"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Monday, 30 May 2011

Friday Night's Moths

I had the highest catch of the year on Friday by way of the number of indiviudal moths trapped and there were several new species for this year and a couple of possible garden ticks.

There were at least 22 Heart and Darts (some whizzed away as I was potting them). In hindsight, I really should be checking some of these more thoroughly in case I am missing Heart and Club and Turnip which are superficially similar.

A few of the Heart and Darts straight from the trap

One of the dreaded pugs - is this Freyer's??? There was also a very worn pug but I let it go more or less straightaway due to the struggle I have identifying even a well marked specimen like the one below!

Edit - Many thanks to Stewart (from the "Orthosia Enthusiast") for confirming my tentative id of Freyer's. A new garden tick!

Dark Arches - new species for the Year (if id is correct!)
Edit - Many thanks to Dean (DDD please see link under Blog list to the right of the page) for confirming my id.

Common Marbled Carpet (new species for the year)

I am finding it hard to id the moth in the photo below. I was hoping that the dark band at the base of the wing was distinctive but it appears not to be! The closest I can get is a possible Minor species. Tawny Marbled Minor? Although apparently it is almost impossible to separate Marbled, Rufous and Tawny Marbled Minor without checking out the differences in genitalia! Sorry, couldn't kill a moth just to confirm id let alone carry out the dissection!

Of course, it could well just be one of the Rustic species (another group of moths that give me a headache!)

Its quite a small moth (wingspan from wingtip to wingtip is around 10 mm)

Edit - Yet more huge thanks to Dean for identifying this moth as a Pale Mottled Willow (a new species for the year)

Setaceous Hebrew Character (a new species for the year). Have cheated a bit here and used a photo I took last year when I managed to get it to "pose" on a leaf.

As always if I have misidentified any of the moths please feel free to correct me!

Summary of Moths Trapped Friday, 27th May, 2011

9.15 p.m. until dawn

Minimum temperature 9.2 degrees centigrade

15w Actinic Skinner Trap

Heart and Dart x 22
Setaceous Hebrew Character x 1 (New for Year)
Shuttle-shaped Dart x 1
Dark Arches x 1 (New for Year)
Common Marbled Carpet x 1 (New for Year)
Edit Pale Mottled Willow x 1 (New for Year)
Edit Freyer's Pug x 1 (New for Garden)


Freyer's Pug?? Edit ID now confirmed by Stewart
Mystery Moth - Minor/Rustic sp?? Edit - Now identified by Dean as Pale Mottled Willow


Garden Species - 106
2011 Garden Species - 26 (slowy creeping up!)

I'll try and put out the trap again tonight or tomorrow as there are several species I had trapped by this time last year that haven't yet appeared. I live in hope of a Hawk-moth!

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Quick Update

Just a brief update on activities and sightings in the garden.

Sadly, the blue tit nesting attempt has now totally failed. The one remaining nestling died during the night. It is a shame as I was hopeful that now there was just one mouth to feed, the final chick might fledge. As mentioned earlier very little food was provided for the young especially compared to previous years when we've seen the adults constantly entering the nestbox every few minutes with food. It will be interesting to see in the next few weeks the amount of young blue/great tits that are seen in the garden and on the feeders which may give me an idea whether or not there has been a shortage of natural food which has affected breeding success locally.

Brian spotted a grey heron standing motionless by the pond early yesterday morning. I hope it wasn't after the newts! Also I saw a red admiral butterfly in the garden yesterday - my first sighting of the year.

Moths - Had quite a good catch (for me) on Friday night (the highest number of moths trapped so far this year). There are several new species for the year and I am still trying to identify two (a nicely marked pug for once not well worn AND I've managed to get a photo and what looks like a species of carpet). So I will post a full list when I've attempted to identify those two.

I am reading a rather superb book at the moment - "The Butterfly Isles - A Summer in Search of Our Emperors and Admirals" by Patrick Barkham. The book follows the author's quest to see all 59 species of butterflies found in the British Isles over the course of a year. I am not sure if he succeeds as I am only about half way through but its natural history writing at its best including details of butterfly collectors in the past and considering what the future holds for our butterfly species.

Reading this book has made me realise that there are still a lot of British butterfly species I have yet to see. The four species I would most love to add to my butterfly list are Swallowtail, Glanville Fritillary, Purple Emperor and Large Blue. Purple Emperor occurs in Warwickshire but the others would require journeys to stand any chance of seeing them. Whenever we go to the Isle of Wight I look out for Glanville Fritillary especially when we visit Compton Beach as I believe there is a colony on the cliff tops above the bay. Hopefully, one of these years I will get lucky and finally get a glimpse of this rare butterfly.

