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 three years now & whilst this “End of third year (garden wildlife) report” is a little late (I should have written it over a week ago 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).
All photos taken by me.
Here we go then…
End of third year (garden wildlife) report.
September 2013 – August 2014 (incl.)
Our year (running from September to August) started in unspectacular fashion with a settled, dryish, warmish September – but this was to change dramatically as the year pushed on.
By the third and fourth weeks of October (and into Autumn proper), the weather gave us a taste of what we might expect in the winter ahead – with some wild and woolly weather including a proper storm on the night of October 28th.
November was mixed, in a word. Wet and miserable for the first week or so but with a small settled spell around mid month, producing the first proper frost of Autumn on 13th of the month. The third week was cold and bright with ice on the car windscreen each dawn – little did we know at the time that this was about as cold as it’d get all winter.
The first two weeks of December were “weatherless” although mild for the month, but come the last two weeks of December and all hell broke loose.
The jet stream shifted to sit right on top of our and low pressure after low pressure battered the UK – with high winds and lots and lots of rain. Not cold though.
The first two weeks of January brought us little respite – and flooding became widespread over the SE of the country (as well as Somerset). An incredible start to the winter really – no cold temperatures, no frosts but massive amounts of rain and wind.
The month ended as it began with more heavy rain, deep depressions and flooding. So much so that January 2014 went down in history as the wettest January since records began with well over twice the average month’s rainfall recorded.
February started as January did. More deep depressions and more rain. The Thames flooded in February 2014. No frosts. No chance of snow. Incredibly mild but sodden and windswept. Because February was so wet as well as January – the winter of 2014 (Dec13, Jan14, Feb14) went down as the wettest since records began.
February ended in a mixed fashion, but still mild.
March came in mixed fashion but a bit of a change in the 2nd week of the month - with warm, sunny, settled weather (19c) – at last!
The third and fourth weeks of March brought all types of weather – one very cold night on the 23rd/24th (the coldest night since last winter), hail, squalls, wind, sun, cloud and even a NE wind. Still no chance of snow though.
March ended with a beautifully mild, settled weekend and this heralded a settled start to April 2014 also, which started with a week of warm, dry, still weather – smog conditions prevailed over the E and SE of the country with Saharan dust being carried over the UK on very light southerly winds.
April’s second and third weeks were in the main, mild (hot even at 20c occasionally) and sunny. This was to end abruptly by Easter though - Easter Sunday brought rain and heavy thundery showers as did Easter Monday – humid, warm and heavy rain in the evening – beckoning in a sodden fourth week of the month with regular, long-lasting rain.
May started in a relatively cold (cool anyway) fashion but gave us a break from rain and we enjoyed a small settled spell again. On the whole, May was again mixed – pretty good really until the fourth week when once again, the rain gods started venting their fury on us - windy, cool and a lot of rain including hail and thunder. The back garden flooded and we had 3 days of constant rain to end the month. (It really did rain for 72 hours non stop at the end of May - I don’t remember that happening before in my lifetime).
June arrived and with it the first of the really hot days of 2014. The first weekend of the month was very hot and very thundery but this built during the second week into a spectacular thunderstorm during the second weekend of the month – with torrential rain for 3 hours.
For the rest of the month we enjoyed hot (well… 24c) temperatures and high humidity. Not wall to wall sunshine – quite milky really, but pleasant enough.
July and no real change – certainly for the last three weeks of the month. Warm. Hot even at 30c once or twice. Very humid. Regular thundery activity around and hot sun – it felt like we were in the tropics for a large part of July – sticky, hot sun, warm and thundery.
The first week of August brought a little more cloud than July and slightly lower temperatures – although still around 26c.
Unfortunately for the kids that had broken up for the summer holidays at the end of July – by the second week of August, the settled weather had gone. A huge shift in the jetstream which had provided lovely June and July weather (in the main) meant we were subjected to regular heavy downpours in the final three weeks of August – with MUCH cooler temperatures than the previous 8 or 9 weeks and a lot more cloud also. For example – the third week of August saw a day where no-one in the UK saw temperatures above 20c – this was as cool as it had been since the first few days in June – a big change. Quite a lot of August certainly felt almost autumnal.
