Bee Viewing Box

We have a bee viewing box attached in a very sunny spot on the side of the hide. The front is removable with glass tubes so you can see whats going on. And, this year, this is whats going on:

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These are the eggs of the Red Mason Bee (Osmia bicornis) – one of the bees that use tunnels in wood to lay its eggs and so would be an expected user of insect hotels. They build mud plugs and, in-between these, put a pile of pollen and lay a white egg on the pollen. Once the tunnel is full, they build a thick mud door. Here are some more photos of the three tunnels that are built so far:

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You cannot help but have respect for this wonderful bee and the amount of work that is involved in all of this. Here she is working on the door of one of her tunnels

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Red Mason Bee

And this next photo shows a blob of wet mud that she deposited before she spread it over the door.

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The Schwegler box that we have is shown below (only the bottom right tunnel has been completed in this photo)

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However, I now understand that bee experts do not approve of these boxes – the glass viewing tubes are not porous leading to fungal problems within the nest. I think it is too late to do anything about this now since four tunnels are already being worked on by the bees, but we will retire it as soon as we can and have just bought a replacement box that gets round this problem and can be cleaned of lingering parasites. Looking forward to that arriving and seeing how its constructed.

And talking of parasites, also hanging around the box is this little lady:

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The Ruby tailed wasp, Chrysis ignita.

Although she is tiny and doesn’t ever keep still – so frustrating to try to photograph – she is the most beautiful thing. I attach below an internet photo to do her justice:

Chrysis ignita

However, her lifecycle is not as admirable as her appearance. She is busily investigating all the holes in the wood of the shed to try to find mason bee nests into which she will lay her eggs. These will hatch and feed on the mason bee eggs and larvae as they grow.

The more I learn of the complicated interactions between these different insects, the more fascinating it becomes. More time is going to be spent hanging around the orchard with a camera.

 

 

 

Emergence Part 2

We now have 60 to 70 empty Emperor larval cases clinging lifelessly to the reeds in the pond, the dragonflies having burst forth and flown away.  We were confused about how so many emergences had happened without us being able to catch a single one in progress.

That is until we went for a stroll down to the pond in the gathering dusk last night:

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Oh my goodness – they were emerging at dusk. There were about 10 emergences going on and so I rushed to get my camera to take some photos while there was still some light:

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There was one larva that was just climbing up and still moving:

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Once in position, within 5 minutes the dragonflies eyes started protruding from the back.

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By this time it was getting properly dark meaning we were trying a mixture of using the camera flash and shining a torch and using no flash. Also, by this point I had waded out into the pond up to my knees in the dark in bare feet, trying to push away thoughts of medicinal leeches. Although there are leeches in the pond, they are not the sort that suck human blood but, once that thought was in my head, it was difficult to bat it away.

Here are some more photos I took while standing in the pond in the dark (NB surprisingly warm water)

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And this one which I find a bit unsettling:

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This pair that had originally caught my eye stayed in this position for a long time until I thought the lower one must be a failure to launch:

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But, just as I was about to try to extract my feet from deep in the pond mud, I saw that it had finally completed its back flip:

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I returned to the pond at 5.30 this morning to see if they were using the early morning sunshine to warm up and pump out their wings, but every single one had already gone leaving more atmospheric empty shells clinging to the reeds, rocking back and forth slightly in the wind.

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Ringed

We are having quite a successful year in terms of nest box occupation – already 7 boxes have been or are being used. Nothing more exotic than Great Tits and Blue Tits but its a very positive start.

However, sadly the two Kestrel boxes and the Little Owl box stand resolutely empty. Also empty are the three boxes put onto poles round the older pond as part of the Tree Sparrow project. However, when we look inside we see this:

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There were droppings in all three boxes and so maybe birds have been sheltering in the boxes during the winter?

Two of the adult birds using the boxes are wearing rings:

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Blue Tit with a ring on its right leg
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Similarly, a Great Tit with a ring.

This is no doubt because we have a licensed bird ringer living near the meadows and Blue Tits and Great Tits don’t ever travel very far.

In fact, very excitingly, this coming Autumn this bird ringer is going to be using the meadows to set up his nets and do his ringing. He had a trial session a couple of weeks ago and, in three hours, caught a Blue Tit (maybe the one photographed above?) and two Whitethroats. I hope he wasn’t too demoralised. Here is a photo that he took of a male Whitethroat. Its a bird that spends the winter in scrubland in West Africa, just south of the Sahara. The Summer it is spending in the hedgerow alongside our meadows in East Kent.

Common Whitethroat male (1)

Not much ringing is done during the breeding season but, come the Autumn, it will be a wonderful opportunity to see what migrants pass through here as they make their way south.

Emergence 2017

The dragonfly emergence is underway down at the older pond. Two species of dragonfly are emerging, Broad Bodied Chasers and the largest British dragonfly, the Emperor. Both species are known as early colonisers of new ponds since, even though this is the older pond, it is still only two years old.

