached it yet.
Magpies, Woodpeckers, Crows and Squirrels will all try to raid nests if they can, although with Bird Boxes like ours, they've got a real job on their hands.
I don't expect our Tits to be in danger until they fledge, and even then, they are more likely to be taken by a cat or Sparrowhawk...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

GARDEN CROSS SPIDERLINGS

I erected my "Goldfinch Feeder" yesterday. Basically an RSPB Finch feeder, hung on a piece of garden string above the compost heap, and filled with Egyptian Thistle seeds. We have Goldfinches (see Goldfinch post) over the garden every day - one was singing his dusk chorus from out TV aerial last night, so I'm hoping to tempt them IN to the garden with these irresistable oily, black seeds.

The Feeder had been up but a night, and it (or at least the hanging handle of it) has been taken over by a nest of Garden Cross Spiderlings - a few hundred in number and each no bigger than 2mm long at the moment.

I have no film in the camera presently, but have posted a photo which shows these spiders quite well.
Each Spiderling is a yellow colour, and if you look really closely, they all have what looks like a black triangle on their arses.
They form a little tight ball, all gathered together, and when you gently blow on them, the ball "explodes' as each spider moves from the centre of the ball. 2 minutes later, and the ball is back in its normal, tight formation. I am not sure whether these little spiderlings will be AT ALL safe on top of a bird feeder! Time will tell...

Garden Cross Spiders are not rare. They are the most common 'Orb-Web' spiders in our gardens - you know the type, the stripey ones, sitting in the middle of their spiral, photogenic web. A photo of the adult Garden Cross spider is pictured below.

You will immediately see where it gets its "cross" name.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

ROE BUCK

As I was downloading the photos of the Bluebells onto "Blue-Grey", in the spair bedroom, I noticed a dog 'a running and a leaping' across the very small rec(reation ground) behind our house, out of the corner of my eye.
"Bugger me! That's a weird dog!", I thought.

I looked a bit closer, then realised it wasn't a dog. It was a deer! On top of that, it looked too big for a pesky Muntjac. ("I didn't see it land" either, so it couldn't have been a Muntjac! (Sorry, "In-Joke")).

I belted downstairs, grabbed the binoculars and ran to the back gate.

Yep.
It was a ROE DEER! By the look of its antlers and the time of the year, a BUCK trying to establish a new territory!

Now bear in mind that on one side of this tiny rec is the main inter-city line from London to Exeter, and on the other is Great Knolly St (a long row of terraced houses), and the fact that I use that rec for my runs - I can run 5 times around the rec in ten minutes, I hope you understand just how small the area of "green" is!

Whilst it's true that the railway embankment is a wonderful overgrown corridor for
wildlife, as is the ditch below - Moorhens, Kingfishers etc... I would NEVER have expected to see a bloody deer (and not a Muntjac at that!) in Great Knollys Street!

Just goes to show what you'll see, if you keep your eyes "open"!
The Buck walked all the way down the rec, hugging the embankment fence, which prevented him from getting to cover, turned around at the full car park and walked back. But this time, he saw one post missing from the cast-iron fence, snuck through, leaped the stream (ditch) and was lost from my view in the thick brambles and bushes on the railway embankment. Wonderful!

Roe Deer are one of only TWO native deer species in the UK, (the other being the Red Deer). All other species were introduced, generally by noblemen for hunting.

They do live in a variety of habitats, as long as there is cover. Anna and I saw one prance into cover on a drive up to Henley during the winter (before this Blog existed). You'll see them in small towns and villages, chewing garden flowers before the owners of those gardens get up, but you won't often see them in Cities the size of Reading!

It was relatively fortunate to have only me peering at it. That rec has usually got 2 or 3 bleedin dog-walkers on it at any given time, and just as I type this, an hour after the Deer disappeared, some "yoofs" have started playing a game of football on the rec...

Well done Bambi!


Ps. The photo was not taken by me. I brilliantly did not buy a film when in town this morning! D'oh!

NB 28/04/07 I caught the last 5 minutes of a tv programme last night regarding "City Deer" on BBC tv, about a population of Roe Deer living in a cemetary in Edinburgh. So these Deer DO (or at least can) survive in relatively built-up areas...

PHEASANTS

Just thought I'd post two photos of Pheasants I took JUST after I missed the oppotunity to snap the Frenchmen, last saturday. The first is of the Cock. The second also has the Hen, just to the left of the tree...

