Turtle Dove

  • September 7, 2015 8:27 pm

What a privilege to have this bird visiting the garden. He was still around this weekend, and really feeding up before his long flight south. The slightly better weather meant I could get some more photos, although I’m yet to catch him in the sun. It’s not going to be long before he departs, but I’m already planning for next year. This year I planted a small native wildlflower meadow, which has been brilliant for the bees and other insects, but next year I’m going to make it more Turtle Dove friendly and add some more of their food plants like Red Clover, Common Vetch, and Black Medick, and continue to encourage the Fumitory which has grown rampantly this year.

Here’s the Turtle dove with a Collared dove in front, the Collared dove is actually the larger species, but this young one looks smaller as it crouches feeding in the grass.

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For an advisory sheet on how you could help Turtle doves in your garden, follow this link: http://operationturtledove.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Turtle-Dove-Advisory-Sheet-Gardens.pdf

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Red Mason Bees

  • May 25, 2015 6:53 pm

I’ve been trying to photograph the Red mason bees again, these wild bees have been using my solitary bee boxes over the last few weeks and they are fascinating to watch. I’ve had the odd bee using the bee boxes in the past, but this year they seem to be doing really well, and on Friday I counted 8 bees going in and out, the most I’ve ever seen.

Red Mason bee, Osmia rufa, at entrance to nest hole, bee nest box, May, Norfolk

As well as trying to photograph these quick and tricky little subjects, I’ve also been watching them, as their behaviour is so interesting. Each bee, and these are all females, collects many loads of pollen which they deliver to a nest chamber where they lay a single egg. Once this food store is complete and egg laid, they seal off the chamber and then begin the process again, repeating until the bamboo cane is full, and then finally sealing off the tube with a wall of thicker mud to protect their growing offspring. Each egg develops into a bee larvae, which steadily munches away at the larder of pollen, before spinning a silken cocoon and pupating into an adult bee. This bee overwinters in it’s cosy cocoon and then emerges the following spring. So next year, hopefully I’ll be seeing even more of these characterful little creatures.

Red Mason bee, Osmia rufa, at nest hole, with another in flight, bee nest box, covered in pollen,  May, Norfolk

Red Mason bee, Osmia rufa, at entrance to nest hole, bee nest box, May, Norfolk

Standing by and photographing them means I was able to watch the whole process. They are quite choosy, carefully selecting a tube by zigzagging in front of the box to find an unoccupied hole. When a bee hovers too close to a hole already taken, the resident races out with forelegs waving to ward off the competitor.

Red Mason bee, Osmia rufa, at entrance to nest hole, bee nest box, May, Norfolk

Once a tube is chosen they can begin the process of provisioning the first chamber with pollen. They collect as much pollen as they can carry, often all over their furry bodies, and return to the nest to offload it. They carefully back into the hole and groom the pollen off before going out again to gather more. Using my reflector to carefully peer down one of the holes after the bee had left, I could see a great heap of sunshine yellow pollen, like a lemon sherbet fountain, and the beginnings of a mud wall, as the bee prepared to seal that particular chamber.

Red Mason bee, Osmia rufa, at entrance to nest hole, bee nest box, covered in pollen, May, Norfolk

Red Mason bee, Osmia rufa, at entrance to nest hole, bee nest box, May, Norfolk

Once the pollen store is full and the egg laid, the bee gathers mud to seal off the nest. They carry a ball of wet mud in their jaws and return with their heavy load, carefully building a mud wall. A couple of the bees I was watching had reached the front of their bamboo canes and were busy making a thicker wall to protect the nest chambers. They are so industrious, constantly back and forth with more mud, and such determination as they build the wall. Not just dropping the ball of mud there, but carefully spreading out each piece, like a master plasterer, building it up, smoothing it out.

This last image has to be my favourite, this bee is just taking off, you can see she is still covered in pollen and if you look very closely (click to enlarge) you can see a few grains flying off. An amazing moment caught by good planning and exceptional camera work. (Haha just kidding! It was luck, sheer luck!)

Red Mason bee, Osmia rufa, at entrance to nest hole, bee nest box, taking off, covered in pollen, May, Norfolk

For more info on these incredible animals and some wonderful images of inside a nest tube, take a look here: http://nurturing-nature.co.uk/solitary-bees-2/red-mason-bee-osmia-rufa-life-cycle-part-1/

 

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Here and there

  • May 17, 2015 8:45 pm

Over on the Fen first thing this morning, the Sedge Warblers were quiet again, but the Reed Warblers were singing away. Their song is softer than the harsh, scratchy tune of the Sedge Warblers, more bouncing, more musical. They were busy collecting nesting material, hopping up the reeds to choose a few strands of fluffy seedhead, then dropping them, perhaps not suitable for requirements, and then choosing a few more. Try as I might I couldn’t get any photos as they bounded around the swaying reeds. I did capture one though, peering though the reed stems at me.