Butterfly Species for the Year - 11
Garden Butterfly Species 2011 - 8

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Afternoon tea, Interesting Church Ruins and a Toad in the Hole

Emily was given a gift voucher for her 21st birthday for afternoon tea in an upmarket hotel with a choice of venue.

Guess who was the lucky one picked to accompany her?!

(To be honest it was a relief to get away from the nestbox camera as one of the surviving two chicks had died during the night leaving just one. The nestling is obviously desperate for food but the female keeps brooding it and the male hardly ever brings in food.)

Emily had picked a hotel in South Warwickshire and we had originally planned to make a day of it and possibly visit Anne Hathaway's Cottage on the way but the weather was awful today so we decided to go straight to the hotel. A wise choice as when we arrived at Stratford we experienced a thunderstorm, hail and torrential rain!

Hotel in the rain
(Although a Hotel today, the buildings are leased from the Shirley Family, an old Warwickshire family, who can trace their lineage back over a 1000 years to the Domesday Book of 1066. At this time there was a manor house on the estate and parts of the orginal manor are incorporated in the buildings that stand today.

The present neo-Gothic mansion is the result of a major renovation carried out in the nineteenth century and consists of a variety of local stones - limestone from Gloucestershire, ironstone from Edge Hill, blue lias from Wilmcote and white lias from Warwickshire.

Afternoon tea was served in the Drawing Room and was delicious. A selection of finger sandwiches with four different fillings, homemade scones with clotted cream, strawberry jam, fresh strawberries and at least 7 seven miniature portions of different types of cake, cheesecake and eclairs! I elected to have Earl Grey tea - I haven't tasted this for years not since attempting to make Earl Grey wine (it was a failure!) and finishing off the remannts of the tea pack.

I had no plans to take a photo but a couple came in as we were finishing our tea and immediately got out the camera so I thought, blow it, and here's a photo of the empty tea table!

A few shots of the Drawing Room

View from "our" window

View towards the River Stour which flows through the hotel grounds

And look what I could see from this window - I immediately wanted to explore!

As we were leaving I asked about the age of hotel and "Madam" was given their history package from which I learn it has, in the past, been chosen as "The most haunted hotel in England" and has been the venue of several films.

I asked if we could have a look at the church and immediately a very kind and knowledgeable gentleman appeared, armed with golf umbrellas, who gave us a history tour of the Hotel, Gardens and Church. What Service!!

Gardens - The summer Loggia in the background is seventeenth century.

The original church on the site which was mentioned in the Domesday Book was rebuilt towards the end of the twelfth century with the new Norman church incorporating the remains of the earlier Saxon Church. In the eighteenth century the mill, and village surrounding the manor were demolished with villagers being moved to a village nearby. The Church was also partially destroyed and only the tower, walls of the Nave and South Transept Chapel survived.
It was certainly very atmospheric there with dark, threatening rain clouds on the horizon making everything look very gloomy.

Stained Glass Window in the Chapel

There were some intriguing gargoyles around the building

There is an interesting story attached to the carved toad placed in the wall.

According to the "history package" in 1859 workmen who were taking down an outer wall discovered a live toad in a cavity within the wall. They were unable to find how the toad had got into the wall as there was no access from the outside and they concluded the toad must have got into the cavity during previous building work 119 years earlier in 1740 and been accidentally sealed in! The toad must have lived in a state of hibernation for all this time. It was placed in a glass container but refused to eat and eventually died after 3 months. The stone toad in the photo above commemorates this incident. What a fascinating story!

Its a pity I can't win the Lottery because I could become very accustomed to "Afternoon Tea" and history tours!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Sad news re: Blue Tits

The nextbox camera revealed this morning that sadly two of the blue tit nestlings had died. I've been worried for several days that the adults do not seem to be providing much food - the mother still spends a lot of the time brooding the young. Perhaps they have mistimed their nesting attempt and there are not a lot of caterpillars around. Or perhaps the male is a poor provider? I have been watching the activities more than usual this morning and have only just seen the male visiting with food - to be honest I was beginning to think he had died!

Brian, my husband, has been putting out mealworms which the adults have been taking to the young and I have just put out some more. I have also seen the parents taking in food from the feeders (don't worry no whole peanuts, in fact I stopped providing peanuts a year or so back as they were never eaten) suggesting that natural food is scarce.

Hopefully, the two remaining nestlings will now get more food and will survive.