As for Pheasants. Not much to say really.
Beautiful birds.
Horrible Call.
Make for good eating!
As with all the photos, clicking on them enlarges them...


BLUEBELLS (2)

Three more photos of the Bluebell wood we walked through last saturday. See original post (Sat April 21st) for three other photos.

NB. Please "click" on the photos to get them full-size!

BLUE TITS (29) AND KNOLLY THE CAT...

Got up early again today. The Blue Tits had already left the nest.
What I did see though was the BIG STONKING Tom Cat of Great Knollys Street, "Knolly", (who is a right tart, and very very smoolly) in our garden before 6am.
Knolly used to break into our house down the road, which was very welcome, until one evening when I was at work, he dug his HUGE claws into Anna and hissed at her. Knolly made his own rules you see - if he didn't want to go, he didn't go!

We used to be sitting watching tv in the sitting room, and we'd hear an ALMIGHTY crash from the kitchen. Knolly had snuck in through the open window and had simply jumped down onto the floor. This cat weighs a stone or more easily!

Anyway, we hadn't seen him since moving - but that's all changed.
Knolly was covered in rain drops from the overnight drizzle, and smooled me. He found the cat flap in the kitchen door. Luckily, Anna had covered the inside of it up, so he didn't even attempt to get in.


I took some photos of him in the half light, and he became all sulky, realising that he wasn't going to get all warm inside. He soon slunk off...

I don't think he'll worry the Tits. Their Nest Box is quite 'Cat-Proof' (see photo).

Also note in the photo how close it is to our windows. My makeshift 'hide' (leaning against the rear wall of the house, when in action is placed where the watering can is in the photo - 8' away from the Box!

Later on in the morning, it was clear to see that the female is again spending a lot of time in the box, incubating. The male has been bringing her plenty of scran - mainly small, juicy brown caterpillars. He'll fly to the tree next door, and call her. She'll hear him, and sort of make a 'high-pitched football rattle' call back. Then he flies in, perches on the chopstick, nips in and delivers his present.

It's at this point of the breeding season that the male suffers the most. Feeding himself and the female takes its toll, as does the constant struggle through the nest box opening - I'm expecting him to lose quite a few feathers from he top of his head over the next fortnight. He's going to be a right baldy slapheeed....

Monday, April 23, 2007

BLUE TITS (28)

I have been looking at more Blue Tit web cams. There is a nest box on a balcony in Paris (Nicola please take note), which has twelve eggs in it - the first was laid on the 6th April.
Now, because Paris is that much further south, that much sunnier and warmer, this might be expected.
There are also nest boxes with cameras on them all over the UK, that have incubating hen Blue Tits on eggs.

I'd put a whole lot of money on our hen Tit incubating eggs now.
We will listen for the peeping of tiny birds around the 4th May...

SWIFTS!!!


AT LAST!!
My favourie bird of all is back with us, in British skies! (I've posted in yellow, to celebrate the beginning of summer therefore)!


The Common Swift, (Apus apus - literally meaning "no foot, no foot") has arrived.
Normally I can expect to see the Swifts from the last day of April onwards, so I was a little surprised to see them today.
I was having a coffee outside, looking north, and spotted a bird way in
the distance, flying like a Martin, Swallow or Swift. It flew towards me, and was joined by 2 others, and my heart leaped, when I realised they WERE Swifts!


The Common Swift is generally our last Summer visitor to arrive, and the first to leave.

The UK population has crashed to about 30% of what it was 20 years ago, thanks to new building practices, and the shoreing up and fixing of old nest sites in old roofs. Its fair to say that Swifts only tend to nest in buildings over 40 years old, unless (like in Holland, where its LAW), new buildings have built-in 'Swift Bricks', ie hollowed out bricks near the top of walls for the Swift to nest.


Its getting well known now, (no-one used to believe me) that Swifts spend almost their ENTIRE life on the wing - feeding, mating and sleeping.

Once a Swift fledges, its feet will not touch the ground again for at least a year, possibly a lot more!

The Swifts' feet are unusual in that all 4 of its toes face forwards.

Because I love Swifts so much, I have made efforts to become a "Swift Champion" for the National Swift Conservation movement. Well, the geezer in charge around this neck of the woods is called Matt Dodds, so how could I resist!
Matt Dodds meet Doug MACK Dodds, Swift freak!
I'm sure I'll post again on Swifts, as these three were silent - I want to hear them give their wonderful screaming call, so reminiscent of my summers past...!


