End of fourth "year" garden wildlife report. Sept 2014-Aug 2015 inclusive.

August 31, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

As some regular viewers to this website might know - at the beginning of each September I produce a (historically lengthy) “End of year (garden wildlife) report”, as we moved to this particular house at the end of August – in 2011.

 

We’ve been here four years now & I’ll try and summarise a whole lorra activity as best as I can below… (I apologise in advance for the length of this blog post).

Actually, I suspect that this blog post (like the three “end of year reports” before), will be only of real interest to me and anyone morbidly-interested in the garden wildlife of southeast Berkshire! All two of you!

 

This will probably be my penultimate “End of year report” for this particular abode (I think I’ll stop at the first five years), as with a toddler who’s becoming more and more of a handful and (thankfully) more and more interested in the world around him (including wildlife), I have less and less time to record my sightings during the year and a whole lot less time to write a lengthy year report in September.

But for now….

 

 

End of fourth year (garden wildlife) report.

September 2014 – August 2015 (incl.)

 

 

Weather.

 

Sept14: First two weeks – VERY settled. 20c plus. Lots of sun and lots of cloud. No appreciable wind. Pretty mild. Dry. Uneventful if warm for the time of year.

Third week similar but a bit murkier and with rain on Friday19th.

Fourth week– fresher but still warm(ish) at 18c, a little windier but still pretty well driza bone, warming up to 24c again by final weekend of the month. Just 14mm of rain all month for England as a whole in September, but far less than that with us – probably less than 10% of the average rainfall for the month.

 

Oct14: Weather: Warm and dry until the 4th – then all change with a cold front bringing in the first significant rain and cool temperatures (sub 20) since August or before that… May? Heavy rain on 4th and 6th. 14c instead of 23c.

Second week cool, windy, wet with a few sunny spells and lots of rain.

Third week wet and a little stormy at times.

Fourth week incredibly mild and quite sunny (with a little rain from time to time) – back up to 23c on the 31st for example!

Approximately 150% of normal rainfall in the month.

 

Nov14: Weather: First week MUCH colder than of late. Two frosts on mornings of 5th and 6th (scraping cars). Quite a lot of rain at the start of the month. Windy too, with a northerly wind at times.

Second and third weeks much milder. Lots of rain and wind.

Fourth week started mild, then we had a large amount of rain (rained all weekend on the 22nd and 23rd) followed by the first “proper” grass and air frosts of the year on the night of the 23rd/24th and again on the 24th/25th.

Dank and murky for much of fourth week but month ended in a relatively settled fashion with two/three days of dry weather

Approximately 150% of normal rainfall in the month.

 

Dec14: First week mixed (in terms of rain  - not much but a little) … but cold. A few significant frosts and the coldest day and night temperatures for 20 months!

Second week begins remaining cold. On the night of the 11th and onwards – STORMY AND COLD. Very high winds.

Third week a bit of a roller coaster – some cold days and nights broken up with very mild (for December) periods with SW winds and periods of heavy rain.

Fourth week same as third really but much colder on night of 27th.

Cold weather continued up until new years day, with night time temperatures reaching -4c and the pond properly freezing over for the first time since digging it almost two years ago.

 

Jan15: New year started very mild indeed (on new years day) – up to 14c – from a baseline of maybe around 3 or 4c for the last few days of 2014. First week mixed. Some nice sunshine but also periods of heavy rain. Some clear nights but some wet. Windy and wet (squally) on weekend of 9th/10th with a strong jet stream bringing two consecutive storms to W Scotland (100MPH gusts but still windy down south). Unseasonably mild at the beginning of the 2nd week of the month – with night time temperatures around 11-12c and day time temperatures around 15c! (Should be more like 6 or 7?) But a couple of days into the second week and all change – big winds, cold, lots of rainstorms – pretty dire weather.

Third week brought heavy frosts (-6.5c on night of 19th – coldest temperature here for at least two years).

Fourth week began cold again with a couple of heavy frosts… and ended in the same way – cold. MUCH colder than anything January 2014 had to offer.

 

Feb15: First week cold nights but hardly any rain. A night of snow at the very start of the month – maybe 2” settled but melted by lunch – our first “proper snow” albeit only lying for 12 hours in 2 years!

 Second week - Settled, dry, often clear during the day when overnight mist or cloud had burned off. Cool but warm in the windless sun. No rain to speak of.

Third week very mixed. Some sunny cold days and some days of rain (the first for a number of weeks).

Fourth week as the third, but with a couple of warm days and warm wet nights to really get the amphibians moving.

 

Mar15: First week mixed, but warming up compared to recent weeks. An Azores high built at the end of the week which provided settled, VERY (for March) warm temperatures of about 15c over the first weekend proper.

Because of the pretty dry first week, I let the girls out of their “winter quarters” on the 6th at 3pm.

Second week MUCH colder with an easterly wind and stubborn cloud. Little rain though.

Third week began a little “better” with a couple of days of pleasant watery sun and ran pretty dry for the most part and warmer than the 2nd week.

Fourth week pretty mixed, a decent amount of rain  with the month ending under a big anticyclone, with very strong winds indeed.

