English rainforest (back garden)

We have been trying to increase the number of insects in the garden. This year we have put in a pond which is already full of life. The garden although small has 27 different trees and we are developing s definite English rainforest feel with layers of cover. The canopy comes from divided beech, hazel and greengages to list a few. The understory is roses and figs and syringa. The lower layer, foxgloves, ferns, hosta and species geranium. It’s amazing what can grow in a small space!

We have been rewarded with , bees,hoverflies, Holly Blue butterflies and birds galore enjoying the Perches, nest sites and cover. There are nesting sparrows, blackbirds, collared doves, pigeons and blue tits.

This year we have planted an area in the front garden as a mini orchard again with layers underneath of flowers!and fruit.We have tried the wildflower mix that you sprinkle, this seems to have worked and hopefully in a few more weeks will be an insect paradise.

Sitting in this wildlife rich garden is a delight and always interesting. Making changes to gardens, planting a tree, making a pond or sprinkling some wildflower seeds makes a huge difference . Imagine all the gardens from a sparrows eye view below, it would be an incredible patchwork habitat bust with wildlife.

A tale of two skies

It’s midsummer today , it’s 9.07pm and light there is a little cloud but nothing significant. Yesterday was a different matter at 9.07 yesterday it was full on drama.

This huge cumulonimbus cloud with spurting rainbows was looming over us as we drove home. These huge towering clouds with their flat tops and anvil shapes are full of thunder and rain ( we have had a lot of that) The sky was stunning.

The clouds we so solid looking it looked like you could slice or scoop some out.

As we drove closer to home it became hazy and pink as we approached a laser like rainbow going straight down.

On waking up super early today the sky had a different tale to tell. Clear and remarkably blue.

Gaps between rain

It has been a long period of rain with either thunderous bouncing off the ground, steady or drizzle type of precipitation ! We have certainly seen a range of rain for well over a week.

Yesterday there was a gap ( not for long) without any water falling.

I went for a quick walk to see the lake which was clear and full of fish , the surface was alive with whirligig beetles and the blue banded damselflies were everywhere.

What caught my eye was the amount of bees and insects in the planting areas in the centre of the shopping development. The bees were in large groups , almost bumping into each other on this plant.

This is a flower in the Laminacea family , bumble bees like this family of plants. They could be seen diving into each flower tunnel.

These leaves were also home to ladybirds and their larvae and pupa. There were a large number of ladybirds on these interesting mottled leaves

The other resident of this patch was a very attractive fast moving spider , it was sunbathing on the leaves but any movement would send It scurrying off .

These areas of planting are very attractive but also islands of brilliant habitat for invertebrates.

As I walked to the car …. it started to rain !

Magazine coming soon

I am really enjoyed writing this blog and discovering new things. Started in February I also have been writing a newsletter which has been mailed out and distributed. This has lead to the exciting project of a natural history magazine. I have been collecting articles from contributors from all over the country and further a field and it looks brilliant.

The magazine is called EXPLORATIONS and is out on July 13th.

If you would like to purchase a copy email me at naturetableexplorer@yahoo.com and I can post the magazine to you. It is a 52 page glossy publication packed with natural history no adverts.

The cost is £5 which includes postage and packaging (the cover price is £4.20)

There will be a launch day on July 13th at Rushden Lakes in Northamptonshire if you are around . The magazine is being stocked in a fantastic shop called magazine Heaven.

If you would like to be part of issue 2 coming out in December, send your article, photos ,? Ideas , notes etc to naturetableexplorer@yahoo.com

I will post more information about the magazine as it happens , EXPLORE MORE !

Damsels in flight

It has been one of those odd weather days. At the start of a walk at Nene Valley Wetlands it was windy and blue sky by the end it was muggy and grey brooding sky.

it is amazing the amount of height that these thistles and all the plants especially the grasses and brambles have managed to grow over the last few weeks.

