Tag Archives: insects

Installing an insect house, and feeding birds live food

This month’s wildlife garden activities have focused on insects: installing a nice new home for some of them to live in, and feeding others to robins.

Installing an insect house

The credit for the first bit needs to go to Dr C, who did all the hard work. I was given a lovely insect house for Christmas. With spring well and truly here, and lots of blossom on the fruit trees, it was about time we installed it.

Our previous insect home (a bit of log with holes drilled into it) has started rotting away. To keep this one in good condition for longer, we decided to install it off the ground, on a post.

Insect house in border
Insect house in border

It looks to me like it’s designed for solitary bees (not all bees live in hives). We’ve put it in the border next to the buddleia, which provides plenty of food for pollinators.

Close-up of insect house
Close-up of insect house

Feeding live food to the birds

The second insect related wildlife garden activity is providing live mealworms for the robins, who must have a nest with chicks nearby.
I have been feeding birds dried mealworms for years (soaked first to rehydrate them). Everything seems to love them. But even with the soaking, I have been a bit concerned they may be a bit dry for chicks whose only moisture comes from their food.

When I first started feeding dried mealworms to the birds I was quite squeamish – I didn’t want to touch them.  But I had to admit they smelt surprisingly tasty. I got used to dried mealworms, but I was a bit concerned that, confronted with squirming, squishy live insects, my squeamishness would return. Luckily that hasn’t been the case.

Live mealworms are best put out in smooth sided containers, so they can’t escape. We put up a clear plastic feeder that attaches to our window with suckers, so we can see the birds feeding. I was concerned that it might take the robins a long time to pluck up the courage to feed from it, but they’re bold birds and soon got the hang of it. They certainly seem to appreciate the mealworms, and we’re getting through the supply quickly. I haven’t spotted any other birds using it yet.

Window bird feeder with mealworms
Window bird feeder with live mealworms

Hopefully providing live food will help to give the baby robins a good chance of surviving.

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June Photography Challenge: insects and a confession

I have a confession to make: I didn’t take any photos for my June photography challenge. I don’t know where the month went! Anyway, as the theme was insects, I thought this was a good reason to trawl through my archives, and see what I could do with the shots I already had. So, I may have failed to take new photos, but at least I’ve done something with some ones I’ve ignored up til now.

(dead) hornet
(dead) hornet
Ugandan butterfly
Ugandan butterfly
Bumblebee in artichoke flower
Bumblebee in artichoke flower

green insect insect on buttercup blue butterfly blue butterfly

Indian butterfly
Indian butterfly

dragonfly

Banded demoiselle damselfly
Banded demoiselle damselfly
hawker dragonfly
My tormentor – a hawker dragonfly of some kind?

Profile: Moles – perfectly adapted

They are one of our most common and widespread mammals, but few people will ever see a live mole. I think this is a shame, as they are fascinating creatures, perfectly adapted for their subterranean lifestyle. I haven’t yet seen a live mole, so don’t have any photos to show you. Luckily my friend Moley has agreed to help show you what makes moles so great.

Diagram of how moles are adapted to life underground
Diagram of how moles are adapted to life underground

Talpa europaea, the mole we get in Britain, is surprisingly small in real life, usually between 11 and 15 centimetres long, with a short tail.

Moles are insectivores, and have a long, pointed, mobile nose like hedgehogs and shrews. The sensitive hairs on their noses help them to detect food. Their favourite food is earthworms, bit will eat other insects (and sometimes other small creatures as well).

Sight isn’t all that useful in dark tunnels, so moles have tiny eyes (1mm across), but they can tell the difference between light and dark. This may be to help them detect when intruders break into their tunnels from above.

Moles don’t have external ears (presumably because they’d just fill up with mud).

Moles are usually dark furred, like Moley. But as colour doesn’t matter too much in dark tunnels, other colours (like white or light brown) are not uncommon. Their fur is short, velvety, and can lie flat in any direction, to help them back up through narrow tunnels.

Digging is what moles do best. Their powerful, spade-like front paws help them shift lots of earth quickly. A mole can dig around 20m of tunnels each day. Moley, being bigger than most moles, assures me he could manage 30m easily.

There is less oxygen in the air of underground tunnels than above ground. To make up for this, moles have more blood than other similar-sized mammals, and twice as much haemoglobin (which carries oxygen in the blood).

Moles leave obvious signs of activity, creating mole hills from the spoil from their tunnels. This makes them unpopular with gardeners, but unless you’re tending a lawn for competitive bowls, croquet or tennis, I can’t understand people wanting to kill moles. It’s easy enough to rake the molehills away.  Their tunnels also help aerate the soil.

Moles spend most of their lives below ground, but they do sometimes come up to the surface. Your best chance of seeing one is in June, when youngsters are heading off to find their own territory. I hope that I will get to see one someday.

 

Chalk grassland: Europe’s rainforest?

Sometimes places that look barren or dull can be full of diverse wildlife, on closer inspection. I am a bit of a tree fan, so it’s always been the woods of Box Hill, with their rare box trees, that have excited me. While the grassy slopes of the hill have appealed to me aesthetically, I assumed that the real wildlife was elsewhere.

The grassy slope to the summit of Box Hill
The grassy slope to the summit of Box Hill

A recent walk up the hill on a sunny day made me suspect I might be wrong.  What, from afar, looks like boring old grass, is actually a huge variety of plant species, including many different flowers. And these plants were buzzing with insect life.

An orchid and moth
Chalk grasslands are home to a huge range of plant and insect species

A bit of reading up on the subject has confirmed that my earlier assumptions were well wide of the mark. Chalk grassland, grazed by sheep and unfertilised, is one of the UK’s richest for plant and insect diversity. The poor, thin soil, and regular grazing, means no single species can dominate.  A square metre of chalk grassland may have up to 40 different plant species, leading to some calling it Europe’s answer to the rainforest.

The chalk grassland slopes of Box Hill
The chalk grassland slopes of Box Hill, looking towards the woods

This diversity of plants gives food and shelter to a wide range of insects.  41 different types of butterfly have been found on Box Hill, including some of the rarest in the UK. I didn’t even know there were that many butterfly species in Britain.

Chalk grassland is in itself quite rare. It is an internationally important habitat and is a priority in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.Besides the North and South Downs there aren’t many other large areas of chalk grassland left. Much has been lost in the last 50 years due to changes in farming, (intensification including use of fertiliser and over grazing), encroachment of scrub where grassland isn’t grazed, and development of land for other purposes. Only 1% of the Surrey Hills has remnant chalk grassland cover.

Looking south from Box Hill
Looking south from Box Hill

There’s been quite a lot of controversy locally about a recent Court of Appeal judgement allowing some chalk grassland to be turned into an exclusive golf club. Neatly manicured, fertilised and herbicided greens and fairways are deserts compared to natural chalk grassland.

While it may not have the immediate feel of the wild that you get in woods or at the coast, chalk grasslands are rich habitats, and need protection. Losing chalk grassland means losing a unique and fragile ecosystem, which we will be poorer without.

Looking from Box Hill towards Dorking
Looking from Box Hill towards Dorking