 

Apr15: First week pretty cloudy and cool… until the end of the first week when the jetstream moved and it became sunny and quite warm (albeit with cold nights).

Second week and beginning of third, superb weather. Regularly 19-23c (23c on my birthday), lots of sun, very little rain.

Third week cooler, with an easterly wind and far more cloud at times, but still quite a lot of sun also and very little rain (basically NONE) indeed.

Fourth week mixed. Not too bad. A bit of rain but not enough to make April anything else than very dry.

 

May15: First week not too bad. Windy. Mixed. Bit of rain now and again, but also some strong sunshine and southerly winds twice. Winds mainly strong (or very strong a couple of times). Second week also mixed – days of unbroken sun and then a day or so of unbroken rain. Not THAT warm, but hardly cold. Third week similar, with a bit more sun… but the main theme of May seems to be (so far), windy and plant growing weather!

Ditto the fourth week. May was wetter, cooler and less sunny than average it seems, so much so that swifts breeding was in dire straits all over the country I’m told.

 

Jun15: June started as a continuation of May for the first few days (strong NW winds and a mix of warm sun and rain – but cool in the main), until the 4th… when the jet-stream moved north temporarily and we got a belter of a day – blue skies and steamy pavements (24c). Hadn’t seen temps like that since mid April.

Didn’t last too long though – the wind got up again after a day although high pressure built at start of 2nd week, giving warm sunshine and gentle winds for a few days. By the end of the second week though we had another 2 glorious days (certainly one anyway), broken again on Friday night by humidity and promised thundery rain.

Third week was mainly warm, humid (hot even at 25c once or twice) and sunny with the occasional day of no or light winds, but ended in a more unsettled fashion (with the empty water butts being filled overnight), despite half the country referring to it as a heatwave!

Fourth week warm, sunny and hot by the end of the month – temperatures up to 28c by last day of the month.

 

July15: July started with the hottest July day on record – something like 35c on the 1st here. First week mainly warm, sunny but also quite windy with showers by the end of the first week. Second week mainly warm and sunny again but a little breezier and the odd day with light or brief rain showers. Back up to 27c by 12th. Third week similar really. Warm, muggy almost. Windy at times. A little rain. Typical summer really.

Fourth week much cooler, much wetter. Jetstream moved south and gave us blustery wet cold conditions a bit like the summer of 2007.

 

Aug15: First week warm(ish), light winds, drying out – ending hot almost (27c) sunny and completely dry.

2nd week very mixed, mainly warm (25c) but with a few days of 18c mixed in and quite a lot of rain from time to time. Some still days but some windy days too (even a couple of days of NE winds!) Quite disappointing for August, cloud and rain-wise.

3rd week a bit silly. Days of constant rain. Days of hot sun. Our week of camping in the new forest.

4th week begins with the hottest day since July 1st (at 30c on 22nd) followed by a particularly wet, unsettled week – windy and constant (or pretty constant) rain every day or night until the last Friday of the month. Not great for August caused by a shifted jet-stream again.

 

 

Weather summary (Sept 2014 – August 2015):

 

In a word – mixed.

In two words – VERY mixed

In five words – VERY mixed and often windy

A rollercoaster of a year from week to week quite often and certainly month to month.

September 2014 was balmy again, we had a FAR colder winter in 2014/15 than we did in 2013/14, a lot of March and April (again – April seems like a “good month” these years) was sublime.

May was mixed and windy, June was very dry and pretty good – as was the start of July but by the third week of July and all through August we were pretty-well sitting under an “unseasonably-southern-positioned jet stream and thus August was pretty dire really – with more rain in that month (to finish “the year here” than any month since November 2014.

 

 

 

Garden wildlife.

 

 

Birds.

 

Summary:  2015 will go down here as the 2nd best “swift year” (here at least) since 2012 (when we had many screamers and bangers – none really to speak of in 2013 or 2014). July was a month when lots of swifts (perhaps yearlings I guess) seemed (at last) interested in the house.

Other than that, the winter of 2014/15 as far as birds were concerned here, will be remembered for up to 5 jays regularly visiting my newly-designed, squirrel-proof (Vaseline and chilli powder!) jay feeder. In fact, jays were the ONLY birds I fed during “the year” (Sept-Aug).

Finally – notable mentions to the BITTERN and HONEY BUZZARD I saw from our garden (or house) this year – two new “garden species”.

But to summarise the summary – at least in terms of my favourite birds – I still can’t legitimately call this “new” house “Swift Half” yet, but unlike 2012 and 2013 where I was hugely disappointed in the lack of swift activity around our house, I am now looking forward once again to these stupendous birds returning to us perhaps in 2016 and one day… one day…. Perhaps next year…. NESTING!

The only strange thing for me this year regarding swifts was the complete absence of migrating swifts in August (or very early September).

I don’t think I’ve seen my last swift here before the start of September since we moved, but in 2015… my last swift here was on the 1st August! Almost 5 weeks earlier than previous years….

 

Sept 14: Chiffchaff SINGING in the garden on 13th  – seen most days in middle of month and singing again on morning of 21st to end of month. TWO by end of month.

