Blog Header

Blog Header

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

April - the best in bloom this month

This is one of my favourite months of the year, when the majority of fruit trees blossom and the leaves appear on the trees and shrubs. My garden changes more during this month than any other, starting the month with most colour coming from bulbs and blossom, and ending a mass of blue with the Aquilegias, Forget Me Nots, Bluebells and Cat Mint at their best. It's a time to stop and stare a while and the only way to capture the moment is to photograph it, as a few days later it will be different yet again!

I bought mixed Narcissus bulbs years ago and have no idea
of names. I just enjoy the variety of colours and shapes,
flowering at different times.

Funnily enough whilst randomly googling I came across Narcissus 'Geranium' which I think is the above variety!

This kind of bog standard tulip comes back year after year, never losing quality.
The Pulmonaria in the background is still flowering, after about two months.

Geranium Phaeum, which is becoming a bit of a thug!
The plants just get bigger and bigger and self seed everywhere.

Ornamental Weeping Cherry by the pond was a delight.

Species Tulips look beautiful whether they are open or closed.

They open on sunny days, which thankfully we had plenty of this month!

This Rhododendron was smothered in flowers and is just starting to go over now, 
but I've a later flowering one to take its place!

More unknown Narcissus - they are growing in my Thyme bank and always
look downhill, so I can't get closer to them to photograph them.

Wallflowers (Erysimum). I used to poo-poo these spring bedding plants
but now I know how wonderful they are; delightfully fragrant
with really bright colours just when you need them, early in the year.

Front of the house looking bright with the Euphorbias still going strong.
Two out of three cats got into the picture, can you spot them?

A nice place to sit and have a cuppa, as can be seen by the two mugs
on the bench that I forgot were there! That's the Weeping Cherry,
although it's not weeping that much as we gave it a haircut last year.

The big old eating Cherry looked magnificent too.

Here it is behind the Lilac.

Lilac. What more can I say. Mmmm!

This pic goes back to earlier in the month, when my Cercis Canadensis 'Forest Pansy' was
smothered in buds. This is its 3rd spring here and so far the buds had never opened,
just dropping onto the ground after a week or two.

Hoorah, after several weeks some of the flowers actually opened up!
It wasn't the blast of colour that it should be, and after this most of the buds..... dropped off!
But this is a huge improvement.

Round the front of the house, the Golden Oregano now matches the colour
from the Euphorbias. That's a raspberry and blackberry bed
looking ugly in the background!

Early morning near the end of the month,
the Arum Lily (Zantedeschia) is starting to flower.

Blue Aquilegias and Alpine Forget Me Not, which is small and compact and fills the gaps nicely.

Couldn't forget Apple blossom!

When the Tulips start to lose their petals,
it's a lot easier to see their insides. :-)

This last week has been mostly wet and cloudy, so I haven't taken many new photos, but did get a photo of my first Clematis to flower when the sun came out later in the afternoon yesterday.

Clematis 'Miss Bateman'.

I think I may resurrect my Flowers by Month theme where I managed to feature flowers every month for the entire year in 2012. I take so many photos I need somewhere to share them!

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Lepidoptera whispering and a glow worm larva

Oops I pressed Publish meaning to press Preview, and that means this blog post went out like that to all feeds and email subscriptions. I had meant to write just a teensy bit of text with it..... OK here goes. :-)

I've had a bit of luck with my butterfly and moth whispering charms this week. First up was a Green-veined White butterfly, which I found fluttering about on low vegetation at the edge of my woodland. To my surprise when I put a finger out next to its perch, it climbed up on it!

Green-veined White butterfly (Pieris napi).

It seemed quite happy to perch on my finger so we spent a bit of quality time together.

Now moths are (sometimes) less flitty than butterflies and don't seem to mind being handled quite so much, although it rather depends on the situation. I was sitting in the barn cursing the April showers that were disrupting my attempts at gardening, when during a sudden hail shower, I noticed something walking up the slight slope towards the barn entrance. I thought it might be a bee and wanted to save it from being pummeled by the hail. It turned out to be a moth, which seemed only too happy to be brought inside in the dry, and after I took a few photos of it on the floor, happily sat on my finger for about 5 minutes. The last I saw of it, it was climbing up my arm.

The Shuttle-shaped Dart Moth (Agrotis puta) at UK Moths

Shuttle-shaped Dart Moth (Agrotis puta).
You can't see its head easily here as there's crud on the floor which is distracting.

A better view of its face.
Holding my DSLR with heavy macro lens is not easy one-handed!

I had to use the pop up flash as I didn't have the Speedlite with me.

Another exciting find, although I didn't know it at the time as I didn't ID it until later, was this beetle larva. I discovered it whilst weeding around my strawberries, and put it on the wooden board edging the veg patch plots so I could photograph it better, but it kept on moving. Imagine my delight when I discovered this is a Glow Worm larva! And even better, these guys eat small snails and slugs - a perfect insect to have in the veg patch. It's the adult females which glow to attract a mate, and they look quite similar to the larval form, whilst the males look completely different and more like a beetle.

Glow Worm larva (Lampyris noctiluca).
That's a Red Velvet Mite on the side, just a coincidence.

Aren't the mouth parts amazing?
It looks like a squid!

Thursday, 24 April 2014

What's happening in the veg patch

If you thought this was going to be about veggies, think again. I can't be bothered to take photos of inch high peas and lettuce to show you! However I do have a lot of flowers in my veg patch, and flowers attract insects....

