Saturday, January 31, 2015

Where have all the croci gone?

Although weather-wise it doesn't feel as though winter has ever fully arrived, there are already signs of spring. I'm not stupid...well, stupid enough then, to think that we are out of the woods yet though. As I write, today is the last day of January and although February is a short month, dramas can still
unfold...'when winter comes howling in' as the song goes.
I found this quote that I liked: 'February, and the air's so balmy snowdrops and crocuses might be fooled into early blooming. Then, the inevitable blizzard will come, blighting our harbingers of spring...' 

Well this year the crocuses have already bloomed in January, but more of that later.


Wishing to find little projects to see me through the darkest days, I set about cleaning out the garden nest boxes and decided to install a little black and white video camera in one of them in the hope of watching blue-tits nesting come springtime...







You can see the white wiring installed to the top left of the left-hand photo. The right photo shows the little camera inside the box.

The wiring is then linked to a monitor inside my studio...

And this is the view I get of the nest-box...

No guarantee that this will be the chosen nest-box of course but fingers crossed-it has been used in previous years. 


  
After a dodgy start Thursday 29th January turned into a sunny but cold winter's day and so, eager to take advantage of the rare good weather, I loaded the car with my camera gear, plenty of warm clothing and a flask of hot coffee and headed for Tonbridge. 
My destination was the castle at the top end of town. By the time I arrived at around 11am we had blue skies...



The castle itself looked majestic set against the blue sky...




There were plenty of pigeons along the footpaths,eagerly waiting to be fed...
















And a robin that was obviously used to people and seemed quite friendly...



A female blackbird searching for scraps amongst the leaf-litter...





The best fun was watching the squirrels though. They were busy feeding on whatever they could source, probably seeking out their caches too and it was fantastic just to sit in the sunshine on one of the wooden park benches and observe them...











At one spot where I was watching them, I saw one particular grey that seemed to be spending quite a bit of time amongst the crocus...




It dawned on me eventually that it was actually picking and eating the crocus flowers...






I suppose I should have realised that grey squirrels being mainly herbivorous would eat not only nuts and seeds but also berries, and flower buds. I read up on this behaviour when I got home and found that when food is scarce, they will also eat insects, birds eggs, small rodents and even nestlings.
It turns out that crocus flowers are a real favourite with grey squirrels...



That was my very pleasant couple of hours spent at the castle this week and I headed for the car park with painfully cold hands, but a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment that fully compensated for any discomfort.

I resolved to re-visit on a warmer day and try for some more shots of the squirrels, but this time to try and take my time and capture some of them more animated...


Until the next time...



Wednesday, January 21, 2015

An Orange ladybird has 12-16 spots...whilst a 16-spot ladybird has 13-18 spots, does that make any sense?





Having recently introduced some random logs to the garden, in order to both provide a low feeding perch for the birds and to encourage more bugs, they have already started to pay dividends...






This rather large ground beetle was scurrying around one morning and with patience, I managed a few shots. As usual with these Carabid beetles, I can't be certain of an ID...



An Orange Ladybird (Halyzia 16-guttata)
Also known as Halyzia sedecimguttata. This ladybird was tucked away on one of the evergreen shrubs in the garden. The species usually sports 16 white spots, although it can be as few as 12 and is one of the ladybirds that gets attracted to the light of my moth trap in summer.





We've had some hard frosts and even a little snow of late and so the bug finds have been few, but I did get out one morning to take some pictures of the ice etc..


    


It seems that I really need to add a small tree of some description to the back garden, if I want to get as many species of wild birds visiting as possible. Most aren't keen on feeding in the open. Until that happens, I've placed a couple of feeders in the tree beside our front drive and in no time at all, have had good numbers of visitors that include these amazing Goldfinches...

 The usual reminder here that these videos won't appear in the e-mail version of this update-you will need to view online.




Amongst the ground feeding birds was this lovely Dunnock...









They are quite well camouflaged once they get into the leaf litter...



The Blue tits and Great tits have also been enjoying the sunflower hearts...






You are supposed to be able to tell in the summer months, how many yellowy-green caterpillars a tit has eaten by the yellowness of the male blue tit's breast.
They were certainly having a good feed of seeds and have been regularly emptying the feeder in less than a day; I even spotted one checking out one of the nest boxes...




Amazingly, there are still aphids in the garden too...


video



I suppose it is conceivable that this is the very same snail-eating beetle I found in the garden a while back? 


Silpha atrata



Silpha atrata 

Erm...what else have I come across in the garden since my last update? Well there was this rather beautiful moth cocoon...



Again I couldn't say with any certainty which moth this might be but I aim to find out. I have placed it in a small open-top container in a quiet corner, so that I can keep tabs on how it is doing come springtime.






I do know what this one is though; a butterfly pupa this time-the pupa or chrysalis of an Orange-tip butterfly in fact...




You can see in this photograph that the silk girdle has been broken; probably by the strong winds and rough weather we have had. However, the cremaster (that little dome between the stem and the pupa) is still holding the pupa fast against the twig and so I think all is well.






Macro photography offers huge rewards and satisfaction and a real sense of achievement when things are going well, but one of the curses of macro-photography is undoubtedly sensor dust. It is almost an occupational hazard that we all have to confront at some time and that time is now for me...

  
Cleaning your camera's sensor can be an expensive business with most stores charging an average of £50 per clean. For most jobs, these quality swabs are the alternative I choose to use: Costing me around £23 including delivery, they should be enough for 4 sensor cleans. That's my job sorted for this afternoon then...

Until the next time...