As we walked through the gate and into the meadow area the number of tiny damsel flies was amazing . They are skimming around grasses and leaves , sitting with their wings folded and then off again. Sometimes they were in groups of up to 8 , mini swarms around the brambles. I only had my phone with me and they are very fidgety to snap.

There were mainly the very tiny blue banded damselflies.

Once you become focused on insects it’s amazing what you see.

Ladybird- A harlequin species .Ladybirds are beetles, there are 4000 species in the U.K. and 300,000 world wide. The harlequin ladybird is not native to Britain it arrived in 2004 but has now spread across the south and the midlands. It is a larger species than the native ones. They are adaptable and can live in a variety of habitats. It predates other ladybirds and is a threat to the native species.

Bumblebee

Honey bee

I love the umbrellas of the umbellifers, this is common Hogweed ( Heracleum sphondylium)9, there are always plenty of insects sitting on top of these flowery tables.

The insect finds continue, there were large numbers of these rather attractive flies. This is the scorpion fly ( Panorpa communis) the specimen in my photos is a Male , the scorpion tail end covers the genitalia it is not a sting.There are three species in Britain and they need careful identification with a hand lens. I am rather taken by these flies,the wings are very attractive.They feed on dead insects and steal from spiders webs !!

Also this glossy black fly ,I have searched this and found it is a phantom crane fly

I love the high gloss and it is found near water margins , Latin name Ptychoptera contaminata. There are only seven species in this family of insects. The larvae live in mud in the shallow water and have long breathing tubes.

Some mating

There were speckled wood butterflies which would not stay still long enough for me to photograph. We found a chrysalis that was empty , amazing structure.

This beetle hunts mainly in flowers it has shiny black wing cases (elytra).It is Cantharis rustica.

The dog roses are in full flower and look good enough to be at the Chelsea flower show along with the yellow flags.

The loop back was along the edge of a buttercup field next to a hedge and the damsel flies were everywhere. I am going back tomorrow with a proper camera .

The list of plants and animals seen on this 40 minute walk would be very long which is a lovely positive thing , EXPLORE MORE.

New lens outing to Sandy

The RSPB headquarters at Potton near Sandy in Bedfordshire is a great place to explore.

There is a visitors centre , car parking and picnic areas . It is a fantastic place for a day out.

I had a flying visit this week and took the new lens for my camera. I’m slowly learning how to use this bigger lens and have a monopod to steady it.

The flowers are what caught my eye on this quick visit. There are areas of birch saplings which have these lovely yellow brooms amongst them.

Other flowers which were attracting some large bumble bees were the Rhododendrons. These are not native and can become invasive if not managed. At Potton they are well managed.

The bumble bees were working their way around each flower and literally diving into the trumpets of each one.

The new lens is giving me a new ability to look at plants and animals in a different way . The leaves on this tree look beautiful when you spend a moment focussing just on them.

I’m looking forward to more adventures with this lens.

Flower corridors

I love the road verges as they flower through the year. At the moment verges are turning red with dancing poppies. The new road developments are coated scarlet with these delicate, red petaled beauties.

I parked my car next to a Costa at the new shopping development at Rushden lakes to walk through a newly developing road verge to investigate further.

There were over 26 obvious large flowering plants excluding grasses in this short expedition. The area was alive with bees,hover flies spiders and other invertebrates . Road verges form an important corridor habitat supporting plants and animals across the country.

These areas of new development are like an impressionist painting, full of colour and flowers.

Take a stroll though some of the flowers growing on the verge with me.

  • Sainfoin ( Onobryce viciifolia)
  • Forage Burnet (Poterium sanguisorba ssp balearcium)
  • Purple toadflax (Linaria purpurea)

Scented Mayweed (Matricaria chamomilla)

  • Poppy(Papaver rhoeas)

Welted thistle (Carey’s crispus)

Ribwort plantain ( Plantago lanceolata)

White Campion (Silene latifolia)

There are lots of plants on these verges , the list would be long, here is a short list of some other plants living in this new ground.