Looking into the veg patch with kale flowering
and my lovely old cherry tree at the far end.

I decided to leave my Wildflowers for Pollinators meadow in for a third year, forgoing onions as this year it is now my Allium plot. I have garlic in here and just enough space to transplant my leeks later on in the summer. It will have to go before next year though as with my 5 year crop rotation this will be where I'm planting my spuds! 

What's still in there is Hesperis matronalis, Wallflowers (which must be perennial ones as they are flowering again), Forget Me Nots, a white Valerian, some Foxgloves, a yellow flowered Lupin, some Coreopsis lanceolata, and a few things I'm not sure what they are - could possibly be weeds that have nothing to do with this patch, but time will tell! I'm expecting the annuals to self seed to fill in the odd gaps here and there.

Year 3 for my Wildflowers for Pollinators meadow.

These are regular Forget Me Nots; elsewhere I have the smaller Alpine variety.
But they look great with the Wallflowers. There's a small fly on the Forget Me Not in the centre.

But the stars of the show right now are the purple curly kale and the PSB flowers, which are attracting bees galore. The kale is the prettiest with the purple stems and leaves, but the bees are not fussy.

A Carder Bee - I see loads of these pretty bumble bees here.
Possibly Bombus pascuorum.

Yellow-legged Mining Bee (Andrena flavipes).

Hairy-footed Flower Bee (Anthophora plumipes), male.

A closer view of the Hairy-footed Flower Bee (Anthophora plumipes).
Here he is again showing his middle leg which is really hairy!

And this is just a solitary bee of some sort, not enough info in this photo for an ID.

It's not just the Brassicas which are attracting insects, the strawberries are alive with them too!

Which is why this crab spider has been hunting and caught a little fly for dinner.

I thought this was a Grasshopper but I've discovered it's most probably a Common Groundhopper
(Tetrix undulata). Good old insect book. I'd never even heard of a Groundhopper!

It's a great spring for butterflies and I've never seen
a Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) early in the year before!

I found this beetle which I'm 99% sure is Malachius bipustulatus.

Malachius bipustulatus - what a sweet little face!

Groovy coloured tiny weevil on a currant leaf. I saw them a number of times
on the currants last year, but they don't seem to be doing them any harm.

I will of course do a proper veg patch update when there is anything edible to talk about. :-)

Sunday, 20 April 2014

More wildlife sightings

It seems to be lizard season here right now, but unfortunately that means they are easy prey for the cats. One of the rotters brought this beautiful large lizard indoors and dumped it there. My OH yelled at me to get my camera, and when I saw it I couldn't believe it! It measured 4 inches (10cm) from head to the base of its tail. Unfortunately it had lost its tail, not such a big problem as they grow back, but I also saw in some of the close up photos that I took that it had bite marks on it, and a bit of blood. 

Poor thing. We put it back by the steps to the garage under the Euphorbias and just have to hope for the best. It's a Western Green Lizard (Lacerta bilineata) and I've never seen one before, so really surprised to see one here. Apparently their head and body length can reach 5 inches, and up to 16 inches to the tip of the tail! The next day I saw a small one with green colouring under its head so assume it's a young one of this species. That one was OK, thankfully.

Western Green Lizard just after we put it back outside.

It didn't look very happy so I hope it survived.
I didn't want to share the better photos I took which show up the injuries behind the head.

And in other wildlife news:

Tadpoles! More excitement as I haven't seen any here for years.
I also got to test out how a polarising filter really works against reflection!

But to get to the tadpoles I had to pass the ducks on the
narrow path, so they went into frantic nervous preening mode!

Drinker Moth caterpillar (Euthrix potatoria).
I couldn't find the ID myself but I have just joined an excellent insect group
on facebook and I get IDs in minutes, the people there are that good.

Yet to get an ID but this is either a wasp, or a bee that looks like a wasp!
That's a tiny weevil in the background and this activity is all inside a tulip.

A male Orange Tip butterfly (Anthocharis cardamines).
They are hard to capture as they never stay still for long.

Speckled Wood butterfly (Pararge aegeria).

We went back to the Marais de Sougeal last week. By this time the water meadow has been drained although there are a few mini lakes that are permanent, and water channels, streams and ditches, so plenty of water for the water birds that stay here all year round. This time we got to walk along the new path which was no longer flooded and discovered that the hut in the distance was none other than a brand new hide! With windows that open too, shock horror! 

The birds and ducks were very distant but we did clock up yet another Lifer - two Whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus)! They are migratory waders, wintering in Africa and here they are en route to their breeding grounds in the far north. These two could end up in northern Scotland, Iceland, Scandinavia or northern Russia, who knows! 

The path to the new hide. The bank is brand new and has been planted up with shrubs and trees.
I guess eventually we won't have much of a view over the meadow except from the hide.

Rubbish photo because it was so far away but I can't see as clearly
as this through my binocs! A Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus).

I went wandering off looking for bugs amongst the stinging nettles and comfrey that covered the bank between the meadow and the path, and found my first damselfly of the year!

Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans), violet form.
I believe this is an immature female.

After a while it hopped to another blade of grass.
I'm not sure what the red blob is, I wonder if it is an egg of some kind?

Then got fed up with the camera in its face and flitted off further away!

What amazes me is how grass and other plants survive being under water for a month or two then spring back and carry on growing like nothing happened. In the meadow were also many Cardamine pratensis flowers, known as Cuckoo Flower or Lady's Smock. This is one of the food plants for the larvae of Orange Tip butterflies.