Hummingbird Hawk-moth – New Garden Species

New garden species, sort of…. well not really! We have seen these guys before, normally out of the corner of our eyes and certainly before we got anywhere near a camera. But this time we were finally, after years of hoping, in the right place at the right time to film one of these amazing migrants moths.

Hummingbird Hawk-moth 10th August 2022

So good people of Brislington and Bristol, be on the look out as more may be about. August is known to be a good month to see them…

However they should not be mistaken for Bee-flies (opposite) which are a relatively common resident and not closely related at all, being a True Fly – Diptera, rather than a Moth – Lepidoptera.

Hummingbird Hawk-moths can travel from as far as North Africa, which is pretty impressive and there seems to be some suggestion they can survive in the South West of England over winter in mild years (See Reference material number 12 HERE). At least one Wildlife Trust has recorded them breeding in recent years on their reserves, where larvae are usually found on species of Bedstraw.

So, what are they doing in the Wildlife Garden, well actually nothing more than visiting, stopping off briefly at the Buddleia for a energy top-up. We don’t have any Ladies Bedstraw or Hedge Bedstraw growing in the garden, although the former was part of the seed mix we put down in the spring. Cleavers is in the same genus and we have plenty of that but have found no records online to suggest it is used as a larval food plant.

Who knows though, with climate change and more frequent warm summers, perhaps we will see more and more of these amazing moths as time goes by.

DC – 10/08/2022

Garden Tiger Moth – Arctia caja

One of our primary aims is not simply to encourage wildlife to visit the garden, but to provide opportunities for species to complete their life cycles. Last year we recorded the larvae of Arctia caja, commonly known as the Garden Tiger Moth, with no sign of the adults. As kids we would often see the adult moth, but sadly these days their numbers are much reduced, although its still unusual to go a whole summer without seeing one or two, especially at this time of year.

The best part of wildlife gardening is the relaxing observation, just sitting there waiting for something to come to you. And that’s exactly what happened on the 30th July 2022 when looking down from a garden chair we noticed the upside down form of a Garden Tiger, slowly laying her eggs on the underside of a small Green Alkanet plant next to our concrete path. We got some video of this without we hope disturbing her too much.

30th July 2022

And here we see her, job done and proud mum…

30th July 2022

We’ve read nothing to suggest that the female moth cannot survive for some time after laying her eggs, but she soon left her clutch and we managed to catch her departing. She didn’t get very far, walking in a disorientated way as seen on the clip below, ending up clutching a bittercress plant beneath a garden chair.

We checked later that day and well before it became dark we couldn’t find any trace of her, hopefully she managed to fly off undetected. A week later and her eggs appear to be all present, a change in colour from fresh green to sepia/brown. Hopefully this is natural and not a result of the ongoing hot and dry weather we have been experiencing.

6th August 2022

We will try and keep an eye on the eggs, hopefully see the first instar of the larval development before the full size caterpillar forms.

DC 06/08/2022

Arge Berberidis – New Garden Species

A bit of a surprise recording this one. Our third sawfly species confirmed so far in the garden and a bit of an oddity. It’s only been recorded in the country since around 2002, and it has already spread over much of England and Wales. It is heavily associated (as it’s name would suggest) with certain Barberry species, however it’s larvae are also associated with Mahonia species.

The area is not really known for Barberry, although we have noted a small patch of Mountain Grape (Mahonia aquifolium) down in our local nature reserve, we have no idea how this non-native got there in the first place, likely a garden escapee. We did pop down the reserve to see if we could spot any of their brightly coloured larvae on its foliage but we found nothing.

The little guy below just plopped itself down on a Oxeye Daisy leaf for a rest, clearly to tired to worry about our fussing around it.

You can see from its damaged wing that this fella has been through the wars a little, but was still capable of strong flight and soon was on its way. The yellow tip to the abdomen we believe is characteristic of this species. Either way we’ve not seen anything quite like this in the garden to date, so its a nice addition to the list.

Arge berberidis – 25th July 2022

DC – 04/08/2022

A week away in Devon

It’s useful to visit other places and in particular other gardens to see what species are about in different locations and this is just what we did when recently we stayed at a converted barn in Devon.

This was very much a rural garden, on a much larger scale than typically found in an urban area such as Bristol and of course has much greater connectivity to the wider countryside. In total, and without trying very hard, we recorded 65 different species of plant, a mix of native and non-natives.

We also recorded numerous animal species. Click HERE to see what we found whilst away during what was a very warm week in July.

DC – 31/07/2022

Eyed Hawkmoth

Sometimes its easy to be jealous. This beauty was not recorded in our garden, but instead was found by our neighbour in hers. This is the Eyed Hawkmoth, a species we have never recorded in our garden so not on our species list (yet!).

Eyed Hawkmoth

It’s called the Eyed Hawkmoth due to the pattern on its hind wings resembling eyes, unfortunately we couldn’t persuade this fella to show us its colours.

Thankfully it is still a rather common species so hopefully one will visit us of its own accord at some point.