[Photo (c) Arthur Grossett]








Sunday, April 22, 2007

BLUE TITS (27)

Yes. I swear to the great Blue Tit in the sky, that our female is laying, incubating, or conserving energy for laying, now. Whatever the scenario, I'm sure we will have chicks before too long! I just WISH I could see inside the box!

I was up early today (quelle surprise, (poor Anna)), and the female Tit is doing what she did yesterday still, ie sitting on the nest, calling the male to bring her food.
FEED ME NOWWW!
I've been watching the male bring her regular insects for half an hour or so now... every 2 or 3 minutes he returns with something for her. It almost suggests she's incubating, though that would seem a week or three early...

I'll try and get some photos of the male bringing in food, (as the box gets more sunlight these days - should lead to brighter, sharper photos, and I have to finish off my 'BlueBell film by Tuesday and get them developed). I will have to have a lightning trigger-finger though - the male doesn't hang around at the box at the moment!

NB. I've been thinking about this a little today. The Tits' behaviour (ie female siiting in box for long periods of time, male bringing her food), DOES suggest she IS incubating, ie ALL the eggs have been laid. If this is the case, they will be due to hatch around 4TH MAY, and fledge around 23RD MAY.





GROUND BEETLE (2)

Calathus melanocephalus to give it its (only) (Latin) name.
Anna spotted this crawling up a grass stem in the garden yesterday, so I thought I'd post about it.
Quite an unremarkable ground beetle, but very distinctive with a red/orange pronotum, sandwiched between the black head (melanocephalus) and black elytra.
This is a very small ground beetle, which prefers sandy soils (like our garden), often found under stones during the day, and is nocturnal in habit, lie most ground beetles.
It doesn't seem to like living in Scotland, Wales or Eire for some reason...!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

MAYFLY


Or should that be "AprilFly"?

I'm at work at the moment, in a lull regarding phonecalls. Just took a well-earned break (to the lav) and saw a big adult Mayfly sitting on the 4th floor EA building window.

Easy to recognise, these flies are large, hold their veined-wings upwards, and have a long, delicate 3-pronged tail.

Another nice hatch for FlyFishers, they only breed in well oxygenated, clean streams and rivers (another thumbs up for this part of the river Thames), and can be used as pollution indicator species by their absence.

The Mayfly is our only winged insect that moults its wings. It has a winged sub-imago stage which lasts for a few hours after its nymph stage, before it moults these wings and becomes an adult.

The Mayfly only exists in its adult form for a few hours normally, but can live for a few days. They often hatch in great swarms which 'dance' on the rivers, and have been dense enough to interfere with drivers' vision (if the swarm drifts over local roads), and cause road accidents...


BLUE TITS (26)

Real progress with our Tits today!
The female has been sitting on the nest (hidden in the box) pretty well all day, well, all morning anyway - I've been at work since 2pm.
I'm pretty sure she's either laying an egg, or on the cusp of laying.
She's calling the male from inside the box, who is flying down (straight into the box now - no time for perching on the chopstick first!) to feed her.

We can't see in the box, for obvious reasons, but I reckon if we could, we'd see an egg in there tomorrow.

If it all goes to plan, she'll lay eggs over a 12 day (or so) period, normally one a day. She will be flying and feeding in these next 12 days, but once all eggs have been laid, she'll only then begin to incubate them, to ensure they all hatch at roughly the same time.
This is when she'll stay in the box for very long periods of time, and the male will feed her constantly, though she will leave the box occasionally, to wash and feed.

If the incubation goes well, the eggs will hatch in 10 days or so, and then we'll start to hear the peeping of the chicks.

So. To recap. If I'm right (may well be wrong), we should start to hear the chicks (if there are any) in a smidgin over 3 weeks...

Watch this space...

ZEBRA SPIDER


I didn't see one of these on our garden fence yesterday (see "Fence-Post Jumper" post), but we did today.

The same size as a Fence-post jumper, but piebald in colouration - very striking, and the more well known of the two species I suppose...

RED-LEGGED PARTRIDGE

On our drive back from the Bluebell Wood, mentioned below, I noticed two Red-Legged Partridges (or "Frenchmen") in a field, right next to our very slow moving car, (we were dawdling up a single-track lane, looking for another entrance to get a better view of the flowers).