15 Goldfinches in mobile flock in first two weeks (not feeding them yet)

Two swallows over garden on morning of 13th.

Goldcrests appearing in garden again on weekend of 13th/14th and most of month,

Final? Lone swallow seen on morning of 23rd September?

Nope – two seen in the afternoon of 25th (Over garden when I was mowing the lawn) and one (surely) final swallow over house at 730am on 29th?

Woodpecker tapping at ivy clad damson tree on morning of 28th and 29th and 30th.

First big winter flock of long tailed tits (maybe a dozen birds) in poplar on afternoon of 30th – 2 days earlier than last year.

 

 

Oct14: Chiffchaffs and goldcrests in garden until 12th each morning

Jays making recce flights through garden in first week and exploring the garden on the 10th. Fed peanuts from 12th. TWO jays on 13th. Regular visitors from then on.

SWALLOW flies through garden very low over my head, due south at about 08:30am on the 10th and TWO swallows fly over the house on the 15th. Latest ever?

Heron explores gap in pond fence whilst I was at park with Ben on Sunday 12th,

First Redwing of season at 21:50 on night of 13th October – a couple of days later than historically average (10th is average).

Hundreds (if not thousands) of redwing fly in over house during night of 14th

 

Nov14: Up to 5 jays being fed on “jay feeder” at the start of the month – and all month

First Fieldfare over front garden (heading south) on cold frosty, misty morning of 6th. Twelve of them.

Two goldcrests flirting with each other in back garden on 28th

 

Dec14: Heron checks out netted pond on 9th and aborts at last minute.

Female hawk rushes through garden on 3rd. No kill this time.

Male hawks glides ultra low through garden on 17th and lands on fence between Marys and ours. Not seen that before.

Pair of goldcrests visiting mid month.

Male tawny owl VERY loud and pretty close calling in mid month – must have been from a tall tree near back of house – THIS side of park.

Great spotted woodpecker on bare poplar tree on 22nd.

 

Jan15: Long tailed tit flock found fat balls on the 9th.

Redwing in poplar tree on 21st and male blackcap visiting newly erected sunflower hearts feeder from mid month (along with goldfinches)

Blue tit box re-sited on 17th and immediately two blue tits check it out.

Male black cap a regular visitor for last two weeks of January – feeding on feeders.

 

Feb15: Starlings tried to reclaim soffit nest space, so cleared it out and stuffed entrance holes full of netting or chicken wire on the 8th

Wagtails still moving south at dusk in numbers, heading to their communal winter roost in town during the last week of February.

 

Mar15: Last redwings of “winter” I think? Heard overhead at dawn of the 31st in very strong winds (gales even). I assume the thrushes were making the most of these westerlies to head back home east.

Hen blackbird building nest quite high up in trimmed leylandii (between us and Punch and Judy) on 22nd. Seemed to be lining with mud on 24th.

Starlings “locked out” of our soffits and fascias clearly building nest at other end of the fascias (on the end of Jenny and George’s part) by mid month.

Wren heard and seen singing loudly in garden in 2nd week of March.

Dunnocks courting near house for most of month. Quite fun to watch.

 

Apr15: Goldcrest singing in garden for first time this year on 6th, 7th and 8th.

BITTERN!!!! Flew low over garden at 20:15 in gloom when I put the girls to bed – no doubt about ID at all. Great views of underside. INCREDIBLE!!!

First swallows (2) low over Derek’s garden, lunchtime on 18th in sun with cool esterly breeze. SO much later than last year (11 days)!

 

May15: First swift seen from 71 on the 1st May. East of garden, heading north at speed in a strong wind. More swifts seen on 4th, 6th and numbers building well by the 9th and 10th when they were audibly screaming in the air above the house a number of times. Mainly helped north on southerly(ish winds). Started “calling them on the 1st.

Swifts seen most days I looked in May (but at HEIGHT) – but just not at all interested in the house, unlike 2012 and 2013. What have I done wrong I wonder?!

Goldcrests singing noisily in the leylandii most days – I do wonder if they’ve nested there?

HONEY BUZZARD seen at 7am on 19th, clear blue sky, flying due west, over jocks lane. 90% sure it was  a honey buzzard – and if so…. WOW!

Woodpecker (male GS) visiting poplar tree at least once a day, all month.

 

Jun15: Parakeets becoming something of a noisy problem for an hour or two after dawn during June, in neighbourhood.

 

Jul15: Swifts still around and buzzed the house a couple of times in first and second week of the month after playing phone call.

Lots of swifts overhead and buzzing house all day on the 18th. Best activity for two years.

Green woodpecker over garden, just after dawn on 9th in clear skies.

Lots of swift movement in last few days of the month (between rains). 30 or 40 seen twice at least, still investigating the house when called.

 

Aug15: Last swifts seen over house on 1st August?

HONEY BUZZARD seen over Wildmoor heath on 15th!

Three swallows seen flying south over garden on 23rd.

 

 

 

 

Insects and spiders.

 

 

Summary:  Whilst I’m now used to the annual appearance of good numbers of male (and female) stag beetles from our buried eucalyptus root system each year (and this year was no exception), I had some superb insecty highlights this year – some hoped and planned for and a couple certainly unexpected.

