Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2014's been a bug mad year

A pond full of froglets and a blackbird nest in a bush in the garden prompted the creation of our blog, so that we could record some of the interesting and amusing things that my wildlife mad daughter got up to. We never knew what would come next or if anybody would care, but that didn't really matter as we had a ball doing it all. Almost 250 posts later, it's become quite addictive and has really made us pay attention to what's going on in our back garden and local patch. We even got a mention in the BBC Wildlife magazine. It's given us all something else to think about in what can only be described as a challenging year for our family.

There are so many good memories, but these are the ones that stand out for me...

Our beautiful little back garden birds and all their babies have kept us constantly amused with their antics, particularly the chap sparrow family, the hover robins and the blackbirds. The red kites have been stars, with Kenny and Katrina nesting in Nanny Moth's back garden (no chicks this year, but fingers crossed for next year) and our own local kites taking food from our lawn.

We had a lot of fun raising the death's head hawk moths from eggs, watching the enormous caterpillars grow, pupate and then emerge as Bob and Betty. We fed them honey water and listened to them squeak at us. An army of very hairy buff tip moth caterpillars ate their way through a branch of our silver birch tree and a borrowed moth trap provided us with many exciting mornings searching through it to see what we'd caught. Our best finds have to be the elephant and poplar hawk moths, as well as some of the big beetles that found their way in there. Finding the little blue butterflies (small blue, chalkhill blue and Adonis blue) out on the Chiltern chalk grassland stands out and we even found a little brown 'blue' in the brown argus.

Our nettle patch was a big hit as it was home to ants milking aphids, ladybird 'mini-monster' larvae, the much more elegant adult ladybirds, spiky black caterpillars (peacocks, small tortoiseshells and commas) and all sorts of spiders, shields bugs and beasties.

We found out we had a hedgehog regularly visiting our back garden, were entertained by Stumpy the squirrel with no tail and enjoyed searching through the woods for the gigantic roman snails.

It wasn't all about the animal kingdom though. We were wowed by masses of spectacular orchids and searched for and found rare Chiltern Gentian. Then we spent several weeks snuffling through the fallen leaves looking for fungi, with the discovery of an earthstar being the highlight, closely followed by the magpie ink caps.

Some of it inevitably 'got away' and despite our best efforts we just couldn't find a few things, including a starfish, glowworms, fly agaric, purple emperors, red squirrels and the Mountshannon white-tailed sea eagle. All things we can look forward to trying to see over next year, along with who knows what else.

Happy New Year and here's to a brilliant and wild 2015!

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Frosty mornings

We've had a hard frost for the last two nights, down to about -5°C.  I love it when it's frosty and sunny in the morning and everything looks like it's sugar coated.

Ice crystals on a broccoli leaf

A clematis flower head
Ivy leaves

The nettle patch was very sparkly

The nyger feeder may have to defrost a bit before the Goldfinches use it
The big birds looked a bit fed up with the cold and were hanging out all morning in the Silver Birch tree in the garden. I counted at least 17 birds in one tree, mostly woodpigeons, but there were a few rooks and jackdaws as well.


A rook

A puffed up woodpigeon
The little birds didn't seem to mind the cold and were flitting about as normal, enjoying the extra food I'd put out for them. One of the sparrow mums appears to be nesting! She also looked like she might jump in the bird bath, then thought better of it. Too cold even for her!

One of the sparrows in their favourite bush outside our bedroom window

One of the female sparrows appears to be nesting

Will she or won't she jump in ... not this time!
I put lots of extra treats out on the bird table, so put the trail camera out to see if anything unusual paid us a visit. Mrs Blackbird didn't seem overly worried it was there and seemed to want to know what it was staring at! It mostly caught pictures of the magpies and woodpigeons.

The squirrel couldn't resist the tasty treats and helped himself, watched by a chaffinch.


Sunday, 28 December 2014

Treasure hunting

We wrapped up warm and headed off for a treasure hunt this morning on Whiteleaf Hill and Brush Hill. It was a family event organized by the Chiltern Society and we all had a great time. We split up into groups and with the help of a volunteer, we collected as much treasure as we could find.
It was a cold and frosty morning, but the sun was shining

The kids disappeared to find a twig from a lime tree
 The sheep were out in the field, so we tried to count them. The farmer took them away later in the morning, as they'd finished their work keeping the grass short.

Looking 'sheepish'!
We discovered we have a baby birder in our midst - he's very happy when he has a pair of binoculars to look through.

We heard a woodpecker drumming in the woods and saw a kestrel fly past and land in a nearby bush.

A kestrel

The kestrel watched us from a nearby bush
Then we headed back to the meeting point to have a look at all of our discoveries, which included an impressive assortment of leaves, flower heads, mosses, lichens, snail shells, fungi, cones, beech masts, ferns, wool, etc.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Moon moths on your Christmas tree

We spent the day at Uncle Butterfly's house. Only he could have real Moon Moths as decorations on his Christmas tree!

Moon moth

Comet moth (a type of moon moth from Madegascar)

Chinese moon moth
Even in the depths of winter he has something munching its way through a pile of leaves, or fluttering away in a corner.

Atlas moth caterpillar
Chinese moon moth caterpillar
Something green and spiky!

Two-tailed Pashas - looking a bit battered, so the tails on their wings have gone

Friday, 26 December 2014

Yoesden bank in the winter

Bug Mad Girl and I went for a walk around Yoesden bank this morning. It's made up of a chalk grassland slope, with woods running down the back of it. In the summer it's a wonderful site for wildflowers and is alive with butterflies, crickets, bees and all sorts of life. It was very different today and felt very quiet except for the twitter of Great Tits, Blue Tits and Long-tailed Tits.

We walked down through the woods first. All the leaves were gone, except for the occasional evergreen Yew and Holly and it felt quite stark and bare.

Some festive Holly and Ivy
When we start to look carefully though, we spotted the first signs of Spring and some of the trees and bushes were showing their buds.

We also spotted some of the other things that we may have otherwise not noticed, like these lovely lichens.

Bug Mad Girl found a woodlouse caught in a spiders web, then noticed the spider underneath the web. This was a Snakes-back spider and gets it's name from the markings on it's body which vaguely resemble an Adder. They leave a hole in their webs and lay trip wires around it, then rush out and capture it when something 'trips' the wire.

We walked back along the grass slope. It looks like there have been cattle grazing there, presumably to keep the grass short so the wildflowers and orchids can grow in the spring. Then we spotted a flock of Fieldfares in a nearby field. They're in the Thrush family and arrive in November, spending the winter here then leaving in April.

Driving home we spotted Barry the Buzzard sitting in a tree. He posed for a quick 'Happy Christmas' and a photo then headed off.