I could have got a wonderful picture of these two birds from the car, if we stopped, but at that very moment, we had to pull away to make room for an oncoming vehicle. Bugger!

I leapt out of the car further up the road, but the fat Frenchmen had flown 100yards or so away into the middle of the field. Chance missed. What a shame.

I've posted a picture of the Red-Legged Partridges on this post anyway, so you can see (remember) what striking birds they are.



Red-Legged Partridges are a non-native species. They are so called because of their red legs (although, rather like the Robin's 'RED' breast, (which, lets face it, is ORANGE, not red), or even the BLUEbells, (they're PURPLE... come on!)), which also gives them their "FrenchMen" monicker. An old military term for French soldiers who wore red trousers, hence "FrenchMen" for Red-Legged Partridges....

I remember cycling for miles when I was a boy, to a hidden secret valley between two woods, to see these birds. They are not particularly rare, but unless you are involved in shooting, very difficult to see!

BLUEBELLS

Anna and I decided to go and find a nice spot for seeing / taking photos of Bluebells this morning, as it's that time of year.
We found a FANTASTIC 'field' of Bluebells in a wood near Hambleden, on the Thames.
This wood, at this time of year, puts on a quite staggering show - it's obviously well known - there were two other couples there taking Bluebell photos!
Anna and I both agreed, neither of us had seen a display of Bluebells like this in our lives!

I did take about 15 photos, and when I get them developed, I'll put them on this post...

NB. 24/04/07, and here they are... hope you like 'em.

Friday, April 20, 2007

BLUE TITS (25)

I was watching the Tits again today. The female is STILL bringing in nesting material (white feathers this time).
The male perched on the chopstick with a small reddish-brown grub or caterpillar in his gob, the female flew in, did a bit of nest arranging, the male popped his head through the opening and fed her, whilst she was inside the box. The first I've seen of this and really good news regarding imminent egg laying! Bring it onnnnn!

FENCE POST JUMPER

Wonderful name for a spider, that. Very apt too! (If you really want its Latin name, it is Marpissa muscosa - took me a lot of research to get that!)

I was having a coffee in the garden today, watching two of these little cuties have a 'dance-off' on the fence.

They are jumping spiders (like the more famous black and white Zebra Spiders), very small, with the distinctive feature of 2 huge eyes set on the front of their face, to give excellent telescopic vision.
They will hunt down their prey, often circling behind it, and then jumping on the poor thing.

2 spiders were hunting on the same vertical bit of fence this morning, waving their palps at each other and raising their abdomens in defiance.
Both Zebra Spiders and Fence Post Jumpers (more brown than the Zebra) will happily jump on your hand if you put it near them - very friendly little things, which clearly follow you with their two huge front eyes if you get close to them...

Thursday, April 19, 2007

SEDGE FLY


This will excite the Fly fishers amongst you. I've just had a large Caddis or Sedge Fly land on my 5th floor office window at the Thames in Reading.


Sedge flies look like moths, in fact they are related, but have stiff hairs on their wings rather than scales. They only live in clean water, which says a lot for the Thames these days I suppose, at least at Caversham.


The first Sedges to hatch in the year are the "Grannoms", in April, a big day for Fly-Fishermen, who rush to tie a suitable imitation fly onto their lines!


Sedge/Caddis flies can be recognised by their VERY long antennae, (sometimes twice the length of their body) and the fact they hold their wings like a ridge-tent along their backs when at rest.


I assume this hatch has been brought on by this wonderful weather. I do know of 2 Pipistrelle Bats, patrolling around this part of the Thames and office - (see earlier post), and each bat can eat up to 3000 flies/moths a night. This Sedge Fly had better watch out!

NB. (23/04/07) Just got to work by walking along the river at lunchtime. The weather is still very warm after 2 weeks of sunshine, but this morning we've had our first rain - it's very overcast and damp.
Anyway, the point of this is that there was a HUGE Sedgefly hatch on the river today - 1,000s of dark Sedgeflies dancing on the surface of the river at around 2pm.

BLUE TITS (24)

Not that much to report re. our Tits. The male is still feeding the female a little (outside the box). I am led to believe that this is 'training' for when she is incubating, and he feed her (inside the box). I am also led to believe that whilst she is forming eggs inside her body, she is 14% heavier and flies 20% slower than normally. She is obviously more likely to be preyed upon in this condition, so the less time she spends flying about looking for food, the better. The male is in effect contributing to an insurance policy of sorts - makes sense though eh?
Does this mean we are now looking likely to get some eggs in the box? Maybe! If so, the laying could start at any time, though if the female is looking any more plump, it's not by much at the moment.

