Category Archives: Wild Life

Wild Life at the Phoenix Garden

Bee hunter

lilybeehusk

The Regale lilies are always popular with honey bees as the big scented flowers produce copious nectar and pollen.  This bee wasn't being busy, and on closer inspection it was clearly dead, a dry husk of a bee.  Just visible is it's assassin, a specialist predator of pollinators, the Crab Spider, Misumena vatia. The females lurk in flower heads to catch visiting pollinators and though only pea-sized will easily tackle prey as big as a bumblebee.  Preferring white or yellow flowers, they change colour to match their chosen bloom perfectly.  They don't only wait passively for prey to arrive though but garland the flowers with web trip lines too - around the back of the flower the spider was busy doing just that.

misumenavatia

hungry teasels

teasel1

Teasels are getting ready to flower, the soft, green buds are getting larger everyday. A shower of rain has filled the cups formed by the leaf bases. Already collecting is a fine collection of teasel-cup crud, and now small insects will drown in these pools. As their tiny bodies rot, the nutrients released will give the teasel a boost - teasels with cups full of prey produce many more quality seeds than 'un-fed' individuals.

teasel2

everyone wants to know what this is…

abutilon

 

Abutilon x suntense always attracts attention, adding early summer glamour beneath the wild pear tree. Eager-snouted visitors will draw the flowers up to sniff them, probably expecting to inhale a rich perfume but despite the flower's promise, there is none - it is none the worse for that. It will produce a succession of voluptuous violet blooms throughout May, June and into July. Fast growing, though short-lived, it easily reaches 3m in only a couple of years - hard pruning after flowering keeps it lower.

Below, a Nomada bee visits.  Solitary cleptoparasites of Andrena mining bees, the females sneak into the well-stocked burrows of mining bees to lay eggs. Disposing of the mining bee grubs, the Nomada larvae develop, feeding on the stolen supplies.  They are only active from late April to early June, so the flowering of the Abutilon suits their schedule perfectly.

abutilonnomada

 

bee house

beeboxview

Knocked up from a scrap of exterior-grade plywood, stuffed with paper tubes and given a quick lick of paint, our new bee house is up and ready despite the rain.  Many of the garden bee species are solitary and would naturally nest in hollow plant stems or old wood-boring beetle holes.  Many will happily use artificial nest sites and we've had good success with commercial bee boxes before - we look forward to seeing what species, if any, like this home-made version.  It has gone up rather late for the early Red Mason bees to use but, as in most things, it's better late than never.  After rolling all the paper tubes by hand, our gardener says "they'd better bloody well use it"

beebox2

One down…

flatrat

Outside the garden was this very flat rat, almost thin enough to label, stamp and send as a novelty postcard. In the garden, despite our ongoing pogrom, far too many remain in healthy 3D, feasting on visitor leftovers, and scaring the bejeezus out of our gardener, dashing between his wellies.  Locally, the rat population is up, while municipal treatments are down - we're unlikely to see the last of these blighters anytime soon.

The naughty ‘squeel’

squeel

Balanced up the pear tree, happily munching buds, is our lone squirrel.  Since arriving last autumn it has munched a mountain of buds, stripped bark and picked flowers a-plenty, this outrages our gardener.  Despite this, it remains as irresistibly cute as when it first arrived.  Benefiting from council cut-backs in Parks funding, it has not gone the way of all those that came before, for the council no longer provide squirrel un-friendly treats in the form of blue-corn rat baits in the churchyard. Lucky thing.

Weeds? Cow Parsley

cowparsley1Dancing across lacy white cow parsley heads are tiny gnats (don't panic, they're not bite-y) and early hover flies will join them, all to lap up nectar from the many open flowers.  Beautiful, native and invertebrate-friendly, cow parsley, Anthriscus sylvestris, is flowering now.  Wildly self-seeding, it will happily rush to colonise bare soil to fill any gaps, but in dense planting is rather well-mannered and unlikely to elbow out any neighbours.  There is a dark-leaved purple form available, 'Ravenswing' - it is equally colonising.  For easy population control, simply cut them down before they seed - if you feel you have too many, the simple carrot-y taproot makes them surprisingly easy to get out (we leave ours in).

cowparsley2

 

bite-sized birdy

magpie fledgeling

In retrieving a football from the fenced wildlife area, our gardener proved all too terrifying for this wide-eyed youngster, the first of the magpies to leave the walnut tree nest.  Unable to fly, the fledgelings will be hiding in the undergrowth under the watchful eyes of their parents for a while yet, and from the chorus of 'chack, chack, alarm calls ringing round the garden, it is only too clear how watchful the parent birds are being.  The next few days will no doubt see an increase in hostilities with visiting crows, a running battle that has lasted for months - for magpies hate crows as much as crows hate magpies.  Of course, despite the frantic parent's efforts, there is every chance this vulnerable little bundle will be snatched and carried off, to disappear down the throat of a hungry crow chick.  Good luck little magpie!

If you see these little bite-sized bundles around the garden over the coming days, please leave them well alone.  The odd's for their survival are unlikely to be improved by being chased about by mis-guided well-wishers.