Red Campion ( Silene dioica)

Small flowered cranesbill( Geranium pusillium)

White clover ( Trifolium repens)

Red clover (Trifolium pratensis)

Lesser trefoil ( Trifolium dubium)

Ox Eye Daisy(Leucanthemum vulgare) – these are spectacular and are looking wonderful this year.

The amount of flowers around this development is wonderful as you can see by the following pictures.

As we drive past these corridors of habitats it’s worth remembering how important they are .

March of the aphids

I had an encounter with 100,000’s of moving aphids yesterday afternoon. I was standing under a pine tree in the front garden wondering why the seat was sticky and why the greengage bush was shiny and sticky. it was honeydew , from above.

Looking up I was taken aback the whole pine trunk was moving with huge black aphids, they looked more like beetles they were so big!

I became aware that I was being rained on with honeydew the sap eaten by the aphid oozing got out of its other end !!

Here is a little video of these sap sucking marchers.

Looking at some information on an RHS website this is probably Black spruce bark aphid ( Cinara piceae) it comments that they are very large and often mistaken for beetles which is exactly what I first thought. They form dense colonies and suck the sap from the bark of a wide range of picea trees. It also says that the heaviest infestations occur in May and June. These heavy infestations are spectacular and infrequent.

This morning I have been out to the tree and they have either moved on, are hidden or are late sleepers! There are none on the tree to be seen . Either that or a swarm of night flying ladybirds swooped down to feast in the night !!!

Walking over Time

I had to venture to Milton Keynes to the computer shop . I looked down at the polished floors and was pleased to see a beautiful Belemnite.

Belemnites are molluscs which became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period about 65 million years ago. They lived during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods a time of 135 million years.They are a member of theCephalopods the same group as squid and cuttlefish today.

The fossil remains that are found are often bullet shaped and are the hard part of the animal called the rostrum that is preserved as a fossil. They are sometimes found in large groups called bullet battlefield where a large number died together and were preserved. They have been found in the fossilised stomach remains of ichthyosaurs ( who would have feasted in them )

The largest belemnite rostrum found is one from Indonesia and is 46 cm long,the smallest is found in England and only 3cm in length.

As I wandered back from the computer shop I made another discovery beneath my feet . This time a beautiful ammonite with some great detail.

The Ammonite is probably the best known fossilised animal. The name ammonite comes from the Greek ram horn god Ammon.

They swam in the seas 250-65 million years ago again becoming extinct at the end of the Cretaceous. Ammonites are Molluscs also belonging to the group cephalopods. The closest living relative of the ammonite alive today is the nautilus that can be found in the Pacific .

I wasn’t expecting to see these fossils today , on fossilising trips we have our eyes peeled . At Aust last year we found some great ammonites and Folkestone in Kent has some beauties in the Gault clay, definitely need to visit there soon .

Here is a little piece we found.

Below are a couple of fantastic specimens from University of Oxford Natural History Museum.

E X P L O R E M O R E. … let’s go on a fossilising trip !

A little Mediterranean in the Midlands

It has been warm, even hot today . A trip to the Olive nursery in Northamptonshire was like a wander in Greece.

This hot Mediterranean feel was further added to by the appearance of a common lizard basking in the sun in the gravel under an olive tree.

The lizard ran between the wonderful trees.It was extremely quick.

This little lizard has a lifespan of 5-6 years. It is protected by the wildlife and countryside Act 1981.

An interesting fact about the skittish reptile is that it incubates it’s eggs inside of its body and the ‘gives birth’ to live young.They mate in April/May and have 3-11 young in July.

There are three lizards native to the UK they are

Common lizard

Sand lizard

Slowworm

The common lizard is the only reptile native to Ireland.

A fantastic encounter with a brilliant little lizard in sunny Northamptonshire.