Welcome to my blog

This is where I post various musings about wildlife and ecology, observations of interesting species (often invertebrates)
and bits of research that grab my attention. As well as blogging, I undertake professional ecological & wildlife surveys
covering invertebrates, plants, birds, reptiles, amphibians and some mammals, plus habitat assessment and management
. I don't work on planning applications/for developers. The pages on the right will tell you more about my work,
main interests and key projects, and you can follow my academic work here.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Feathers, flowers and feelers - more on wildlife-friendly gardening

Back in late March, I posted about bee-friendly gardening and the range of species found in our little terraced plot in southern England. Three months on, the early summer has turned into autumn, back to spring, and may again become summer soon, so I thought I'd provide another informal update about what's been happening in the garden. Also, Blogger's not playing nicely today, so apologies for the peculiar formatting 'choices' below!

As I sit here, I can see our contribution to the (hopeful) recovery of the UK's beleagured House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) population flitting about in the garden near the seed feeder - including fledged young still fluttering for food near their parents. There is no evidence of sparrows nesting in the garden, but just outside the front of our house, they can be seen being particularly resourceful...

Female sparrow sitting outside a nest entrance - inside a telephone-line junction box. The male has also been guarding and there has been much activity with food and nest materials being brought. This box was also used last year, but the box on the other (south-facing) side of the pole is much less popular - maybe due to the temperature difference?
Of course, sparrows are not the only birds using the garden - the bath has been very popular with bickering, and occasionally even English-style queueing.

Blackbird (Turdus merula) drinking from the bird-bath

Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus) hogging the bird-bath - the passerines can be heard shouting nearby...
Now, our garden isn't huge - it's a long thin Edwardian terrace; there's hard-standing at either end (sheds, patio etc) but in the middle it's split into flower & veg beds, plus a wild 'meadow' area. It may not be huge but it does have diversity of structure, plus the planting is either native or known to be wildlife-friendly (especially for pollinators). Also, even the hard surfaces have their purpose - plants are allowed to grow over the sheds, and on the patio, some isolated slabs have been removed to allow low-growing, mat-forming species to be planted.

Meadow Clary (Salvia pratensis) - extremely rare in Britain, we now have one plant in our tiny wild meadow! Hoping to collect seed...
An ant's-eye view of the burnet-like Acaena planted where a patio slab has been removed.
There's more I could add about birds and plants, but as you may know, my favourite group is the invertebrates. Now, I do understand that many gardeners may be suspicious about non-pollinating insects and consider many to be pests. However, apart from a very few (we do apply nematodes as a biological slug control), we tend to leave the plants and beasties to fight it out among themselves and have had no major problems so far (the pigeons are more troublesome). It also provides opportunities to watch some interesting inter-species interactions.

Partly added as a pretty picture, here is a spider (Metellina sp. I think) building a web inside a foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) flower, hoping to catch those flighty nectar-feeders.
One of our many many garden ants (Lasius sp.) tending, maybe 'milking' honeydew from, A Brown Peach Scale insect (Parthenolecanium corni).

The diversity of arachnid forms writ large - a Trombidium mite and a Pardosa wolf-spider
While on the subject of spiders, our garden is full of Garden Orb-weavers (Araneus diadematus) which implies there's plenty of food - unsurprising given the array of tiny things that crawl and fly here. However, it was only recently that I saw the stage in their development just prior to scattering (somewhat literally) to the four winds.

Shhh... the spiderlings are sleeping...
What was that? They've started to stir...
Aaaagh, run for it!
Some bungee from the bottom of the nursery web, others make a run for it - the one top right is winning...
Oh, it wasn't anything dangerous - they start returning to the web to reform the ball, some climbing back up bungee-ropes, others crawling back along various strands. If it had been a predator or other threat, the chances are some would have escaped as they scatter in all directions.

And so, there is space for a wide range of species even in our fairly small garden - it just needs some thoughtful planting, a few other features (feeders, bird-baths, a pond is in the construction stage), diversity of structure, and a willingness to leave things alone as much as possible. This is an important little bit of nature conservation most of us can do to some extent, and if you enjoy recording species, gardens can be important sources of biological records (in the UK there are popular garden-based bird and, to a lesser extent mammal, recording schemes designed for non-specialist volunteers). Anyhow, enough from me today - more soon, and eventually I imagine I will eventually compile a garden species list...

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