Weather summary (Sept 2013 – August 2014):
Warm, wild and woolly Winter and early spring.
Variable (and therefore) typical spring.
Early and mid summer – a return to the very warm, sticky, sunny, thundery summers from decades ago.
Summary: A few new species arrive in the garden, but the story of the year has to be the almost complete lack of swifts’ interest in the homes I’d built for them – a real disappointment after the last two years’ interest. I hope 2015 provides more action and better results – I can’t do much more for my favourite bird of all.
Last swallow seen on 24th Sept 2103.
First redwing heard on 10th Oct 2013. (one day later than 2012 and one day earlier than 2011)
First fieldfare on 29/10/14
Lots of “garden” birds return to feeders in Oct (grey wagtails, greenfinches, long tailed tits, goldfinches, goldcrests, coal tits, great spotted woodpeckers, sparrowhawks etc).
Autumnal chiffchaffs appear in garden in Oct.
Hawks catch two goldfinches in November.
Big flocks of pied wagtails over house at dusk throughout the winter, heading to a communal roost in town about a mile away (I presume).
Starlings investigate internal swift spaces in January (both the attic and the eaves – and end up nesting in the eaves in early March).
Jays far more infrequent than in previous years.
Wren sings in garden for first time in two years in late February.
Lesser redpolls and siskins (both new spp. for garden) appear regularly on feeders in late winter.
Big movement of winter thrushes NE in 2nd week of March.
Courting peregrines over garden in early March.
Last redwing heard on night of 21st March.
First brood of 4 “eaves” starlings hatch on 6th April and 3 fledge on 1st May. Parents take two days off and begin second brood on 3rd May. All filmed.
Cock pheasant (new garden sp) flies low over my head through garden at dusk late in April.
First swallows over house on 7th April.
First SWIFT over house on 3rd May.
First swift buzzes the house on 20th May… but this was going to be a huge disappointment for the season – unlike the previous two years, even though I saw swifts pretty-well every day over the house, they hardly seemed interested in the boxes. A few buzzes until mid June and that was that. A hundredth of the interest of 2013 and 2012.
Nesting blue tits hatch on 3rd and 4th May and fledge on 22nd May. All filmed.
Heron checks out pond in late May and a hobby dashes low through the garden at dawn on 29th May – a first IN the garden.
June and July quite quiet (birdwise) in the garden.
A young flock of nuthatches (new garden sp) bumble through the garden trees in early August.
Last swifts seen on 9th August – WEEKS earlier than 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Up to 18 young goldfinches regularly “bubbling” over garden in late August.
Insects and spiders.
Summary: I think our third year here will be remembered by me as the year of the big beetles. Lots of insects all season of course (no winter to speak of) – but without a working moth trap this year I was forced to look at moths attracted by our back door light – so moths such as elephant hawks etc were absent for me this year – even though I suspect they had a great year.
Much activity from all our leaf-cutter bees also – which readily took to our bee hotels in numbers all summer – fun to watch.
But without doubt my entomological highlights this year came in the form of big beetles – we are lucky to have a colony of stag beetles nesting in our buried eucalyptus roots and I’ve never had a year like it for stags. Dozens and dozens in June – every evening for weeks.
Stags then and also the metallic green rose chafers which seemed to adore the sticky summer and our photinia flowers.
Yes – this year was the year of the large beetles here.
Sept13 Lunar underwing, cypress carpet and large ranunculus moths all appear in side passage
22 spot ladybird seen for the first time in the garden.
Oct13 Digger wasp (Ectemnius gavifrons) stocking nest in back garden log on 3rd
Green and red carpet moth as well as Blair’s shoulder knot moth both appear mid month at side passage light.
Light emerald comes to side passage light at start of month (in warmth)
Green shieldbug on lilac in back garden on 26th
Nov13 November moth appears in side passage in first week of November. Apt.
Two male Feathered thorn moths appear in third week – one stays around in same spot for 10 days or so.
One late buff-tailed queen bumblebee flies through garden in the “warm” sun on the 22nd and 24th.
