Monday, 29 June 2015

Bees and Beetles

Phew! A busy weekend at work is over and I at last have time to sit in the garden, and tap out a few notes on the laptop, to update you on the latest news from the patch. Summer is racing ahead of us; in both the garden and the countryside nature seems to be almost tripping over itself in its rush to flower, seed, grow, breed before the days shorten. The day after tomorrow the calendar will flip over to July and the weather forecasters are daring to suggest heatwaves. In the garden, rose petals are dropping like confetti to the ground from blown blooms, and the sweet peas have hit their stride, scenting those quiet moments when you need it most. 
The sparrow numbers, and their chatter, seems to have multiplied as numerous fledgelings have apparently joined the boisterous bundles in the brambles across the road from the front window. They are coming into the back garden now too, helping the finches empty the bird feeders. One of the younger fledgelings is sat on the garden fence at the moment, begging with high pitched calls in the hope its parents will save it the effort of finding its own food. There are plenty of greenfly for them on the roses. 
Above my head two pairs of house martins are dissecting the airspace, one nesting in the gable of the house at the end of the terrace, the other prospecting the same location next door. Their constant chirrups and bubbling discussions are part of the soundtrack of the summer, I don't need to see them to know they are there, but it is good to look up from the screen occasionally and catch a glimpse of triangular wings and a flicker of black with white.  

Six days ago, before my latest run of shifts at work, the weather was almost as sunny as today. Despite the columbines having gone to seed, and the foxglove spire only holding aloft a handful of pink gloves at the very tip, the garden hummed with insects. Solitary bees and bumblebees were amongst the most numerous within the borders, whilst further along the street a front garden filled with purple lavender at its peak, persuaded honeybees to join their ranks. 
I have noticed that it seems to be an excellent year for honeysuckle, at least on the Oak By The Rife Patch, which may explain an unusual sighting I had when walking into town that day last week. A patch of brambles, opposite the abandoned caravan park* always attracts plenty of bumblebees. One movement however was no bumblebee. Its notable size and rapid flight caught my eye, and its clear wings bordered with dark edges, and square ended, yellow and black furry abdomen marked it out as something different. Although it didn't rest, and the view was a little blurred by movement, I saw enough to convince me that I may have just seen my first ever Broad Bordered Bee Hawkmoth, a nationally scarce species that I had only ever seen in the books.  My brief sighting replayed over and again in my head all afternoon. The description fitted perfectly; its main food plant honeysuckle is plentiful in the area, it was flying early afternoon, and had those dark bordered wings. 
My walk home later that afternoon provided a momentary distraction when a beetle crossed my path. Or perhaps I crossed hers. Either way, we were both on the same piece of pavement at the same time, and she was heading blindly into the path of rush hour traffic. I carefully transported her to the nearby tree, which had a convenient crevice under the bark where she could hide out until evening, pausing to take a good look at her first. It's not everyday you can take a photo of a female Lesser Stag Beetle sat calmly on your finger.  

*This location is in its third chapter of life. Originally a gravel extraction pit, the excavations became a lake and the surrounding tree-lined bowl was used as a secluded site for mobile homes. Since the park closed down, planning permission for housing development has been considered but several years have passed with no activity. The local angling club have used the lake for competition fishing, and a few characters have made use of the derelict buildings as temporary squats, but for recent months the site, and its wildlife, have been deserted and left to itself. The lake has spread, as the water table has risen, and scrub has begun to reclaim the concrete. Kingfishers, foxes, badgers and tawny owls are known residents or visitors. Ivy climbs the trees and buddleia blooms. I am sure reptiles will bask on the sun bathed rubble piles, and maybe in the early afternoon, a colony of rare broad bordered bee hawkmoths throngs around the masses of honeysuckle.   