The highlight of the entire year for me I think was the singular (I think) appearance of a hummingbird hawk moth on my deliberately-planted (this year) red valerian – I’ve been planning that for years.

A repaired moth trap meant I was catching and identifying moths on and off all summer – those highlights being a lovely chocolate tip moth (new to the garden) and two big poplar hawk moths. No elephant hawk moths in the trap at all though (unlike previous years) nor any small elephant hawk moths.

The elephant hawkmoth pupa that Anna and I were “rearing” in our conservatory (for 9 months!) eclosed successfully in the middle of June – a proud moment!

Finally (re.moths) an rare sight of a red-belted clearwing on our dying apple tree (possibly DUE to its larvae) was an unexpected highlight certainly.

Other successes – blue mason bees (one of my favourites) finally found and used our bee hotels (that’s been over 3 years in the planning), and a good year also for our leafcutters.

All that was good (or great?!) news – slightly worse news was that as I type this, 2015 will go down (here at least) as not a great dragonfly (or damselfly) year.

Only fleeting, brief glimpses of a migrant and southern hawker alongside a singular common darter (although I know at least three darters emerged from the pond in August). No demoiselles (unlike previous years) and not that many damsels either.

 

 

Sept14  Migrant hawkers still hawking over garden up to end of month.

Silver Y moth in side passage on morning of 14th  - notable by their absence in 2014 -  they were everywhere in 2013.

Light Emerald moth in passageway on morning of 17th

Oak bush cricket on pond net on morning of 21st.

Common darter emerged from pond (released from pond net) on 27th.

Male SOUTHERN HAWKER flying low through garden on 30th – does that mean it was a Southern not a migrant that I’ve been watching all year…. Probably.

Common darter male still present warming itself on the pond path on 12th.

Big house spiders and crane flies coming into house from mid month.

Segestria florentina and false widow by front door – the false widow was eating WASPS on 22nd!

Carder bees still active in compost heap on 23rd.

Black and red-legged ichneumon wasp in borders on 23rd.

Lunar underwing appears in side passage (first of year) on 23rd.

 

 

 

Oct14  Southern hawker still hunting round garden until 4th in warmth but that was all for the year.

Green shieldbug in kitchen on 3rd.

Very rare 2nd brood swallow-tailed moth attracted to outside light on night of 22nd/23rd Oct. Almost always a moth of July – this is a notable exception!

Dead or hibernating wasp in cedar swift box seen on night of 23rd,

 

 

Nov14 Still pond skaters (about 15) on pond on morning of 6th after a frost and a cold night… and still present all the month.

 

 

Dec14 Still hardy pond skaters around in first week of month, despite the frosts – and all month, until the ice appeared in the last few days of the month.

Winter moth appears in side passage on 20th.

 

 

 

Jan15 First bumblebee of the year briefly in garden on the 5th – what LOOKED like a worker B.terrestris. Must have been. Seen again on the 8th and the 10th and the 11th. Queen rescued from Bloops on the 10th – the first queen bee of the year.

 

 

Feb15 “Hibernating “small tortoiseshell in internal swift box and also hibernating red admiral under “eaves” of coop.

 

 

Mar14 2 Hebrew characters 1st appearance in 2015 on warm night of the 7th/8th – two weeks earlier than last year (drier?!)

First shoulder stripe of 2015 on the night of the 23rd and another (bolder-marked) again on 26th.

First honeybee of year investigating battered crocuses in warm sunshine on the 7th.

First 2015 butterfly in flight (red admiral) on the 10th in warm still sunshine.

First pond skater “returns” to pond on 7th in warm sunshine.

Two stag beetle larvae unearthed when forking over new “buddleja bed” in the back garden on 15th.

First small tortoiseshells sunning themselves in the garden on March 12th and from then on each time the sun made a significant appearance.

First male feather-footed flower bee investigating ground nettles by front door (again) on the 24th – in warm sun.

First (weirdly-patterned) 2 spot ladybird in master bedroom (by window) on the 22nd evening.

 

 

Apr14  First early mining bee and bee fly seen in gardens (front and back respectively) on 6th

First holly blue of 2015 in milky warm sun on 8th (at lunchtime) - maybe a week earlier than last year. The first “earlier” appearance of anything so far this year…

First brimstone butterfly of 2015 on April 10th – a whole MONTH later than 2014, joined by the first small white on the same day.

First scorched carpet moth on night of 10th (6 weeks earlier than in 2014) along with the first  generation early thorn (really late!)

First tawny mining bee nesting in sandy soil near coop (when I made my woodpile) on 12th and first speckled wood butterfly on 12th also – same sorta time as last year.

First male AND female orange tips on 14th – ONE day (only) later than last year. first nomad bee on same date (14th).

Made new bee home on 14th in beautiful weather.

Woodlouse spider in side passage when sweeping out.

Dozens of bird fleas clustered on starling nest on 22nd – had to spray them when I unblocked nest for swifts…

First tree bumblebee (queen) on 22nd – on cherry blossom – very late for me!