Dec13 Winter moth appears in side passage on 2nd. First for the garden
Large yellow underwing and angle shades moth caterpillars in side passage.
Re-appearance of one of the med.tube web spiders confused by the mild(ish) nights I guess, on 22nd December.
Mottled umber moth (new sp) comes into house on Christmas tree, as does a queen wasp and a 7-spot ladybird!
Jan14 Ichneumon wasp in the kitchen on 23rd
Feb14 One S.florentina reappears in side passage on mid month (incredibly warm for time of year) – followed by a second during the day on the 20th
One small tortoishell butterfly sunning itself in the warm sunshine on the back garden path on 16th – the first butterfly of the year.
First bumblebee of the year on the 17th – a queen red-tailed bumblebee through garden (no crocuses up yet so didn’t hang around)
2nd bumblebee of the year a queen buff-tailed investigating trimmed leylandii just before dusk on the 19th
3rd bumblebee of the year – a queen white-tailed in garden on 22nd.
Dark chestnut moth appears in bathroom (sheltering from overnight rain and wind) at end of the month.
Mar14 Fourth sp. of bumblebee of the year appeared in the garden on the 1st – a tree bumblebee queen resting on the grass under the apple tree near the (pigeon-squashed) crocuses.
5th sp. of bumblebee of the year appeared in the garden on the 7th – an early bumblebee by the crocuses and white valerian leaves.
First EVER (here) feather footed flower bees (two males) appeared by front winter pansy hanging baskets in warm sun on 9th – thought I’d left them behind in Reading! GREAT NEWS!
The warm sun of the 9th also brought the first brimstone butterflies, the first peacocks, the first drone fly and marmalade hoverflies and also a few backswimmers making their way out of the pond it seems.
First mining bee spotted on dandelion in back garden on a warm Friday 14th as well as first tiny zebra spider near front door.
First Hebrew character moth of year above kitchen cupboards on 25th.
First pond skater appears on the pond on the 7th joined by two more by the 9th
At least 8 or so by the equinox.
First “proper moths” appear – a shoulder stripe on the 16th and a dotted border on the 17th – both by the side passage light.
Early thorn (1st generation) appears in side passage on 19th
Both false widows and S.florentina very mobile on night of the 17th
First honeybee of year (investigating catkins on poplar) on 16th.
First zebra spiders on walls on 16th
First small white butterfly thro garden on 16th
Apr14 More early thorn moths and Hebrew characters in side passage as well as the first early grey and first brimstone moths on the 6th.
Dark arches caterpillar and lesser yellow underwing caterpillar discovered on fence on 13th whilst planting sunflowers.
Mating red mason bees photographed in front garden on 14th
First speckled wood, red masons and holly blue in second week alongside first MALE orange tip in summery sunshine on 13th
First large caddis fly (Stenophylax permistus)came to back passage light on 20th
May14 Bumblebee nest spotted under blue tit box at the start of the month in the clay bank.
First (ever? For garden) 22 spot ladybird spotted by site of floxgloves (under leylandii nearest house) on May 1st
Brimstone moths everywhere it seems this year, along with twenty-plume moth and pine carpet coming to side light (no moth trap so far this year as bulbs don’t work).
Waved umber in kitchen on 7th
Willow beauty, garden pebble and shuttle-shaped dart all arrive in side passage on 13th
Cockchafers during the warm evenings and rose chafers during the sunny days (on the photinia flowers) in good numbers during third week.
Damselflies all emerging and mating in pond on third week, orange tip butterfly eggs on garlic mustard in garden in third week.
Beautiful demoiselles regular visitors to garden in 3rd week. Azure damselflies appear on the pond on 18th and first stag beetle of the year, unfortunately discovered alive (but with legs missing) in Berry’s beak.
First swift moth of the year in third week and first cabbage moth of the year on the night of the 24th.
First EVER scorched carpet moth to back light on night of 29th and also a PERFECT Poplar hawk moth! (photos for both)
Jun14 Biggest stag beetle night I’ve ever seen on the warm, still, humid evening of the 1st June. Up to THREE male beetles flying around the woodpile. One sadly eaten by our hens the next day.
