Wednesday, April 19, 2017

I think it was 2011 when the blue-tits nested successfully in the garden. Then again in 2012; since then, and despite installing a nest-box camera in 2015, they have got no further than regularly checking out the box. This year however, the waiting came good, and they were spotted taking a real interest on March 23rd. And so at last, I am able to blog about their progress and hopefully we will all get to learn just a little bit more about these special birds.


There are a couple of things to say before I start this diary in earnest. Firstly, I upgraded the nest-box camera to a colour and night-vision type, with a good deal of naivety over just how difficult it is to get enough light into a nest-box for colour reproduction. I cannot let it concern me now that they are nesting though; perhaps, if this is successful, I may look into it for next spring. Even then, it isn't gonna be a 'Springwatch' style event, and to have a live web-cam seems quite a complicated thing to consider. The main problem with this particular camera seems to be that the night-vision is on during daytime filming too, and that tends to washout the colour.

Then there are the videos themselves. I would be the first to say that I am no cinematographer. I am trying to learn a few tricks but need to learn to walk first! I did harbour thoughts of maybe 'cutting and shutting' all of the videos into one long one, but soon gave up on that idea, and so what you get instead are lots of short clips.




I guess I should have also mentioned that I have no way of recording directly from the screen at present, and so these videos are all recorded by holding my point and shoot camera, or sometimes phone, in front of the monitor.

Oh! One more thing: these videos don't display too well in the emailed version of this update (phone version) you really need to view the web version (scroll to bottom of post on phone and hit 'View web version').

Here we go then: this is the very first time they actually got brave enough to look inside the nest-box...

      



And then on the 24th March the female (I think) enters and positions herself in one corner and begins calling to the male, who eventually joins her, and then they both promptly leave...

     



There was a small amount of bedding added and lots of pecking and wing fluttering going on during these early visits...

      



On March 25th I decided to risk changing the camera. The old one was not really a nest-box camera at all, but a CCTV unit which had a really poor coverage area. It was also black and white with no night vision...




 The blue-tits didn't seem to notice the change and carried on with the same routine of slowly adding nesting material whilst pecking and scratching at the box. As this first clip (of disappointing quality) with the new camera shows; there was lots of nervous tension, head twitching etc. This has had the speed increased by the way, just in case you thought your eyes were deceiving you...

                                 
     





March 26th: And the interior had filled up quite a bit with nesting material, mostly moss at this stage. The behaviour pattern remained the same. This again is at x16 speed...


      




March 29th: I spotted the female removing material, as well as bringing fresh...


     
      


Thursday March 30th: Lots of morning visits, mostly removing nesting material. Whilst the female was inside the box, the male was positioned on the roof of my studio, standing tall like a meerkat on sentry duty. I am sure he was scouting for danger...




By 2pm on the last day of March, around 70% of the bedding had been removed. It wasn't until April 2nd that I noticed fresh nest-material being added again. The first week of April saw no real changes, they continued to add bedding, usually starting anywhere between 7 and 8am. Then on the 9th I saw that the female was now bringing feathers to add to the nest.


     



Most were white and seemed way too large for blue-tit feathers, and so I have been wondering where she found so many, and who the donor might have been.




At 8pm on April 9th the female settled in to spend her first full night in the box...

      



She was gone before 6.30am the next morning but has returned every night since; usually at around 7.30 to 7.45pm. There seemed to be a lot of shaking and shivering taking place before she settled each night.

      


Thursday April 13th: Once again, the nest-box was vacant by early morning. The male had ceased visiting long ago by the way, and left the female to build most of the nest alone. I haven't seen any eggs yet but tonight at 7.30 when she returned for the night, she seemed even more edgy and unable to settle. Pecking at her own chest, perhaps preparing a brooding patch?


Friday April 14th: At last! One tiny egg to be seen (just) when I checked the box at 6am...



April 15th: The now usual routine of vacating the box early morning. It seems strange to me that although the egg(s) are covered by feathers, they are left alone all day in the nest.

April 17th: 12.10pm: The female arrived with yet more feathers to add to her nest. The male then appeared and fed the female whilst inside the nest-box. Both then left within a few seconds.


      


5.10pm: The female returns and as soon as she sits on the nest, the male appears and feeds her and they are both gone again; all within 20 seconds. But at 7.10pm she returns alone to spend another night.