First ichneumon wasp of year in sitting room on 21st.

First male red masons near new bee home in warm sun (out of easterly wind) on afternoon of 18th.

First large red damselfly in garden on 24th

First brimstone moth to back light on night of 24th/25th in bits of rain

First EVER engrailed to back light on night of 25th/26th along with the first (in 2015) waved umber.

 

 

 

May15 First Maybug seen on the 6th MAY!!! Much earlier than I expected – in cold very strong winds. Big Maybug night of 10th/11th – expected this one – warm and still.

First rose chafers seen interested in photinia flowers again on 13th and each time the warm sun came out one could be seen for the next 10 days or so – always photinia bound.

Garden bumblebees nesting in woodpile and clearly the potter wasps had been busy there again by the end of the 3rd week of May.

First male stag beetle seen (as predicted – a warm, humid, still evening – the first of the 2015 or at least the first at the right time) on evening of Friday 22nd May – about one week earlier than 2014.

One bee in my new bee hotel on night of 22nd – pretty unpopular with the masons it seems… hoping the Megachile bees prefer it like last year?

Orange tip eggs found on hedge mustard and cuckoo flowers on evening of 22nd (photos)

 

 

 

Jun15  Red vented mason bees etc all mating and finding new bee hotel in heat of the 4th.

BLUE MASON BEES (1st ever!) in warm sun on bee hotel on 7th, joined by the early, big male Megachile Willughbeias on the same day.

First ever Rhogocaster viridis in garden on 7th, first 14-spot ladybirds noticed on same day also, first azure and blue-tailed damselflies also.

Moth trap on night of 6th/7th provided a peppered moth highlight if little else of note. (cool night).

First REALLY good moth trap night of this year (and of course last as I wasn’t running a moth trap then) came on the very warm night of the 11th/12th – with a poplar hawk moth being the highlight as well as the first orange ladybird of the year, a tree bumblebee, a mottled beauty (1st ever in the garden?) and a first ever (in the garden) yellow-barred brindle. Lots of hearts and darts too and also the first (for 2015) buff ermine.

The same night brought out male stag beetles again (11th/12th) – perfect for them – 15c and humid.

Moths trapped in the first three weeks of June included: common swift (new sp), figure of eighty, common emerald (on 17th/18th), light emerald, small blood vein (17th/18th), garden carpet (lots), common marbled carpet (lots),barred yellow, cypress carpet, yellow-barred brindle, heart and club, flame shoulder, small magpie, brimstone, peppered moth, mottled beauty, pebble prominent (new sp),buff ermine, dark arches, Lychnis, setaceous Hebrew character, snout, bramble shoot moth (17th/18th) (new sp).

My elephant hawk moth “eclosed” from its pupa (kept since last summer) on the evening of the 15th/16th June!

The highlight of the mothy world of the whole year, perhaps four, was the arrival of a hummingbird hawk moth to my newly planted red valerian (for this reason ONLY!) on the evening of the 16th/17th. (NEW SP!) along with the first appearance of 2015 of summer chafers – in large numbers until the end of June (at least).

Other moths during June included a buff tip, beautiful snout, small yellow wave (new sp) and small angle shades

First leafcutter bee action notice on night of 22nd. Holes in rose leaves and one hole in home-made bee hotel filling up with leaves! Lots of leaf cutter action (hatching and laying) in last week of June.

2nd Poplar hawk moth on night of 23rd/24th

 

 

Jul15 Wee mining bees roosting on purple salvia at start of month.

New species – small skipper on lawn on 12th.

Leaf cutter bees busy all month but only in old hotels (didn’t use new hotel).

Many moths caught in moth trap in first week of July included highlights of: coronet, grey poplar, 2nd generation early thorn & swallow-tailed moth, beautiful hook tip, barred red.

First dragonfly (LOOKED like migrant hawker, certainly a hawker anyway) through garden in first few days of July.

First hornet of 2015 in garden on 9th July in warm sun.

What LOOKED like a green hairstreak through garden in warm sun on 9th – couldn’t have been though could it (bit late and wrong habitat despite lots of birds foot trefoil in the “lawn”).

Gatekeepers and ringlets in garden by start of the month.

Second gen. holly blues present on ragwort at end of the month.

Leafcutters busy all month.

Digger and potter and ruby-tailed wasps all visible in July’s sun in around bee hotels and goldenrod and woodpile.

New species on 18th – red belted clearwing moth (photo) on dying apple tree – think the larvae under the bark may well have done for the tree.

Cinnabar moth caterpillars on ragwort spotted in third week of July. New sp.

 

 

Aug15 First migrant hawker dragonfly of the year seen in the garden (photo) on 5thfirst common darter seen on the 7th.

Moth highlights of the month came in the form of a chocolate tip (NEW SP!) on the 7th/8th

Leaf cutters still busy in the first week of the month (and 2nd and 3rd weeks).

Hornet worker in house (photo) on 7th.

Big house spider in jeans on 23rd.

Tortoise bug (New sp) on golden rod on 23rd.

Nursery web spider and web in golden rod on 23rd.

 

 

 

Mammals.