By the 23rd June I had seen stag beetles pretty well each night since the 1st – a HUGE year for them – including half a dozen or so females (not so often seen)
Lots of honeysuckle sawfly larvae on honeysuckle on warm nights in June.
First light emerald moth of the year to the back door light on the warm night of the 5th/6th
First blood vein moth in bathroom on 10th.
First swallowtail moth and common emerald come to back door light on night of 10th
First buff ermine and small magpie moth in side passage in second week of the month
First dragon in the garden in 2nd week – a male BBC.
Megachile bees busy leaf cutting and building nests in the hotel in 3rd week.
Swallowtail moths in good numbers in side passage along with 2nd generation early thorns, riband waves, scalloped oak and heart and darts in last week of June.
First ringlets appear at end of month
Jul14 Leaf cutter bees still busy in their “hotel(s)” in first and second and third weeks of July.
Common darter emerged from pond on 15th (accelerated perhaps by me clearing the pond the day before) and laying eggs by third week – liking the bamboo poles for perches.
First purple thorn in side passage on 15th. Another battered poplar hawk moth on front wall of house on 14th
First meadow browns and gatekeepers at the start of the 2nd week.
Big migrant hawker in garden conifer tops on for last two weeks of month.
Potter wasps dragging hoverflies into the woodpile dens all month.
Aug14 Anna finds an elephant hawk moth caterpillar in front garden on 8th- put in tub with leaves and soil that afternoon- it pupates a couple of days later.
Rhingia campestris (New sp for garden) on spear thistles after high winds in second week.
Leaf cutter bees still making nests in 2nd hotel during second week, though their activity was much less than last two months.
Grasshopper on marjoram still in front garden (been there for weeks) by 3rd week of august
Common darters over pond all month, migrant hawker regularly hunting over garden in August – right until the final day of the month (and beyond)
Chinese character moth (NEW SP) in side passage on final week.
Summary: Not a whole lot to say here, after our local foxes ate both our male and female hedgehogs last year. We’re lucky in that our garden seems to be the only garden on the street (that I know of) that has two bats hunting overhead each night in the summer – I’m very proud of that fact.
But this year as far as mammals go will be remembered for the foxes that pupped next door and produced a summer of noisy bickering and fighting at dusk – the other side of our 6 foot larch fence – and just feet away from our four hens. I still don’t know how we have all our hens – we’re lucky I guess.
I suppose the only other mammalian “highlight” of the year was when I managed to pull my boots on, walk around for 20 or so minutes at dawn and realise there was a live woodmouse in my boot. Weird.
Fox recorded on trailcam at end of Sept visiting garden nightly
Fox still in garden in Oct – think it has its earth just over Pip’s fence
Foxes heard screaming locally in third week of November in the still chill at night
Big fox seen running down the road just after dusk on a number of occasions – seems pretty un-phased by cars and humans.
TWO winter bats in FEBRUARY?! seen hunting around the farm during the mild weather on a couple of still nights (one by the Frost Folly horse paddock in the second week of Feb and one by the tall barn owl tree on the warm 16th.
First bat of the year reappears (to me) on the eve of the 15th March after a particularly warm (21c) sunny day.
LIVE WOODMOUSE IN MY BOOT on morning of 11th April. Walked around with it inside my boot for maybe 20mins!
Fox poo in the front garden seen on 2nd May and fox seen crossing the road outside the house (back into the school grounds on 3rd May)
Up to two bats regularly but briefly (unlike last two years) hunting around garden at dusk in May.
Fox family noisily playing in Pip’s garden next door in 3rd week of June evenings.
Next doors’ foxes (cubs) getting pretty bold and noisy – out before dark in 1st week of July.
On 15th July I noticed the adult fox with a debilitating open wound on her left rear flank. No cubs to be seen although Pip saw three cubs on 20th
One bat hawking over garden at dusk in first week of July.Two by the third week.
Two bats regularly hunting over back garden at dusk.
Pip’s foxes very noisy at dusk each night still and out by 20:30 by 21st July and 19:30 in August
Amphibians or reptiles.
Summary: The biggest success story of our third year 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.