The female wren is still feeding young - she works tirelessly at her task! and yesterday I saw a young robin being fed on the lawn by the adults.

I have had a bit of a "bug" for the last few days and haven't been able to get out and take any photos so here's a few flower photos from the garden I took earlier in the month.

Oxeye daisies are now flowering in the wildflower meadow although there don't seem to be as many as last year. The composition of the plants in the meadow seems to vary from year to year with the dominant species changing yearly.

Tufted Vetch (just starting to flower) and Ribwort Plaintain

Red campion is now flowering profusely and there are a few flowers of white campion

I am not sure what this plant is called (I've just spent some time looking at gardening books trying to find it without success!) but I love the blue spidery flowers

Edit - Many thanks to Dean, for coming to the rescue yet again!, and identifying the plant as Perennial Cornflower.

And, finally, the rhodendrons are starting to flower

Sunday, 22 May 2011

What a Cute Moth!

I opened the moth trap yesterday morning to find in amongst the heart and darts, shuttle-shaped dart and inevitable pug, a rather pretty, cute little moth which I haven't caught before. And for once it looked pretty distinctive and was easy to identify as a pale tussock.

Pale Tussock

It seemed pretty docile so I got a few ivy leaves from the garden to try and take a more pleasing, natural looking photo. Unfortunately by this time it was starting to "wake up" and every time I tried to get it off my finger onto the leaf its wings were starting to whirr - a sign it was about to take off at any second.

I decided to let it go amongst some flowers in the garden and luckily it clamped onto a pansy stem and I was able to get a more natural looking record shot.

Summary of Moths caught on Friday, 20th May

9.15 p.m. until dawn

Minimum temperature 5.4 degrees centigrade

15w Actinic Skinner Trap

7 x Heart and Dart
1 x Shuttle-shaped Dart
1 x Common Pug (I think!) it flew off as I was trying to take a photo
1 x Pale Tussock New for Garden

Total number of species seen in garden 105

Total number of species seen in garden in 2011 = 21 (pretty poor total so far but it should rise substantially as the year progresses!)

Nesting Update

The blue tit nestlings in the nest box are growing quickly - their bodies are partially covered now in fine down. Two seem larger than the other two but the parents seem to be trying to give the smaller two more food. The two bigger ones don't seem to want to be brooded by the female who looks very puzzled and confused by their actions! The wire netting around the outside of the nestbox seems to be keeping the great spotted woodpecker away.

The wren is still going into a nest somewhere in the ivy with food. I am not sure exactly when she began feeding the young but they must be due to fledge soon.

I saw a recently fledged goldfinch near the feeders last week - it was having trouble trying to find somewhere to land! The one surving young blackbird now seems independent of its parents and the racing pigeon has disappeared so I hope it made it back to its loft.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Birdwatching Fair and new RSPB Reserve

We visited the Birdwatchers Spring Fair at Middleton Hall today.

There was lots to see and do with many exhibitors including birding holidays, secondhand books, cameras, binoculars, artists, outdoor clothing and footwear and repesentatives from Birdwatching Magazine, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, RSPB, BTO, West Midland Bird Club etc.

The most interesting part for me was the Warwickshire Butterfly Conservation stand which had lots of moths on display caught last night in the grounds of Middleton Hall. So I got chance to see species I have never trapped such as Blood-vein, Gold Spot, Peppered Moth, Poplar Hawkmoth and Swallow Prominent.

If you had time there were bird ringing demonstrations, digiscoping workshops, bird photography workshops (I would have loved to attend that one) pond dipping etc.

Middleton Hall itself is very interesting being a Grade II listed building which dates back to Medieval times. It was once visited by Elizabeth I and in the seventeenth century it was owned by Francis Willughby, a founder member of the Royal Society. He was greatly interested in natural history due to the influence of one of Britain's greatest naturalists, John Ray. According to the Birdwatching Fair programme Willughby and Ray's early work on flora and fauna classification formed the basis of the Linnean system. There is a craft centre at the Hall, 2 walled gardens and the largest man-made lake in Warwickshire.

I could easily have stayed at the Fair and Hall all day but the other reason for our visit was to walk over to the new RSPB reserve at Middleton Lakes which only opened a week ago.

The RSPB acquired the 400 acres of old gravel quarry in 2007 and the Reserve was initially closed to the public, apart from guided walks, whilst RSPB staff and volunteers (all of whom have done a brilliant job) restored the habitat.

