31 May 2020

Cucumber spider & tawny mining bees

With the lock down now in its 11th week and with the weather generally being good I've spent a lot of time outside in the garden and walking the lanes locally. I've always had a local patch - even when I was living at home with my parents in Suffolk. I used to write a wildlife diary everyday without fail and still have some of them going back to 1976. With the advent of new technology I'm sad to say my diaries have made way for a recording App on my phone!

We've lived in this house for 3 years and my local patch consists of improved pasture, a few ponds and a railway embankment. I'm used to walking it 2-3 times a week as I'm generally busy with other things. One of the advantages of a lockdown is that I've been walking it everyday and have picked up species that I've either never seen here before or are generally rare. I've found my 1st patch Grasshopper Warbler singing for only a day in a bramble filled corner of a cow field and seen at least three Yellow Wagtails - one of which is even on the garden list as it flew over calling! This last species I've only ever seen once or twice in the autumn.

I've been lucky enough to have Tawny Mining Bees in the garden for the 2nd year running and the warm weather meant a profusion of Butterflies with several Brimstones being recorded. This female was found sunning herself on the shed.

Tawny Mining Bee nest chamber in lawn below:

One of highlights of the lockdown so far for me was finding a tiny bright green spider on the garage wall. A bit of research revealed it goes by the name of Cucumber Green Spider (Araniella cucurbitinna). There are two common Araniella species, A. cucurbitina and A. opisthographa  and they're difficult to tell apart but I'm sure this is cucurbitina and probably a male given its small size.

Its amazing the wealth of wildlife around in gardens when you really have the time to look!

23 May 2020

Mistle & Song Thrush

We are lucky to have both breeding Mistle And Song Thrush nearby and they are both garden visitors. Song Thrushes generally disappear from the garden on the winter and the first we know they've returned is the welcome sound of them singing. I estimate we've got around 9-10 pairs around the village and possibly 3 pairs of Mistle Thrushes.

Song Thrushes are seen in the garden during the breeding season on a daily basis but tend to show early morning or evenings when its quieter. Mistle Thrushes are rarer and to have two adult birds looking for worms to feed nearby fledged young was a pleasure for a few days.

2 May 2020

Night action in the garden

Using a borrowed camera trap I've managed to successfully capture a number of mammals using our garden at night. We knew we had a fox visiting as we've heard it at night, seen its scat and even managed to photograph it through the bedroom window at dusk one night.

The camera trap has picked up both the fox and a hedgehog. Its great to see the hedgehog is still thriving in our area as numbers have dropped dramatically over the country in recent years and most people only see a dead one on the road.

25 Apr 2020


After being hit hard by trichomonosis  (see here) in recent years Greenfinches seem to be staging a bit of a local recovery with flocks of up to 20-30 birds in our garden during the winter. Numbers have reduced as birds start pairing up and breeding but we still have a a few knocking around and i've recently ringed several.

This male was interesting as most of the 2nd calendar year Greenfinches we catch have moulted all their greater coverts during their post juvenile moult. This one had a distinct moult contrast with two retained juvenile greater coverts - probably less than 10% of Greenfinches show this.

15 Apr 2020

Finches and Wagtails in the garden.

We've had a few Chaffinches and Goldfinches in the garden recently and with the improved weather and drop in wind speed I've managed to set a couple of mist nets and ring a few as I suspect some of these will be migrants fattening up before moving back to the continent / Scandinavia to breed.

What really surprised me was the Linnets dropping into feed with the other finches. I'd heard them over the garden before and a few pairs breed locally every year but I'd never seen one on the ground. The first I knew they were around was when I caught one followed very quickly by another. Both were 2nd calendar year males (Euring 5) but in very different plumages. The first bird only had small tinges of pink on the breast but the other was much brighter.

Linnets can be hard to age this time of year but the central tail feathers on these birds were the giveaway. Both had very pointed central tail feathers typical of juvenile birds.

Linnet 5 male - 1st bird above & 2 nd bird below.

I did catch a few Chaffinches and these were interesting as the wing length suggested they are Scandinavian birds moving through as opposed to our local breeders.

The bird below was aged as a 2nd calendar year female as it had a single retained juvenile greater covert left over from its post juvenile moult last year. This is browner than the adult ones which are much darker wit ha broad white tip. Again, the tail was an additional clue to the age.

Another bird I was pleased to catch was a female Pied Wagtail. I don't catch many of these and this one seems to be nest building nearby. Again it was a 2nd calendar year bird (Euring 5) aged by the moult contrast in the greater coverts with two retained juvenile feathers contrasting with the newer adult type it acquired in its post juvenile moult last year.

It wasn't all about the small birds though. Wood Pigeons are a big bird to handle by yourself but I managed to extract this one and ring it. A beautiful bird close up.

Apologies for the state of my nails and fingers. They're covered in paint after taking the opportunity to touch up the paint work on my 1976 ex-army Lightweight Landrover. Actually, I ended up repainting the whole vehicle, removing the wheels and painting them as well.

9 Apr 2020

Large Bee Fly

We've been lucky enough to have Large Bee Flies in the garden for the last two springs. I didn't know much about them until I saw them last year. Here's a bit about them:

Bombylius major (commonly named the large bee-fly or the dark-edged bee-fly) is a parasitic bee mimic fly. B. major is the most common type of fly within the Bombylius genus. The fly derives its name from its close resemblance to Bumble bees and are often mistaken for them.

B. major exhibits a unique flight behaviour known as "yawing" and plays a role in general pollination, without preference of flower type. The fly does not bite, sting, or spread disease. However, the fly uses this mimicry of bumblebees to its own advantage, allowing close access to host solitary bee and wasp nests in order to deposit its eggs. After hatching, the larvae find their way into the nests to parasitically feed on the grubs.

Photographing them is pretty difficult as they move so fast! 

And a short video:

We've got a colony of Mining Bees in the garden so they're probably parasitising these.

4 Apr 2020

More garden ringing

With the wet and windy weather recently I haven't had a chance to do much garden ringing but with the improvement over the last week now on government imposed lockdown I'll be doing more. I have deployed the whoosh net  (see details here) to try and catch some less regularly ringed garden birds that we don't normally get in a mist net!

Star birds recently have been two Mallards, A Collared Dove and a female Magpie. The Magpie was interesting as its one of a pair nest building in our neighbours garden. It was sexed as a female as it had the beginnings of a brood patch and aged as a 2nd calendar year bird on the extent of black on the 1st primary. The other half of the pair, presumably the male, is ringed on the left leg so is one of the birds I caught last year.

Collared Doves are also nice to catch as they're generally fast fliers and very agile. This one was sexed as a male but its pretty hard to distinguish.

Every year we get Mallard visiting the ditch in the back garden before it dries up in the summer and I was more than pleased to catch and ring these two! It'll be interesting to see if these are the same birds we get every year and they come back next year.

Jays have also featured and I've caught three in the last couple of weeks. One was an adult female that must be nesting nearby as she had the start of a brood patch.