DC 26/06/2022

Gasteruption jaculator (and the cucumber spider)

Apart from having one heck of a Latin name, the female of the wasp species Gasteruption jaculator has what must be one of the longest ovipositors relative to it’s size. These guys are often overlooked but relatively regular visitors to the garden.

If you happen to have a bee hotel and even luckier to have one that bees actually use, then you may see these ladies hanging about. The long ovipositor is pushed into the larval cells of solitary wasps and bees, where they will develop out of harms way chomping on the grub within. We’ve never seen this for ourselves and it would be interesting to see how strong the ovipositor is, as most of these cells seem hardened and it looks so fragile.

It’s a long way to the top of the food chain and G. jaculator is nowhere near the summit. They too run the gauntlet that is the struggle to survive long enough to pass on those all important genes. In the rather grizzly video below, which took place on our hazel tree, we see a struggle between a cucumber spider, in this case we think Araniella opisthographa, and a male G.jaculator (note the lack of ovipositor).

At some stage we can only assume the spider made a successful venom bite and from then on there really only was going to be one winner in this struggle.

DC 18/06/2022

Volucella zonaria

Finally, we have a garden record for the largest hoverfly found in Great Britain. We’d been wondering when it would show up as it’s not at all rare in the South of England.

Volucella zonaria – 10th June 2022

At first, admittedly without glasses on, we thought this was a Hornet (another species we are stilling waiting to record) and at first felt a little gutted when we spotted it was a fly rather than a wasp. But once we realised what species of hoverfly it was we were well chuffed. These guys are known to be mimics of Hornets so that made us feel a little better as well.

DC 11/06/2022

March 2022

Our March 2022 garden calendar update is now on the Wildlife Garden website. An unusually sunny March, although it seems a long time ago now with the wet start to April. Lots of inverts making an early appearance this year. Be interesting to know what wildlife others have seen in the Brislington area this March. Click HERE to see what was about.

March 2022

DC 06/04/2022

February 2022

The end of winter was a grey and wet affair in Bristol, especially considering the dry winter we have witnessed. Hibernation and dormancy in many species is coming to an end and resident wildlife, as well as those species that just like to visit, are slowly becoming apparent. See our diary entry for February 2022 (click HERE).

The garden, looking drab and miserable, February 2022

DC 08/03/2022

January 2022

Progress in the garden is slow as one would expect in January, but there is always plenty going on and worth keeping an eye out for firsts of the year.

22nd January 2022

Firsts of the year!

Blackbirds, Carrion Crows, Black caps, Robins, Blue Tits, Gold Finch and Starlings have all been about in good numbers. A small patch of Hairy Bittercress became the first plant to flower this year (on the 3rd January), closely followed by the Hazel, who’s catkins opened and its tiny red flowers emerged to be pollinated, thus ensuring a crop of Hazel Nuts this coming year.

We finally had our first significant frost on the 14th January, with the wetland pond freezing over completely. We ended up with a few days of frosts but no sign of snow. Indeed we had some very mild weather.

New species already!!!

We’ve already recorded some new species this year to add to the project list. Having ended 2021 with a list of 406 species, we have now jumped to 411. As per the previous blog there was the spider Zygiella x-notata, which since first recording we are noticing everywhere. Also two new snail species, a Glass Snail – Aegopinella nitidula (left below) and the Girdled Snail – Hygromia cinctella (right below).

Add to this a tiny species of woodlouse called Trichonsicoides sarsi (left below) and our first identified Springtail Dicyrtomina saundersi (right below), both of which require a microscope to identify. The microscope revealed several other species, including at least 3 other species of springtail and a mite which we are yet to identify. Plus what we think is a soldier fly larvae.

One regular visitor, in fact an almost permanent visitor to the garden, are the midges that swarm around the ponds. We are yet to attempt to capture and identify one. But even in the middle of January, when not much else is stirring, here they are again, swarming and mating and making our heads itch (not that these ones bite).

The wildlife pond on the middle layer of the garden was cleared of much of its silt in December (see below), to lower the pond nutrients and be more favourable to a greater variety of wildlife. No signs of amphibians returning to the pond yet, but hoping to hear some noise in the coming weeks.

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Since we noted the bottom of the garden flooding in the summer, we have also noticed that many of the more invasive species in the garden, particularly those that like wet conditions have spread. This is likely because the flooding occurred during heavy rainfall just as many flowering plants were setting seed. Most notably over the winter we have seen Hairy Bittercress, Curled Dock and Creeping Buttercup pop up in good numbers. We spent a good amount of time plucking Bittercress from all over the garden, amassing a large pile, but it keeps appearing in new locations and we may have a fight on our hands.

The creeping buttercup last year was found solely under the hazel / maple border. However a new patch has formed adjacent to the new wetland area as shown below (left). We decided we needed to nip this spread in the bud, so we firstly raked the whole patch to remove much of the leaf area and hopefully break the rhizomes by which it spreads.

To further attack the rhizomes we then made repeated 20mm cuts into the soil using a shovel (left below) and have since covered the whole area with pond liner to help prevent it recovering (right below). How successful this will be we will find out in the spring, but already we are finding new patches emerging.

That’s probably enough for now, but plenty going on as usual.

DC 31/01/2022