I was really impressed with the reserve - it is much larger than I envisaged when we went on a guided walk several years ago. There is a rich variety of habitats - woodland, wetlands, pools, meadows, reedbeds with the River Tame and the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal nearby. It is great that the stretch of the Tame Valley between Birmingham and Tamworth is now served by a series of interconnecting Wildlife Reserves, Conservation areas and places that are rich in wildlife - Shustoke Reservoir, Ladywalk and Whitacre Heath NR's, Lea Marston Lakes, Kingsbury Water Park, Middleton Lakes, Dosthill Park and Local Nature Reserves nearer Tamworth. They form a superb wildlife corridor and part of the Wildlife Trust's vision of a "Living Landscape".

Birmingham and Fazeley Canal

Mrs Mallard and well-grown "ducklings"

This view shows some of the islands and reedbeds that have been created on one of the pools.

We saw a good variety of birds - highlights being a cuckoo calling in the woodlands and my first house martin of the year. Saw a brimstone butterfly and my first damselfly of the year - a beautiful male banded demoiselle.

There is a heronry of about 25 nests on the reserve and also a rookery. There were plenty of wetland plants such as cuckoo flower and, oh yes, yet more ragged robin!

Cows are used to graze part of the reserve and here is a calf with the "aah" factor!

I'm really looking forward to exploring this new Reserve a lot more in the future.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

One Year Old Today!

I have been getting a sense of deja vu recently whenever I do a blog posting on the nesting blue tits and it reminded me that I first started this blog a year ago today.

I am not sure how many people are regular visitors and how many just find the blog by accident through a google search. The popularity of my posts on fossils suggest quite a few are the latter!

Using the statistics supplied by Blogger most of my visitors are from the UK, next on the list (about 25% of the amount from the UK) are from the US. Third in the "Table" are the Netherlands followed by Canada and Australia.

Again using Blogger Statistics the Fossil posts take up 4 of the top ten most popular posts. The most popular post of all is "Fossils, Part 3: Graptolites and Stromatolites". In second place is "Its my 100th Post" followed by "Tour of the Hall" and then in third and fourth place are "Fossils, Part 2: Orthoceras and Belemnites" and "Spring in the Garden" respectively. For whatever reason its nice to know that people are visiting my blog.

A big thanks to my Followers and all those who leave comments and to everyone who has helped me with identifications.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

"Muck and Magic" - Visit to a Rather Special Organic Garden

I've wanted to visit Ryton Organic Gardens near Coventry for several years and when my friend suggested it as the destination for a day out yesterday I was really pleased.

The ten acre Gardens have been the home of the charity Garden Organic for over 25 years. Garden Organic was originally known as the Henry Doubleday Research Association and was first set up in 1954.

The Gardens include many small gardens all with various themes to demonstrate organic gardening such as a Herb Garden, Fruit Gardens, Bee Gardens, Allotments, Rose Garden etc., with areas also devoted to composting and pest and disease control. There are also woodland walks and conservation areas.

Here's some photos from a few of the areas we visited.

The Herb Garden which contains more than 200 plants



There is an area dedicated to low maintenance planting for large areas of ground

A view looking towards the World's biggest flower pot!

Cook's Garden - all the plants in this area have a part that is edible

Top Fruit Garden containing apple, pear, plum, quince, medlar and cherry trees

The Bee Garden full of plants which flower over a long time and are attractive to bees was one of my favourite areas

Biodynamic Garden - first opened in 2007. Biodynamic gardening is organic gardening with a holistic approach that encompasses spiritual and cosmic forces - a very interesting idea.

I really liked the Small Organic Garden which was originally created for the "All Muck and Magic" series on Channel 4 and shows brilliantly how even a tiny garden can be productive and pretty. The garden was overflowing with flowers, vegetables and there was even a tiny pond and blue tits were going in and out of a nestbox feeding young.

After visiting a few of the other gardens we had a rather nice lunch of homemade cream of vegetable soup in the Organic Restaurant.

It began to look more like rain after we had eaten but luckily we managed to visit a few more areas before the rain did arrive.

The Paradise Garden, comprising a Town and a Country Garden (in tribute to Geoff Hamilton, BBC presenter, gardener and author) and the Woodland Garden just beyond it was my favourite part of the Gardens.

And look some plants of ragged robin spotted by my friend - thanks Jackie!!

Rose Garden

And to finish off some photos of flowers from various areas of the Garden

The arrival of rain meant that unfortunately we didn't get chance to visit some areas, such as the RSPB Garden and Craftsman's Trees but, having finally visited, I will certainly be returning. If you are in the area it is well worth a visit and a great advert for organic gardening with healthy plants and lots of wildlife, especially bees, everywhere.

A lovely day out in great company.