Anna and I had a pond in our garden in Reading but even though there were frogs present there , no spawn was laid during our three summers there – and that was a huge disappointment. It was luckily balanced somewhat by a huge colony of palmate newts (50+) in our old Reading pond – so I was upset to leave them there and move to a new house with no newts and no prospect of spawn.
Our pond in our current garden which I only dug in about 18 months ago has been a spectacular success – with breeding frogs and newts this year – and if this year will be remembered for disappointing swifts, the balance this year for me comes from a superb year for amphibians in our garden.
Feb14 One pair of mating frogs in pond in warm sunshine on 22nd. BRILLIANT NEWS!
Right at the end of the month I think there were possibly over 6 frogs in the pond
The first big toad migration at Popes Meadow occurred on the 24th on a mild, wet night – I helped 16 toads in 5 minutes at the site.
Mar14 Large irruption of frogs into pond in first week of March (wet warm night or two) – up to perhaps a dozen frogs by the end of the first week (including a pair in amplexus rescued from the back door and locked together in the pond for three days and night.
TINY AMOUNT (c24 eggs) OF SPAWN APPEARS ON THE 6th. EXCELLENT NEWS!
Unfortunately two days later all that frogspawn disappeared mysteriously at night – kicked apart by frogs I suspect
Still loads of frogs in orgies and amplexus on night of 14th but still no more spawn.
On the 15th – A LARGE AMOUNT OF NEW SPAWN LAID! BRILLIANT!
Joined by another clump on the 16th!
Frogs incredibly vocal by the light of the full Lenten Moon – great news!
A fourth lump of spawn laid on 22nd though by that time its clear that the first lump “failed” (sank to bottom of pond) and possibly the third lump also. The second lump sitting below the level of the water was developing well though on Sunday 23rd.
I think there were either 6 or 7 clumps of spawn laid this year and the more and more I watched them in March, the more the majority seemed to be developing, albeit at different rates, including the first clump that sank to the bottom of the pond!
Does seem like at least 2 of our frogs are exhibiting classic signs of herpes (blue/grey lumps on dorsal surface).
Apr14 Most of the frogspawn appeared to hatch in the first week of April.
ONE NEWT (NEW SP in garden) seen in pond on night of 11th. Female smooth newt I think and possibly gravid. Superb news!
May14 Tadpoles doing well in pond in first week. Newt (female smooth?) still present.
By the 14th, I had spotted TWO male newts plus the female. There may be more?
Certainly at least three newts spotted during month (2 males 1 female)
By 29th May, largest tadpoles had sprouted hind legs.
Jun14 Froglets begin to look like frogs now (all four legs and disappearing tail).
Jul14 Cleared out blanket weed from pond on 14th and 29th- plenty of tadpoles still there and newt efts as well as adult newts and one or two adult frogs
Aug14 Small frog in “new grass” by house and many many newt efts in pond – they’ve bred successfully – brilliant!
Plants and fungi
Summary: This section is really for my records only – but to summarise, most flowering plants seemed to do so quite early this year – and produce a lot of fruit. The pond plants produced late (or no) flowers as I cut the foliage back dramatically in Autumn 2013.
Sept13 Leaves still on trees at end of month but beginning to fall.
Oct13 Fungi appear in third week (with rains). Pleated inkcap and shaggy inkcap in garden as well as brown mottlegills, bonnets and an unidentified purple-gilled fungus (NOT amethyst deceiver).
Also large clusters of common inkcap in front garden.
Nov13 24 large field mushrooms appear under large leylandii on first weekend.
Jan14 Lots of obvious “pre-blossom” on the photinia appears.
First spring bulb shoots appear in beds and around pond (snakeshead frits?!) in first week of the year
Feb14 The largest tree overlooking the garden – a very large (60’) ash tree in Mary’s garden was felled during my convalescence from appendectomy – a real shame.
Photinia flowers start to bloom – MONTHS early.
One crocus flower blooms middle of month.
Daffodils and crocuses well advanced above ground middle of month
Blanketweed unfortunately doing well in pond due to unseasonal warmth.
First knackered crocus flowers up in mud under sunflower hearts feeders in middle of month – joined by a clump of first daisies on front lawn at same time.