I think she'll start laying in a week, though this recent VERY warm weather may speed things up a bit. Blue Tits time their breeding / laying to match the time of maximum caterpillar numbers, to ensure a high survival rate for their chicks. I guess the caterpillars will be hatching with all this hot, sunny weather, and the ensuing bloom of foliage, on which they feed....

In a nutshell -

Sun-->Foliage-->Caterpillars-->Blue Tit Chicks. (There's your chain).

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

SOLITARY MINING BEE

After peering for some time at the drowned (still) Mining Bee that flew into my coffee today, (see comments on Hairy-Legged Mining Bee post), I thought I'd do some more research on the web, as the hind legs didn't quite look right for the "Hairy-Legged Mining Bee" (which I thought our bees were).



I've come to the conclusion, eventually, that our Mining Bees are, in fact, the much more common Solitary Mining Bee, or Andrena sp.

*****NB. 20/4/07. WATCHED MORE MINING BEES TODAY. THEY HAVE STRIPES ON THEIR ABDOMENS LIKE THE SWAMMERDAM'S BEES, SO I NOW THINK WE DO HAVE HAIRY-LEGGED MINING (SWAMMERDAM'S) BEES IN OUR GARDEN AS WELL AS THE SOLITARY MINING BEES...)******

The pollen on the hind legs make them look like they are hairy-legged mining bees, but I think that is just an illusion (to quote Leee John of the classic 1980's band Imagination...).



There are several species of Andrena (Solitary Mining Bees) living in gardens in the UK, ranging in size.

The photo below is one of the more common British garden Solitary Mining Bees - Andrena Haemorrhoa, and I think THIS is the type that took a swanny into my coffee at lunch today...

VENUS AND THE LYRIDS

That sounds like the name of a band, doesn't it?
I'm a fully fledged shift worker again now, (what joy?!) so, unable to sleep just yet, I thought I'd post on two night sky sights you may see about now.
The first is Venus, very very bright in the western sky at dusk. Venus is sometimes known as the morning star, or the evening star, depending on what time it 'rises'.
Its bright white surface clouds reflect about 75% of the sunlight hitting them, so when the Earth, Sun and Venus are in a nice position, (as about now) it doesn't get much brighter.
The second night sky spectacle I'll bring your attention to, is the LYRID METEOR SHOWER, which peak on the night of the 22nd April, 5 days (nights?!) away. We've had a few months off the annual meteor showers (as usual this time of year), but the Lyrids, if the conditions are right, are worth seeing.
Not a particularly 'busy' shower, peaking at around 15 meteors per hour, they are fast, consistent and worth trying to find. They all appear to radiate from a point (the "radiant") in the constellation "Lyra" (Harp).
Lyra (a small, inconspicuous constellation, bar one star *) can be found low in the northeast sky; look for a very bright star low in the N.E. This will be * VEGA, the 5th brightest star in the sky, and Vega is a star in Lyra. The meteors won't all form within Lyra, they'll just appear to all come from that part of the sky.

NB. In Greek mythology, Hermes made the Lyre, by drawing a cow gut over a tortoise shell. (Just in case you wanted to know...?!)

Let's hope for a continuation of this fine weather, so we get a few more clear nights...

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

GREEN SHIELD BUG

Its "bug central" out in our garden today. I was sitting in the sun, eating a salad, watching the Mining Bees, when a large Green Shield Bug flew straight into my thumb at speed, causing me to throw my fork onto the earth below. After swearing and going inside to wash the fork, I hunted down the wee beastie which had disturbed my lunch. Found it quickly. This little fecker is our only native, common (bright) green shield bug, (although it does darken as the summer progresses, and is more of a bronze colour by the autumn). All true Shield Bugs have 4 segmented antennae, (the Dock Leaf Bug has 5 segments to its antennae, therefore excluding it from the true Shield Bugs).
The Dock Leaf Bug mentioned earlier on "Blue-Grey" was out and about too, sunbathing on top of the slate roof of the bird box!
Very common nationwide (including Scotland this time), the Green Shield Bug flies very noisily and feeds on pretty well anything. But not my salad. Oh no.


