September, 2011

Homes for Wildlife

Homes for Wildlife
If you love the creatures in your garden, you'll love our Homes for Wildlife project. This is the place to ask and answer questions about making your backyard wildlife-friendly.

Gardening for wildlife

Follow the adventures of Adrian Thomas, our wildlife gardening expert, and be inspired to create your own wildlife haven on your doorstep. Adrian posts here every Monday and Friday without fail, so make it a date and drop by!
  • A surprise in the bushes

    I normally know what I'm going to write about in my next blog a day or two in advance. but sometimes something happens at the last minute which you know you must cover.

    And tonight, as I walked up my front path with the light fading, I heard something buzzing on the flowers of the Eupatorium ligustrinum bush outside my front door.

    I caught a glimpse of a little stripy body, busying itself among the white flowers - my first Ivy Bee in the garden.

    I managed a slightly better shot in the dusk:

    This is a bee that was only first discovered in the UK in 2001,  in Dorset, but it is now spreading north at an amazing rate.

    These are solitary bees, the adults digging burrows in which to lay their eggs and provision their larvae with nectar and pollen.

    It emerges in September ready for the Ivy blossom, and can be on the wing into November.

    And with those stripes, definitely one to watch out for.


  • Come to the back garden for the biggest range of carpets

    I got an email this week from a friend wanting to know what the moth was that had stuck itself to her lounge window one night recently. Here it is:

    Rather pretty, don't you think?

    She had looked through her moth book but just not found anything to match.

    That is one of the interesting things about many species of moth - because most 'look' for a mate using pheromones rather than sight, they are free to come in all sorts of colour combinations. The main thing is that each pattern must still camouflage the moth by day.

    Her moth was one of the Marbled Carpet moths. There are two very similar species - the Common Marbled Carpet and the Dark Marbled Carpet, and both are common across the whole of the UK, with the Dark being commoner in the north.

    And they are VERY variable. Here are a couple of 'carpet designs' of the same species from my garden:

    Their caterpillars feed on the leaves of all sorts of woody plants, including in urban areas. So check your lit windows over the next couple of weeks and see what pattern of carpet you've got in your garden.

  • Prime time for something out of the ordinary

    Now in autumn is prime time for some weird and wonderful birds turning up in people's back gardens.

    It is the time when millions of young birds of many species are beginning their first migration. Some can just go a little awry and wander a few hundred metres off course into the unfamiliar territory of gardens. Some get it hopelessly wrong and end up a few thousand miles off their intended route.

    For me, the couple of Chiffchaffs that spent a few happy days in and around my back garden were definitely the former. They flood the coastal scrublands down here in their dozens as they pass through heading south in September and early October, and my garden with its insect-rich Sycamores and pond clearly suit them almost as well.

    My parents up in Worcestershire got something a little bit more unusual. It could well have been a British-bred bird, but a rural back garden is not where you'd expect to find a Wheatear. These 'white-arsed' little birds (it's where the name Wheatear comes from - 'wheat' and 'ears' have nothing to do with it) breed up on our moorlands and mountains, and migrants are regular along many a coastal field or clifftop right now. But down amongst flowerborders and shrubberies is not where it should have been.

    Most unfortunately, they discovered it only because it flew into the dining room window and died. It is a fate for many young birds, and in this case was probably a bird that may never have encountered a window before in its life.

    I'm sure many of you will have had a window strike this year. With 16 million households in the UK, it seems quite feasible that several million birds meet their fate that way each year.

    It is a good reminder to put up those silhouette window stickers of hawks to scare birds off and attempt to reduce the death toll.

    I had a few days off up in Norfolk where this Wheatear was in much more familiar territory - in open ground grabbing the vantage point of a fencepost from where to dart into the grasslands after insects. But it just shows who knows what you'll find in your garden right now - keep your eyes peeled.