Tuesday April 18th: There are now six small eggs in the nest...



And that just about brings us up to date. I will update just as soon as there is news of any chicks, or anything else exciting happens.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Fancy a date?

It's March 28th 2017...no, I know it isn't now! But, it was when I was writing this, which is now, if you follow my drift? Let's move on shall we, I never did like dates anyhow-they remind me of childhood Christmas'. Anybody else recall these?

Just me then! 

Definitely time to move on, as somebody once said, "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end." And so let me start another beginning, lest it becomes an end before I have even begun. As I was trying to say, before I added more waffle than an over stocked crêperie; on the 28th day of March, another of my Lime Hawk-moths eclosed. I wasn't around to see the early stages, because, as often happens, it must have begun overnight. But here are the photos I did manage to get...

Click on any photo for a larger view
Fairly soon after emerging, you can see the wings are still folded together


and from another angle

Looking at the curve, and shape of the abdomen, together with the larger antennae, I am pretty sure this is a male...

Such a furry face...



Finally the wings opened to reveal its full beauty



and an outdoor shot before I released it
Luckily, the weather has been reasonable over the past few days and the forecast is good, and so I felt much better about letting this one go. It sat on my Japonica plant for about an hour or so, then slowly began exercising it's wings before taking flight for the very first time...



Or to quote Winston Churchill:
Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.





Monday, March 20, 2017

No more duck walks, how about a cow instead?

Monday 13th March 2017 and I wake to be greeted by a spring day, with warm sunshine. Time for a walk with the macro. Shall I go walking on sunshine, or perhaps, a walk on the wild side? I could do the walk of life if I knew what life was all about. Should I walk like a man, or walk like an Egyptian? Walk this way, or walk the line? Maybe I'll just go walkin' the dog, or should I walk the dinosaur? I'll try to avoid walking on broken glass, because that's not what these boots were made for...



The first sighting of an insect, was this tiny moth. It was sitting on a fence-post sunning itself. I am afraid that I have no idea of species, actually, I am not even afraid...I just have no idea. Then came this lovely small tortoiseshell butterfly. Once again, it was soaking up the warm sunshine and was favouring any bare patch of clay soil...




My next 'spot' was something of a surprise...


Another fence-post find; this time a woundwort shieldbug. I rarely see these away from their food plant and certainly this will be the earliest in the year I have found any. 

Then...another butterfly: this time a peacock...






Just in case you are phobic, here's a clue to what is coming next in this little blog update...


Got it? How about this second clue...








Oh calm yourself! It's only a little female crab spider, she won't harm you. Tell ya what, let's punctuate this update with a comma shall we...



Yes, this comma was the third butterfly species that I was able to photograph on this particular walk. I actually saw brimstone and red admiral as well. Meanwhile, on another fence-post I came across this teeny blue weevil...



And that was just about all I saw on this particular morning; aside from these bonking frogs, or are they toads perhaps?





Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Somebody keeps putting topsoil on my allotment...

...the plot thickens!

Here's the scenario: 3rd March 2017 I was sitting quietly in my studio today, just reading-up on bloody-nosed beetles. I had seen a Flickr photo posted by my friend Tim, and was intrigued as to why they are common where he lives in Jersey, and yet, I have not found any locally. It was a faint, fluttering noise that distracted me. I stopped and listened; it seemed to be coming from the corner just under my window. 
   Once I had removed all of the gumpf that was obstructing my view, I could just make out movement between the end of the worktop and the wall; the gap is tiny. Using the back end of a plastic scalpel handle (the only thing to hand that fitted), I tentatively worked my way along the gap. As I reached the far end of the worktop, out popped a very tatty looking, but rather large moth.



   It doesn't take the world's best expert in identifying moths (which is handy, 'cos I am far from that) to know right away that this is a male emperor moth. No problem identifying the moth, but would it be so simple to work out where it came from and what it was doing there? Probably: it is surely obvious? I have a number of emperor moth pupae/cocoons that are over-wintering, and like the hawk-moth I recently blogged about, one must have emerged early.



   All I needed to do was examine each cocoon carefully to see which one was no longer intact. A job made somewhat easier by knowing that the larger ones were likely to be female; as my moth is male, I only need check the smaller ones. And so one-by-one, I gave them the third degree. Having scrutinised all but one, I knew, because I am sharp as a new pin with these things, it must be the final one! Nope...that one was intact too. Eh? I must have missed something? I probed them all one more time with the same result, all intact. 

