December, 2015

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!
  • Having a splashing time!

    I've almost finished my new pond, and some of the water is in, but it seems that the birds just can't wait for me any longer.

    So today I'm going to let the birds do the talking, with these photos I took this morning.

    First a Jay appeared on what will be the pond edge. Was it thirsty?

    No! The prospect of a quick dip was too enticing, so in it hopped, tail spread, crest erect.

    And if you're up to your belly in it, well, you might as well go for it...

    But it was the synchronised bathing as its mate came down that impressed me the most!

    Nature - you've got to love it!

  • Still all quiet at the feeders - but will it stay that way?

    At this time of year, with the rest of the garden rather quiet and drab, that I turn to the bird feeders for my splash of colour and action. Only this year even they are all rather subdued. I'm currently only having to refill the sunflower hearts once a week, and the peanuts and fat-balls less than that.

    I'm not worried. Not yet, anyway. Given that here in the south of England the November temperature was 3 degrees centigrade above the average and December is heading in the same direction, I think many birds are still happy out eating the natural bounty in the countryside.

    So at the moment, a little band of Blue and Great Tits have the feeders pretty much to themselves, with barely a quarrelsome Goldfinch to upset their snatch-and-grab flights back and forth.

    The two feeders they like the most - and I LOVE- are my Squirrel Buster feeders. I have a little one (this is me filling it up this morning)...

    and a HUMUNGOUS one.

    Buying them was quite painful on the wallet, but they have proved to be by far the best I have ever had.

    They are clever contraptions, designed so that the weight of a squirrel or even pigeon or jackdaw will close off the feeding ports. It works; it really works. I must be saving a fortune in seed that would otherwise be heading into the squirrels' cavernous guts.

    But they have the added benefit that the seed is kept wonderfully dry. As yet, I have had none of the clogging and rotting problems that you can get at the bottom of other feeders.

    Gee, it sounds like I'm doing a sales job on you, but I'm far too rubbish a marketing man for that! But I will give you hyperlinks to them so you can see how much they'd set you back - this is the little one, and this one the super-duper wallet-busting one.

    Have any of you tried them? Do you like them as much as me, or do you have other feeders that you would recommend? Cold weather can't be too far away, and with Big Garden Birdwatch on the horizon (30 & 31 Jan 2016), it's good to be all prepared!

  • Could it be (bee) magic?

    Dropping onto my doormat this week came something the wildlife world has waited a long time for. A very long time for. One hundred and nineteen years, to be precise. The first comprehensive field guide to British bees since the Victorian era.

    Written by the great entomologist, Steven Falk, and illustrated by that absolute master, Richard Lewington, the Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland is a magnificent book, and an eye-opener to what has previously been such a difficult group to get your teeth into.

    Feeling encouraged, I dipped back into some of the photos of bees I've taken over the years.

    This is one of the ones we most regularly see - the Western Honey Bee - which as the text describes is of course a domesticated species and ancient introduction from the Continent "with a limited ability to establish itself in a feral state".

    Then there are the bumblebees, of which there are 25 species in Britain including this very common one, the Common Carder Bee. In the book, the colour plates and photos show , small (for a bumblebee) and fluffy

    But it is the other approximately 250 species which have previously been that much harder to get into - the solitary bees.

    This is one of my favourites, the Wool Carder Bee, guarding a woolly leaf of Lamb's-ear. The female will shave the hairs off the leaf to make her nest chambers. You can just see the distinctive yellow dots down the side of the black abdomen.

    But what about this beauty (below)? It's really quite common right up to western Scotland and is called the Ashy Mining Bee. (This book helps us mere mortals by giving each species an English name rather than forcing us to struggle with the Latin). Would I be right in fashion terms to call the silvery fur a 'stole'?

    But I was interested to get much more confident with some of the many bees that are really rather difficult to identify. This one I'm now much more confident is the Orange-tailed Mining Bee - you can just see the gingeriness at her rear end.

    There is so much we can do to encourage bees in our gardens, and some of my Giving Nature a Home suggestions are here. Just ckick the box that says 'Bees', press 'Apply filter', and away you go.

    With the focus so much recently on the fate of our climate, bees have an added frisson because the UK is right on the north-western fringe of the range of so many species. The distribution maps in the book show how so many of them are currently restricted to the south and east of the country.

    But already we are seeing several species on the move. The Yellow-legged Mining Bee is moving fast into the Midlands, the Ivy Bee only reached the UK in 2001 and has already got as far as Pembrokeshire and Norfolk, and the Tree Bumblebee is the biggest mover of them all, arriving here also in 2001 but reaching Mull by 2014.

    Whether climate can explain all of these shifts isn't clear, but it is very possible that we will see yet many more climate-related population expansions in years to come. Our instinct is to get excited; our brains need to tell us that such changes are also a warning sign.