Since our previous calendar entry which focused on a garden in Devon, the rest of July and most of August have been defined primarily by the ongoing heat wave and record high temperatures across the country.
On the 18th July 2022 the weather station in Totterdown (Bristol), around 2 miles from the Wildlife Garden, recorded the highest temperature on record for the area, 36.9 degrees. The photograph below of the garden was taken on the same day. An impressive and worrying record no doubt. Yet more worrying still, at least for wildlife in the short term, was the prolonged heatwave/drought.
We noted the hazel starting to shed leaves which can be a sign of heat stress (already the term False Autumn is being banded about in the media) but since this date we have had a couple of decent downpours which may have helped a little.
At this stage the garden was holding up rather well, but fast forward to 12th August 2022 (photographed below) and you can see the short mown grass has largely dried up, leaving the surrounding lush longer vegetation in sharp contrast.
Many front gardens in the area have bird baths, unfortunately not many seem to be regularly filled. What many people may not be aware of, as its not immediately obvious, is that its not just plants and large animals that suffer from dehydration, so to do invertebrates. Slugs and snails all but disappear during droughts, finding refuge in a variety of places, like this brown lipped snail sheltering under a shaded leaf photographed on 7th August 2022. Unnecessary disturbance within the garden is often a bad idea, but during drought it’s best to limit disturbance as much as possible to avoid impacting negatively on wildlife seeking life saving shelter.
Of particular interest was the almost constant flow of Common Wasps visiting the wetland pond to collect water, before flying off in a northerly direction, we assume to wherever their nest was. This raises an important point, that not all animals are seeking to hydrate themselves. Many take water back to hydrate or cool their young or to use it in some other way, for example to create nest building materials. We suspect the wasps filmed below were using the water to help produce large quantities of saliva which they need to mix with chewed wood fibre in order to construct their ‘paper’ nests.
During the drought the number of wasp visits was staggering, with new wasps arriving every minute or two and this continued throughout August and into September. As the heat wave continued the duck-weed flourished and soon carpeted the surface of the open water. This made for easier access and the wasps were soon arriving in ever increasing numbers. Here are a few more examples taken over a few short minutes on the 12th August 2022…
Not all species wish to attempt obtaining water in this way. It is not without risks as the image below of a drowned wasp perhaps demonstrates. Although we didn’t see exactly what happened, we did note other wasps scrambling over the surface and occasionally slipping between the duck weed.
As noted above, water is not just needed for hydration. Many vital minerals are only available in solution and when you see some species, butterflies for example, drinking from muddy pools (especially when cleaner safer sources are available) one theory is they may be attempting to take in salts and minerals as well as water for hydration.
In the video below we dampened a small area of grass with rain water from a water butt and within minutes several flies and small white butterflies were seen drinking directly from the soil surface.
Of course it wasn’t all about the heat wave, we enjoyed some other moments, such as one of our poor Flower Crab Spiders having no luck in the hunting department…
And of course there were a few new species to be added to the species list. One nice surprise from the wildflower areas was the appearance of White Campion as well as Self Heal. Great Willowherb was also added to the list near the wetland area.
And finally on the plant front, we should soon be adding oxeye daisy to the list. We have loads of these now doing well in the garden but as they were sown this year (or grown on from plugs) none were expected to flower. However the prolonged sunny weather seems to have spurred a few of them on and it looks like in the coming days we will see our first oxeye daisies flowering, as evidenced below…
We added to our butterfly and bee lists with the Painted Lady butterfly and a Lasioglossum bee species. As noted in a previous post we were visited by the amazing hummingbird hawkmoth.
Our second species of Damsel Bug, the Common Damsel bug was also recorded. We also recorded what we believe is likely to be a Slender Wood Boring Wasp but we are still checking that out and will likely feature it on the blog.
The last day of summer will be the 21st September, so just two more weeks left. This summer has in many ways been exceptional in terms of the heat and dry conditions. For us at least it has demonstrated some of the potential impacts climate change will have on wildlife in the future and what, if anything, we should be able to do to help…