NB. 29/05/07 Found a Green Shieldbug NYMPH on our potato plants today. Photo below.








NB. 18/09/07. I have just uploaded another photo of a Green Shieldbug Nymph, which I snapped on my safari around the "Lower Paddock" this morning. This one isn't far away from becoming an adult. Its quite large, and this, along with the fact that the rear of the nymph is green, not white, will distinguish it from the much smaller, Pied Shieldbug.



NB. 6/10/07 Another - found today by Anna on the back gate of the garden...

BLUE TITS (23)

Yesterday, before 9am, the female was to-ing and fro-ing the nest every 3 minutes or so, bringing in very small feathers and seed-heads.
I also saw her in the neighbours' tree, begging food from the male. She'd perch close to him and shiver, calling softly. He obliged by hopping over and giving her a mouthful of whatever he'd found. Does this strengthen the bond, does she need fattening up now? I'm not sure.

Its also fair to say that both Tits (although its mainly the male, as the female tends to fly straight into the box, without perching first), have made the end of their chopstick perch quite dirty, with their little Tit feet.

Note to self. Provide them with a door mat next year...

Monday, April 16, 2007

GROUND BEETLE & SPIDER-HUNTING WASP

Its my last day off before going "solo" at the EA, so I thought I'd clear the pile of rubble, roots and rubbish that was pretending to be a huge 'compost heap' (of sorts) in the garden.


Whilst shifting a hole heap of earth, I noticed a metallic green Ground Beetle, (Harpalus affinis) scuttling across the soil. Very common everywhere in the UK apart from Scotland, where I think they are totally absent, the male is either coloured metallic green (most commonly) or bronze or blue, with reddish legs. The female is a
dull black colour. Their behaviour is somewhat rare in beetles as they are diurnal.

I also noticed, (for the second time), a Spider-Eating Wasp, quartering very low over my (still bare) wild-flower meadow plot.
Tiny wasps, these, but not rare, and coloured black and red in the main. They are solitary wasps, miners, and paralyse a spider, dragging it back into a tiny burrow for their egg to feed on.
I haven't seen that many spiders whilst working in the garden, so this wasp has got its work cut out!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

WHITE TAILED BUMBLEBEE

We've just come in from watching the female Tit go to roost, at a record late time of 19:52. It has been very sunny here today (not a cloud in the sky all day) and ridiculously warm for mid April at 26c, so the longer light and warmer temperature may have contributed to her late roosting.
We also noted our third bee species, nosing around our "compost heap", looking for a place to nest?
The White-Tailed Bumblebee. Slightly smaller than the Buff-Tailed, with no buff hairs on its white arse, and a lighter yellow thoracic band than the almost ginger band of the Buff-Tailed.


HAIRY-LEGGED MINING BEE


Or to give it its other names - Dasypoda altercator or Swammerdam's Bee.
I was busy cooking our bacon and eggs this morning, when Anna called me outside to look at something she'd found.
There on my newly dug-over and flattened out "wild meadow plot" (sowed 3 days ago), were a few holes in the packed tight sandy soil, and a tiny bee trying to make another hole.
The striking thing about this bee (obviously a solitary mining bee) were its bright yellow hind legs.
A delve into my insect field guide, and a spot of research on the web, and we think we have a few Hairy-Legged Mining Bees nesting in my (bare but seeded at the moment) wild meadow plot.
Wonderful little things, with as I've said, VERY distinctive bright yellow hairy hind legs (the female has longer hairs than the male, so I'm told).
I cannot find a decent photo of this species on the web, so I've uploaded an illustration.

This species is normally confined to coastal dunes and or heaths, in the south of the UK.
It is found locally though, as far north as Oxfordshire, in for example dry, sandy gravel pits (such as Sandford Pit). What it needs is dry, well-drained, sandy soil. Our vegetable plot and wildflower meadow certainly fits the bill - it is very sandy indeed!
So... a bit of a national rarity - living in our garden! I'd better declare it an SSSI!