Monday, 15 June 2015

A Local Patch Update

It has been a little while since I last invited you to accompany me on a nature walk around the local patch. I have been recording all my own experiences for '#30DaysWild', a challenge by The Wildlife Trusts to do something wild every day during June, and you can read all the adventures so far, and for the rest of the month on my dedicated 30DaysWild page. (click on the button on the menu bar at the top of the page, or follow this link: "My #30DaysWild"
In the meantime, Summer is well and truly upon us and the patch is changing by the day; new flowers blooming, old ones fading and setting seed. I saw a Silver-Y moth yesterday, my first of this year, but the orange tips no longer dash brightly along Jubilee Path. Cuckoo flowers and celandines, even the bluebells, have all been replaced by tassel-topped grasses now beginning to dry to seed, hemlock-water-dropwort rocketing skywards, and bramble flowers that promise finger-staining, sharp juicy blackberries, in just a few short weeks. 
I have found oak-apple galls on an oak sapling, and hawthorn berries starting to form. Spiky nodules where candles of flowers recently cloaked the horse chestnut trees are waiting with swell into conkers, with rain from late-summer storms. A red kite drifted over the town car park earlier this week, and grey heron has been fishing at South Pond in the seclusion of cool evenings. It has been good to hear the yellow hammers sing. The female blackbird was too intent on collecting mud to line her nest, and she forgot to keep an eye out for the male sparrowhawk. Her mate has soon moved on, there is little time for grief in nature, he has already found a new partner. 

When I started this blog, we took a walk 'together' through three main sections of the patch; Pitsham Farm, South Pond and the town, and Cowdray flood meadows and St Ann's Hill. This month, I have been pleased to acquire a larger scale map of the area in which my patch sits, and decided to set a specific boundary to the patch. With the help of some string and a steady hand, I decided a two mile radius circle from my front door would form the outside edge of the local patch, with the previously mentioned locations fitting snuggly within a one mile inner circle that is my 'Doorstep Patch'. Much of the blog will feature this 'Doorstep patch', as I make forays into the wild for some nature therapy squeezed between busy shifts at work, but occasionally, when the weather is set fair and time allows, I will share with you some adventures and sightings from the less frequently visited extremities of the patch. 
Why two miles? It means everything is within approximately 1 hour's walk from my house, accessible and tangible. 

From where I am sitting as I write this blog, I am nearly level with the bird in my neighbour's garden birch tree, through an upstairs window. Goldfinches are amongst the green triangular bunting-leaves, eyeing up their breakfast in the seed feeders in my garden. 
The finches have been a delight over the past few weeks, as they have been coming to the feeders more frequently and in increasing numbers. Their flickering gold, white and black, their constant twittering and noisy scraps have become a daily, almost permanent fixture, whilst they seem determined to empty the feeders with ever quicker efficiency. 
Often these dainty birds with their painted porcelain appearance are joined by their larger bulkier cousin, the greenfinch, which I am pleased to say also seem to be doing well. 
Greenfinches have been hit hard by disease in recent years, so it is great to see 'mine' looking so healthy (and hungry!) 

Beyond my doorstep on the wider patch, as summer rushes on, there are many wonderful nature moments in progress which I am desperate to fit in the time to see. 
I made my annual pilgrimage to the silver studded blue butterflies on Stedham Common slightly too early this year and on a cloudy day; I must make another trip. 
On warm evenings, when the midges are out in force, nightjars have been heard making their other-worldly churring songs over Heyshott Heath. 
Soon, majestic fritillary butterflies will glide along sunlit forest rides, and at dusk, fallow deer does will tip-toe from the shadowed tree-line with their growing fawn a few steps behind. 
I saw a young robin at the allotments a few days ago, still speckled and lacking the characteristic red breast, but already with the bold attitude that makes us smile every time they follow us around the garden hoping to steal a few worms. I wonder if its parents are already thinking about a second brood?
On downland fields and road verges orchid season has begun, and the general abundance of growth across the hedgerows and lanes, woods and meadows means there is always something new to see. 

About Me

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Hello! Thank you for viewing my blogs and profile. I am passionate about the countryside and british wildlife and I hope that this comes through in my blog. I am a nature writer and have been pursuing photography since early teenage years, whilst building a career in conservation. Helping people to reconnect with the natural world is very important to me, whether through direct hands on interaction, education or literature. Please also visit my website, for more information, my current CV, and further examples of writing and photography. You can contact me or keep up to date with new blog posts via Twitter @SophiEcoWild and/or Feedback, comments and audience participation are always welcome! Sophie May Lewis