 

 

Summary:  Mammalian news from this “year” was dominated by the omnipresent foxes, which den each year next door… but… more importantly than that…. THE RETURN OF THE HEDGEHOGS!

I ensured our neighbours knew that I was digging tunnels under all the fences and once again… they worked! Two hogs present at one time – one HUGE hog. I think (I hope… as the two adults I saw and heard were certainly male and female) they nested under our “western neighbour’s” shed. That’s where they seemed to come from each night. Superb news and once again demonstrated the importance of opening up ones borders and fences with hog tunnels for this unique, threatened mammal.

Other mammalian highlights – we still have our bats (pips), I saw a couple of noctules from the garden this year (always a treat) and my reluctance to feed birds other than jays saw an almost complete eradication of pesky squirls in OUR garden – a bonus!

 

Sep14 Two (at least) foxes (young I think and denning in border between Mary’s and Pips still venturing outside between 1900 and 1930 in first two weeks of month.

Two bats still interacting and hunting hard over garden at dusk on 16th September and most of month.

Squirrel (BOOOO) taking sunflower seeds from sunflower heads on 23rd.

HEDGEHOG appears from under Derek’s shed at dusk on 23rd! GREAT NEWS! Leaves Derek’s garden about 1945 each night and returns about 0600 each morning for a week.

 

Oct14 Squirrel(s?) in garden each day in early October. Hedgehog not seen since the end of September – nor foxes which might have been disturbed by the full-on tree felling and pollarding over two days in Pip’s garden right at the start of the month.

Fox (singular) a little more obvious in Pips garden a week after the tree surgeons disappeared and VERY obvious at beginning of 4th week after dusk.

 

Nov14  At least one fox still present (and noisy) in Jennys and or Pips garden at start of month

 

Dec 14Unbelievably at least one fox is still padding about at Pips – amazing as she’s had virtually all her cover cut back to nothing over the last few weeks  - there’s nowhere to hide in her garden at present. Must be hiding in Mary’s mess I guess.

 

Jan 15 Foxes still bickering and vixen screaming next door at times throughout month.

 

Feb 15 Fox prints clearly seen in back garden in snow at start of the month. Enter via compost heap (over fence from Pips) and leave via large leylandii (to Dereks).

 

Mar 15 One adult fox and one of last year’s young seen in Pips garden mid month. Quite noisy.

 

Apr 15 First pip (bat) of 2015 just after I saw the bittern. Seemed to come out of coop leylandii at 20:15 on 7th – almost a month later than last year!

 

May 15 HEDGEHOGS (TWO!!!) reappear in the garden in second week of May. Videos and opened up tunnels again! Superb news!

Every time I opened up the tunnel they used it each night (videos) but Derek did close it each day. Twonk. Sorted it eventually.

 

Jun 15 Noctule bat (2nd ever from garden) seen fly high and straight over garden on eve of 3rd (warm and still at last!)

One (at least) hog still using “Derek’s tunnel” and my new “Mary’s tunnel” early in the month. Great stuff!

Fox caught on trail cam on night of 6th/7th.

One (it seems) pip bat around all month in the garden.

One hog seen WELL after dawn (about 5am) on morning of 23rd. Bit worried about this hog – shouldn’t be out and about an hour after sunrise?

 

Jul 15 Bat still present on night of 19th.

Huge hedgehog present at end of the month – before dark and using “new tunnel”

 

Aug 15 THREE (first time ever I’ve seen three together) pips in garden on 7th at dusk with a noctule (3rd or 4th time I’ve seen that) overhead flying south.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amphibians or reptiles.

 

 

Summary:  Perhaps (still) the biggest success story of our years (so far) at the house – by some way. I dug a garden pond in March 2013, hoping to give a home to some of the many frogs that seemed to love our garden when we moved in (no pond in our garden then but plenty of undergrowth). I hoped for newts also.

This year we had a mixed year in terms of amphibians – lots of breeding frogs again (although spawning quite late – in the fourth week of March) but decimated by what I suspect was ranavirus in the early summer. Luckily as summer got underway, that problem seemed to disappear, but I suspect we lost perhaps a dozen or so frogs because of it.

This year I fenced around the pond to allow the surrounding grass to grow very long and offer the frogs some shelter AND protection from the hens. It seemed to work well.

We also have a healthy and growing (clearly!) population of smooth newts in the pond too – I’m very proud of that.

 

Sept 14 Frogs still present in the undergrowth mid month.

 

Dec14  Frog in pond still each night of December that I checked!

 

Jan15 Still at least one fwog in the pond during January’s warmer nights.

 

Feb15 Frogs seemed to begin the annual migration back to the pond in the third week of February (in warm(ish)) nights – matched by the first toad movement at Popes Meadow on the 19th with temps at 7c and rain.

I counted eight frogs in the pond on the 19th (the most since last spring) but as the nights became colder again, this figure dwindled to one or perhaps two.

By the last night of the month the pond was full again – at least a dozen in the pond.

Toads started moving at Popes Meadow as soon as the temperature got to around 10c at night and it was WET, right at the end of the month.