   Well now...
Assuming this isn't an unexplained apparition (can you have an explainable apparition?) there has to be a rationale. Think JJ...think! Er...erm...




   Awe...ah! Jeez, I....maybe...no wait!  I had emperor moth larvae once before and I kept them in here, in my studio. I remember that I had raised them almost through to pupation and had read that they pupate on their food-plant. Reassured that they would indeed build a cocoon on the bramble they had been feeding on, I left the lid off their house one night and come morning, there was no sight of any of them. Despite a frantic search, I didn't ever locate a single caterpillar.

One of the original caterpillars

   I assumed that they must have found their way outside and into the garden. I put it down as a learning experience and determined to do better if I ever had another chance. Could it possibly be that one of the original larvae did manage to build a cocoon and it remained here undetected? Is there a faint chance that this moth emerged from that cocoon?

   Well I do know, have heard of these insects remaining as a cocoon through two winters, and even read of a case where one didn't emerge for three...but four? Is that a possibility? I would like to think so, and frankly, what other explanation could there possibly be? I have contacted a couple of people who know far more than I about moths, to see if either of them can give me a definitive answer. I'll let you know how that pans out.



And that's where you might expect this fable to end. But no...




   The two days weren't quite as annoying as that flashing image, but I had another nasty head cold, so they were fairly tiresome. Anyhow, back to the narrative; you know how it goes...'I was sitting quietly in my studio today, when I heard a faint, fluttering noise that disturbed me'. Surely not? It couldn't be, could it?

Well slap my ass and call me Samantha! As they say...don't they? Oh! Okay then, stone the crows, I'll be a monkey's uncle! This time it was emanating from t'other end of the building. It didn't take long to discover that it was indeed a second moth. Another male emperor, and this one seemed to be newly eclosed as it looked perfect. What a beauty it is too; I have seen some fabulous moths in my time but this one...


Now I know that this is part camouflage, and part defence in terms of design and colour but man! Mother Nature sure excelled when she devised this one. 


Forsaking any further developments, this means that 2 of the original larva must have survived in here for close on 4 years then eclosed. I have not heard of anything like this before, but can't think of a possible alternative. Unless you know better? 


Monday, February 27, 2017

I wish common sense was more common...

Many moons ago, in what seems like another life, I ran a small sign shop from this very building I am sitting in now, writing this blog update. It's of wooden construction and sits at the bottom of the back garden. Here's how it looked in those days...


That was back in the 90s and nowadays I no longer run a business from here and so the space is predominantly used for my photography and as a peaceful haven to write my magazine articles...


You can probably see that I still have all of my traditional signwriting reference books, and indeed, a small area for painting/lettering, should I get the urge...

Yes, I realise it's a bit of a jumble, or should that be jungle? But that's me, I didn't ever win any prizes for keeping my work-space ship-shape and Bristol fashion. 

Why am I telling you all this? Well, now that my little studio gets used for mostly nature related things, I store all manner of goodies in here: right now for instance, as well as the Emperor moth pupae and a number of Hawk-moth chrysalis, plus a couple of other things, it is also where my stick insect lives.  


Anyone who is familiar with my Flickr photostream will possibly have already seen a couple of pictures of the stick insect, but probably not the latest moult...


At this point in the story, I need to fess up to being a complete idiot!

You see I thought it would be best to leave a heater on in here to ensure the temperature doesn't fall too low for the stick insect's comfort. It has been working really well. Just by employing the lowest setting possible, I have managed to keep things at a pretty stable level. The bug loves it and is thriving but I completely disregarded the pupae! 

Even though I had them placed in the coldest spot, on a window sill, it must have been too warm for them and horror of horrors, one has emerged, a good 2 months ahead of time...



A Lime Hawkmoth (Mimas tiliae)







And so what's to be done? Very little is the answer. These adult moths should be on the wing May - July and so it is still far too cold to release one in my opinion. The other thing to consider is that they don't feed and so, unless there is a sudden upturn in temperatures, I guess this one will have to spend its time here with me. 

I still have several complete pupae that I think I will move to either the fridge, or to a sheltered spot outside, to prevent the emergence of anymore. They are beautiful moths and I only have myself to blame for allowing this one to emerge so early. A lesson learned/learnt!

Until the next time...