BLUE TITS (22)

Both the male and the female Blue Tits have been visiting the box this morning, separately.
The female is bringing in MORE nesting material - this time big fluffy seed heads, and I've heard her do the "nesting wiggle" inside the box. Female Blue Tits do this a lot on the nest. A sort of scrabbling around on their belly, flapping their wings. It does appear to be instinctive nesting behaviour.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

GREY WAGTAIL

Walking home from work yesterday (as in the changed time and date of this post), I noted two things of interest. Firstly, a lovely "Grey Wagtail" underneath Reading Bridge.
Those of you who read my first attempt at blogging might remember a post on a storm-blown grey wagtail in our backyard.
I've always had a soft spot for Wagtails. They seem to have very comical faces and manners, not appearing to be shy of humans at all. You will often see the most common of our Wagtails, the Pied Wagtail in supermarket car-parks for example, running around catching the insects fly flushing them into the air by "wagging" their tails, (hence their name). The third British Wagtail is the Yellow Wagtail - a magnificently coloured wagtail - pretty well always found by fast-moving streams. The Grey Wagtail (pictured above) gets a bit of a raw-deal with its name. Grey above, it has a wonderful yellow underside, which you'll certainly notice if it flies above you in the typical Wagtail bouncing flight.
The Yellow Wagtail is a common summer visitor to the UK, whereas the (slightly less common) Grey Wagtail moves south in the UK to overwinter, and moves north in the UK to breed.

One final note - if you see a Grey Wagtail (grey above/yellow below) between march and october, look at its throat. If it has a black throat (like the one in the photo above), its a MALE. The female doesn't exhibit this black throat patch. Both sexes have a pale throat in the winter.

MALLARD DUCK AND TWENTY DUCKINGS

It's my birthday and I'm at work. Humph!
Still, it's a beautiful day and I've just returned to the office after a little stroll along the Thames.
What did I notice was a Mallard Duck (female) with a flotilla of TWENTY ducklings! I've never seen so many ducklings with one duck! I'll get on the web when I get a chance, to see if Mallard Ducks form "creches" like some other waterfowl, notably geese. If this isn't the case, that poor duck laid at least TWENTY EGGS!

These ducklings cannot have been more than 2 or 3 days old, and all swam towards me at top speed, virtually coming out of the water in their haste! I, unfortunately did not have any wholemeal (or any) bread to feed them with - maybe we'll take a loaf out with us this afternoon!

NB. 04/05/07 : A photo of mine, taken a couple of weeks after seeing my twenty ducklings. I think these are the same birds, and only FIVE are left. Sad. Click on photo to enlarge.

Friday, April 13, 2007

SWALLOW



[photo (c) Arthur Grosset]





It took its sweet time, (I've normally seen a Swallow BY the BEGINNING of April), but tonight, an hour ago, I DID see my first Swallow of the year.
I am well aware they have been seen in Berkshire since the 3rd week of March - don't know why I hadn't seen any until tonight.
My Swallow tonight was on a mission. It flew directly over the house, at 100' or so, heading due north towards the Thames.
Maybe it "knows" that we are forecast a "mini-heatwave" over the next few days!

RED KITE



We are blessed in this part of the country. Blessed with the very successful re-introduction of the Red Kite, about fifteen years ago.
There isn't a day that passes that I don't see one or more, often from our garden.
Common in cities a few hundred
years ago (and protected in London, for their 'street-cleaning skills'), they were ruthlessly persecuted in the 18th century, and since the end of that century there only remained a tiny pocketed population in the forested hills of central Wales.
Re-introduced to the Chilterns (and other parts of the country) in the early 1990s, from Spanish Red Kite eggs, they have gone from strength to strength, and now number in the several 100s if not 1000s nationwide.
Magnificent birds of prey with a 5'6" wingspan, watching them will show you how effortlessly they fly - sometimes without flapping their wings for a very very long time.
They can be recognised at distance by their size and the way the hold their wings whilst gliding. Kites have slightly sloped downwards wings, and more of a 'hunched'
appearance than the Buzzard, whose wings are held in an upwards facing 'shallow v'.
At close quarters the Kite is unmistakeable. A russet red body, grey head, forked tail, and very distinct white marks on each wing are a giveaway.
I do love seeng these birds, but as I've said on the Buzzard post, I'm more than a little concerned about the Kites outcompeting our beautiful Buzzards in the area.

I was talking with a colleague about Kites at work today. She has lived in Reading for seven years, and only this week has she seen Kites floating over the centre of town! My mother today has pretty well said the same thing in Hazlemere.

These birds are very successful, and are spreading very quickly!



04/05/07 A photo taken by me. Note the prominent 'elbow' of the birds, and in the top bird, the obvious forked tail - VERY distinctive...
Click to enlarge.