 

Mar15 Many frogs in pond on night of 1st, mating. (Photos on phone). By the end of the first week we had at least a dozen frogs (possibly 18 or so) in pond, mainly males but at least three pairs in amplexus (so one might assume 3 females) but despite the warm weather on the 5th,6th,7th and 8th – no spawn by then?!

First smooth newt (male) of 2015 on the night of the 4th.

Perhaps 15-20 frogs (at least 2 males with herpes) in pond by mid month still… but STILL no spawn!

On the night of the 19th the pond went crazy – and noisy, with lots of males singing and at least four females being mated – surely spawn in the next couple of days?

Spawn finally arrived on the morning of the 22nd – in warm sunshine. This APPEARS to be only after the males start singing at night and frogs are active at the surface of the pond during the day.

Several good lumps appeared over the next few days, mainly in the NW corner of the pond but also one lump in the middle.

Up to ten (?) lumps were laid between 22nd and end of the month – frog activity during the day tailed off markedly from the 30th, but still plenty of activity (singing etc) right until end of month at night.

 

Apr15 Tadpoles hatching en masse on Friday 10th and Saturday 11th. Still at least a dozen adult frogs in pond, mid month but 5 dead… very sad… Ranavirus?

Another dying frog on 25th (6 now).

 

May15 One more frog (virus) died on 2nd May.

 

Jun and July15 Frogs still present in pond – overgrown it now might be, but I’ve not seen any more evidence of dead frogs, red leg etc, so fingers crossed.

 

Aug15 Frogs of all sizes obvious during pond thinning on 23rd.

 

 

 

 

Plants and fungi

 

 

Summary:  This section is really for my records only – but to summarise – this was the year that I introduced two big buddlejas, quite a bit of red valerian, some French marjoram, oregano, chives, thyme and sage.

Both buddlejas did very well, and as I type are still flowering – the marjoram and oregano also flowered all summer (attracting lots of insects), the thyme struggled and the sage went bananas.

I also potted up some foxgloves seeds, ready to plant in a new bed near the conservatory in the autumn with the aim to have a few flowering ‘gloves next summer. This was also the year that the plants in the pond went berserk -  and needed thinning considerably in August. The huge leaves produced by the lilies, desperately straining for their sunlight hidden below thick irises, bedstraws and grasses along with a bloom of curly pond weed meant we basically had NO blanket weed in the pond at all this year – the first year I’ve ever had that delightful situation!

I suspect this might be the final year for our wee apple tree. A bit sad really but its had it I think.

 

 

Sept14 Apple tree losing leaves a little in first two weeks. Not much poplar leaf loss in first two weeks but by the start of the 3rd week – notable leaf loss to the black and yellow foliage.

Cars covered in fir pollen in 2nd week – from large fruiting fir on school boundary.

Pond netted at start of third week of September.

White valerian by house flowering again in September as was the water hawthorn?!

 

Oct14 Water hawthorn flowering in pond, as is the white valerian, still.

Most of the poplar leaves came down in the winds of the 3rd week.

Pretty well ALL poplar leaves and apple leaves down by end of month.

Bonnets up and down at base of poplar at end of October – also a ring of what I assume are standard field mushrooms under the garden leylandii (again) at the end of the month. They grew quite big before the hens ate them.

 

Nov14 Almost all leaves gone from apple tree and poplar tree by mid month, but false oranges, oaks, cherry and ash still plenty of leaves by end of month still.

Water hawthorn still doing well by end of month and flowering again

 

Dec14 Water hawthorn STILL flowering in first week of Dec – and all month

 

Mar15 First tiny catkins appear on poplar on the 6th – many in place (although small) by 18th, but no leaves showing by 18th, thick with medium-sized catkins by end of month.

Crocuses appear (late?) at beginning of second week in warmth.

Celandines and pulmonaria both out by 18th, pulmonaria for a week or so as have been the dog violets.

First daffodils flowering in warmth of front garden by mid month.

First buds on rear mock orange appeared by 25th of March.

Dug out west main bed in mid month (added 10 bags of sand and 5 of manure) ready for planting with buddleja etc…

Added Barry’s irises to pond (still potted) on 29th.

 

Apr14 Speedwell flowered in front garden  on 6th.

Forget me nots flowering well by 14th, ceanothus getting ready to flower by mid month.

Poplar leaves well grown by 14th (started budding in first few days of April).

Mock orange leaves by house just starting by 14th, whereas rear mock orange leaves well grown by 14th.

Two buddleja planted on weekend of 10th as well as a few red valerian.

First grass mow (front and back) on 14th

Cherry blossom by coop well out by 14th, as was damson blossom.

Cut half of the apple tree away on 12th – looked dead. Quite sad.

Goldenrod about 2” high and in good clumps by 14th.

Ceanothus begins to flower on 19th pretty well… almost two weeks later than 2014 and in good flower by 25th

Cuckoo flowers well in bloom by 23rd and yellow archangel flowering by then too.

Marsh marigolds flowering by end of first week and over by end of third.

 

May14 Ceanothus looking very good still by the 10th, but over (suddenly) 10 days later, by the 20th.