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Broad Bodied Chaser, newly emerged and ready to fly away
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Another Broad Bodied Chaser with its abandoned shell in the background.
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The abandoned shell of a Broad Bodied Chaser. The dragonfly emerges through the shoulder area leaving white strings
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The abandoned shell of an Emperor
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The abandoned shell of an Emperor. Notice the empty eyes and the white strings in the back where the dragonfly emerged.
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The Emperor. An enormous thing. This one’s wings hadn’t managed the pump up with enough blood. It was here for at least a day before it disappeared. Either it managed to get its wings straight or it eventually became a bird’s lunch.
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Muddy fingers included to give an idea of scale.
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This Broad Bodied Chaser also hung around for a very long time. It was only when I looked at my photos did I realise that she only has one set of wings inflated. The second set of wings are little stubs still. After a couple of days she disappeared – probably eaten because she didn’t seem to be able to do anything about the wings. But maybe it was a happy ending, I don’t know. I should have set the trap camera on her.
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Also emerging are these Azure Damselflies. There are a lot of them flying over the pond now

Here is the pond itself at the moment:

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Not much open water – probably too vegetated and thats something we will have to tackle in the Autumn. There are some lovely stands of Yellow Flag Irises which are much loved by Bumble Bees.

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Also the reeds at one end are the territory of three Small Blue Butterflies who are sunbathing there all the time. These are very rare, red listed butterflies and so it is lovely seeing them here:

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This pond has been the focus of much of our attention over the last few days as we have been watching for dragonfly emergences. Yesterday I saw a spider – obviously a water spider because it was very at home in the habitat. It didn’t look like it was a land spider that had fallen in by mistake and was desperately drowning. I didn’t even know there were such things as water spiders but I have pre- ordered a book of British Spiders and, when it gets published this month, I will be able to look this boy up and tell you more about it. I don’t like spiders.

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A water spider – will be the subject of further work and identification in the next little while. Think the white sac might be an air bubble for buoyancy.

The Wonderful World of Mothing

I am in awe of the beauty and variety of the moths that I find in the moth trap. Here are three beauties from this weekend:

White Ermine
White Ermine

A very glamorous moth. It is common and widespread, its caterpillars feeding on nettles and dock. Here is a close up showing its wonderful antennae:

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And here is another show-stopping moth:

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Pale Tussock

Just look at those furry legs and its another moth with fantastic antennae. This moth is also common, its caterpillars feeding on broad leaved trees and shrubs. Here is a more normal view of it:

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And my final moth for now is the Pebble Prominent:

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Pebble Prominent

Another striking looking moth and also one with lovely furry legs again. This common moth’s caterpillars feed on Sallow and Willow trees.

So there you have it. The number and variety in the moth trap is building up as the year moves on. Before too long there will be a daunting array in there awaiting my attentions in the mornings. But for now it is nice to have the time to step back and marvel at these under-loved and undervalued creatures.

 

Bee Guardianship

In 2018 we are going to be bee guardians for a collection of Red Mason Bees. Mason Bees are solitary bees who nest in holes and then use mud to cover the entrance and the Red Mason Bee, Osmia bicornis, is not doing very well and needs help.

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The idea is that we get sent cocoons in March 2018, we hatch out the bees and let them live in the meadows. They don’t go far – the female is thought not to travel more than 30m and she will spend the summer feeding on the lovely blossom. In due course she will lay eggs in the tubes that we also put out. The tubes are then sent back to the company who open the tubes up, clean out any predators and send out another batch sent out the following year. Obviously the hope is that each year you are sending back more bees than you start off with but I understand that this was not the case in 2016 when they suffered a terrible year.

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Internet photo of a Red Mason Bee. Unlike Honey Bees, it carries pollen on its tummy rather than on its legs. They are ‘Red’ Mason Bees because of a covering of dense gingery hair.

These bees are 120 – 200 times more efficient pollinators than Honey Bees. As well as helping the species in its struggle to survive, we get the additional advantage of having these bees pollinate our orchard and allotment. The company gets the additional benefit of also selling the cocoons to farmers to help with their crops.

So the bees are arriving next Spring but the company has sent us out equipment already

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and recommends that we put up the tubes this year and any bees that are already present may use the tubes to nest in. We can then send the filled tubes back this year if that happens.

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The tubes are meant to be 1.5m from the ground, facing south east in full sun and angled slightly down so that rain can run out. We have put ours in the corner of the allotment.

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If we have Mason Bees here in the meadows already, they will be on the wing until July and so maybe we will be successful. Time will tell.

 

Badger Cafe

The word has got around and last night there were five separate badgers visiting the peanuts we put down in front of the hide every evening that we are around. It has been so dry this Spring that the ground is hard and worms are hard to come by and so a peanut boost is probably most welcome.

Our visitors last night included these two new adult badgers that I have not seen before:

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Also visiting were the female badger and her cub from the sett that we have cameras on. The cub is out foraging with its mother every night now and this does include swinging by here to see if peanuts are down:

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The cub in the foreground, larger now, but still so fluffy and playful.

The fifth badger is the male we call Scarface

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Scarface hanging around the sett

He is very recognisable with this scar over his right eye, a smaller scar over his left eye and a really quite ridiculously long tail which he often holds up in the air:

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Sadly, it seems most likely that the cub’s father has died. Although we had been watching the pair of badgers who became the parents of this cub for months, we now haven’t seen the male for over two weeks and, when we saw him last, he clearly wasn’t well.

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Prominent bones and a pronounced limp
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Screen grab from the last video we have of the family together. The male in the middle was not looking or acting at all well.

Since the cub’s father has disappeared, Scarface has been hanging around the sett clearly wanting to join in but is chased away by the female. I understand that is is not unknown for males to kill cubs that are not their own and so its a tense time at the sett on the cliff and one that I will continue to anxiously follow.

And we will keep the Badger Cafe open and serving peanuts, at least until it properly rains again and worms start coming up.