Mar14 Pulmonaria well into flowering by the 9th, as well as many celandines and the old woman’s grape hyacinths showing well.
Marsh marigolds in pond budding and poplar catkins well under way by 9th
First marsh marigold flowered on 14th in warm sun –joined quickly by the rest.
First mock orange leaves on rear shrub doing well by the 18th March (the front shrub may be struggling in the shade – no leaves at all by March).
First poplar leaves unfurling by the 16th –with heavy catkins.
First water hawthorn flower by the 16th.
Bought and planted oregano, marjoram and 36 Russian giant sunflowers on Sunday 23rd March, in the hailstorms.
Apr14 Poplar trees and rear mock orange in good leaf. Oregano and marjoram doing well. White valerian budding. Photinia still flowering rampantly but virtually lost all its leaves.
Ceanothus almost flowering by 7th April – and flowering well by the 12th
Still flowering into May
Honesty flowering well by compost heap by start of second week
9 sunflowers planted by west fence on 13th
ALL sunflowers planted by 19th
Almost all eaten by slugs by 26th…
Two cuckoo flowers appeared in the pond-side “meadow” by the end of the month
First water lily leaf broke the surface of the pond by the end of the month
May14 Water crowfoot flowers well at top of pond in third week, with a dozen or more flowers
All blanket weed (pretty well) had disappeared by the 14th may, leaving the pond crystal clear and looking a picture. I assume this was a result of tadpoles and snails and daphnia eating it.
Ceanothus flowers over around the 18th May (5 weeks flowering!)
Joseph Rock trees flowering well by end of month
Jun14 House Mock orange begins to flower in first week – over (pretty well by July) Purple pond irises flower on 10th.
Rear mock orange flowers briefly in 2nd week of June – over by end of 3rd week.
Front privet hedge begins a growth spurt in the warmth of the 2nd week and flowers then too.
Lawn a sea of buttercups, white clover and heal all in 3rd week – unlike meadow which this year seems to be just grass mainly?!
Four or so sunflowers (only) seem to have “made it” and were approaching 6 foot tall in the 3rd week.
Sowed grass by house in 4th week of June.
Blanket weed back in pond by end of month (as tadpoles became carnivorous and didn’t eat it).
Jul14 Goldenrod jusssst starting to flower at end of 1st week – a slow process though – at end of 2nd week still not flowering heavily – but doing so by the very end of July.
Wild carrots start flowering in 4th week.
Sunflowers about 8 foot and forming a bloom.
Yellow loosestrife finishing by third week.
Aug14 Sixth water lily flower of season in first week. Water mint finally flowers as does the marsh woundwort (finally!)
Damsons fruiting well by mid August and fallen or rotten on branches by the end of the month
By the end of the 1st week, goldenrod beginning to turn – almost over by 21st – and over by end of month.
Field bindweed doing well over lower part of front of house.
All bar the “lawn sunflower” have flowered or were over by 2nd week of August.
Lawn sunflower flowers on 28th. At last!
Apple tree leaves start falling in high winds on final week of month.
Damsons that have been in the sun during the summer have turned purple and mostly dropped. Those more shaded are still green (but fat) and mostly on the trees.
Other garden-related shenanigans…
I had to dispatch two of our old hens (Conker and Trouble) in the spring of 2014 – one was quite sick (hens don’t often tend to “die well”) and the other although healthy was old, not laying and not ready to see her compatriot die and then accept new, young, skittish birds into “her coop”.
These were replaced within a few weeks by four VERY healthy new birds – all warren hybrids which have so far (touch wood) been our healthiest, happiest birds we’ve kept. Their names are (Chook) Berry, (Chook) Norris, (Hen) Solo and ‘Ttila (the hen).
As I’ve mentioned above, two great positives this year (the pond – frogspawn and breeding newts) and a stupendous year for our stag beetles.
One giant negative – the lack of swifts’ interest for the first year in three, in my lovingly-crafted swift homes.
A good year – made even better after February, when I had my grumbling appendix out, which finally meant that after two years of ill-health, I began to get my energy and enthusiasm back.
Onwards and upwards!