New buddlejas doing well… as are the red valerian (Late of course as I only planted the plugs in mid April). Pond plants superb with large numbers of cuckoo flowers pondside, water hawthorn spreading well also.

Photinia finally stopped shedding old leaves by the start of May with a few flowers.

Goldenrod up to mid-shin height by 10th May.

Ivy leaves that all the girls had pecked off the wall during the winter had completely re-leaved by 10th May.

Most of the bluebells that I sowed last autumn under the poplar had all flowered by the 10th May – great news! I hope they spread for next year.

Daisies START appearing in the lawn in more than singles, by May 10th.

Bluebells in front garden well over by May 10th.

Lilac pretty well over by May 13th as was the apple blossom.

First pondside buttercups appear in good numbers at the end of 3rd week of May.

All Irises, including Barry’s jusssst starting to flower at beginning of 4th week of May. New purple iris seems to have spread to circular flower bed unexpectedly – and was in full flower by the 23rd.

 

Jun14 Pond going mental –completely overgrown and all Barry’s irises flowering by 3rd June!

Yellow loosestrife jusssst about flowering at beginning of 2nd week, ditto mock orange near house.

Red valerian flowering well at end of 2nd week to join its older white cousin, which was over by the end of the month.

Mock orange jusssst coming into flower at start of third week of month. And flowering quite well by end of third week.

 

Jul14 Mock orange bush (front – rear didn’t flower at all) blooms over by 7th.

Grass hardly growing at all due to lack of rain (June only had less than a 1/3 of the average monthly rainfall and July started pretty bone dry too).

Apple tree now definitely dying, despite forming lots of apples this year. Will probably cut down in the winter and use as a bee des res from now on.

New buddlejas flowering quite well by end of first week of July – tied to train in 2nd week.

First white water lily appears in overgrown pond during second week of July.

Goldenrod flowering well by 20th July.

Buddleja dead headed on 18th and all summer from then on – which seemed to work well.

Great willowherb flowers 2nd week of July as does marsh woundwort.

Water mint FINALLY flowers on the last day of July.

 

Aug14 Is the goldenrod going over in the first week of August? Appears almost so. Over pretty well by start of 3rd week.

Buddleja still flowering (due to dead heading I think).

Pond “thinned” on 23rd.

The month ended with a huge “bloom” of fairy ink caps (fungi) under our largest poplar tree. I expect a considerable bloom each year but this year’s (a result of the very wet last two weeks of the month I presume) was MAHUSIVE.

 

 

 

 

Other garden-related shenanigans…

 

After replacing Conker, Couven and Trouble (our 3 hens for a year) with four new girls - Norris, Berry, ‘Ttila and Solo in the Spring of 2014, I had to dispatch our smallest girl (the champion egg layer mind) in the summer of 2015 due to her having a huge prolapse. A bit sad really.

Our supposedly bossiest girl at the top of our pecking order, ‘Ttila, became very broody in May – a real problem – and I had to cold-bath and segregate her for several periods. At the time of writing, she’s right as rain (the broody period probably only lasted for a week or so each time, about a week apart).

I also limited the amount of garden space they had from the entire back garden to approximately 2/3 of it with a sturdily-erected plastic-coated wire fence.

This kept them off the “lower lawn” and out of my newly dug herb and buddleja bed. It also kept them from standing outside our back door and on the patio, crapping everywhere.

 

 

 

Final summary.

 

As I’ve mentioned above, the highlights of 2014/15 for me were:

 

  1. The return of swift interest to our plethora of swift boxes – a result after two years of huge disappointment.
  2. The appearance of a hummingbird hawkmoth on my newly-planted (deliberately to attract this moth) red valerian.
  3. The appearance of blue mason bees (one of my favourite bees) to my bee hotels.
  4. A good moth year all round – thanks to a successful rearing of our elephant hawkmoth pupa, the resurrection (repair) of the moth trap and a few belters of new species such as red-belted clearwing and chocolate tip.
  5. The return of hedgehogs! Always a treat (sadly a rarer and rarer treat these days) to enjoy these things in your garden.
  6. A good jay year (hardly any acorns produced across the UK so my monkey nut Jay feeder was a huge success).

 

On the downside though –

 

  1. No nesting swifts still. I said it’d take 5 years perhaps. This is the report for year 4 after all.
  2. Not many odonates. A poor August (weatherwise) might have been the reason for that.
  3. Frogs suffering fatal virus in the spring of this year (red leg as well as ranid herpesvirus).

 

 

We’ve now been here four years.

I wanted to dig a pond quickly and get amphibians breeding here – done.

I wanted to attract hawkmoths, including hummingbird hawkmoths – done.

I wanted to attract one of my favourite birds – jays – done.

I wanted to get blue mason bees back in the garden – done.

When I heard (yes, heard) hedgehogs in the neighbours very enclosed garden(s) I wanted to get them breeding and moving – done.

I wanted to get swifts back nesting with us – getting there.

 

In short then, I’ve almost done all what I set out to do here – only one thing (the biggest thing!) left – breeding swifts….

Maybe that’ll happen next year…. Maybe….

 

Onwards and upwards!

 

 

 


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