Reed Warbler, Acrocephalus scirpaceus, perched amoungst reeds, Fen, Norfolk, May, Spring

Leaving them to it, I wandered on and spotted the local Roe deer, distant, but relaxed, munching away amongst the sedges. Over on the dry fen margin, tiny young Rabbits scampered away with wide, dark eyes and trembling whiskers. This one sat at his burrow entrance calmly observing me as I tried to take his picture.

Rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus, young rabbit in undergrowth, Fen, Norfolk, May

The sun was already warm and around the next corner I found a beautiful jewel of an animal, a Common Lizard. I’ve wanted to do more reptile photography, they are such fascinating creatures, what a treat to find one happy to pose in the open for me. Not the best photo in the world, far too distracting a background, but so lovely to see.

Common lizard, Zootoca vivipara, basking on corrogated iron sheet, fen, Norfolk, May

Back home, this weekend I’ve been trying to photograph some Red Mason Bees which have been making my solitary bee box home. These cute little insects with their russet red fur have been very busy, collecting pollen which they deliver to a chamber containing a single egg, before sealing the nursery with mud and repeating the process again and again until that particular bamboo burrow is filled.

I highly recommend this article which shows inside the Red Mason bee burrows and describes their life-cycle in-depth – very interesting: http://nurturing-nature.co.uk/solitary-bees-2/red-mason-bee-osmia-rufa-life-cycle-part-1/

These images are still a bit of a work in progress, I’ve not quite got the photos I want yet.

This bee is prospecting for a nest site, trying to find a hole not already occupied. They defend their nests from other bees vigorously, fascinating to watch their behaviour.

Red Mason bee, Osmia rufa, at entrance to nest hole, bee nest box, May, Norfolk

Here is a bee entering it’s nesting chamber, you can see it’s abdomen is fully laden with a load of pollen, while another bee is just flying in.

Red Mason bee, Osmia rufa, entering nest hole, with another in flight, bee nest box, May, Norfolk

This little bee has just popped it’s head out to ward off a rival bee which had landed at the entrance.

Red Mason bee, Osmia rufa, at entrance to nest hole, bee nest box, May, Norfolk

Finally, this bee is reversing into her burrow to offload all the pollen she has collected.

Red Mason bee, Osmia rufa, at entrance to nest hole, bee nest box, May, Norfolk

These bees are perfectly harmless, and incredibly fascinating to watch. As you can see from the amount of pollen they carry they are important pollinators, just like all bees. If you have a little room for a solitary bee box, simply a box filled with bamboo canes, I highly recommend installing one. A simple, yet extremely beneficial act of kindness for nature.

 

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When is a weed…

  • October 12, 2013 9:31 am

…Not a weed?

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First you have to define what a weed is – my mother always told me a weed was just a plant in the wrong place. So here’s a pretty little plant, with interesting pink flowers and delicate grey green foliage, considered by many a weed, but well worth a place in my herbaceous border. This is Common Fumitory, an arable weed that produces seeds enjoyed by Turtle doves. It thrives in the light soil in my new garden so I’ve let it stay, and it’s proved itself to be an attractive garden plant. It scrambles happily through the thick fleshy leaves of the Iceplant (Sedum), contrasting form and texture. It’s unusual dip dyed flowers look like sugar sprinkles in the early morning dew, so this little weed is welcome in my garden, and has me hoping that it might attract my favourite bird next spring.

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Where are they?

  • August 4, 2013 1:28 pm

I was hoping for a Summer full of Turtle doves, but sightings have been few and far between. They are in real trouble, last years wet Summer meant a disastrous breeding season for them, and numbers are very low this year. Conservationists are concerned that this year could see the lowest numbers of Turtle doves ever. Read more HERE.

So is this the beginning of the end for this bird in the UK? Well, hopefully not. This years hot, sunny Summer couldn’t be more different than last year, so with any luck they’ll have more success raising their young. But this is a bird on the brink, and we need to take action now to help it.

My Turtle dove border is looking, well, weedy, but that’s how it should be. The warm weather has encouraged the plants to go to seed, and that’s exactly what the birds want. The Common Vetch has been a fascinating plant, in May the foliage unfurled like miniature palm leaves.

Common Vetch, Vicia sativa, emerging leaf, Norfolk, May, close up

The flowers proved attractive to ants as well as bees.

Ant on Common Vetch, Vicia sativa, close up of flower, Norfolk, May

Now, the plants have produced long black seedpods, which slowly twist open revealing the fresh, speckled seed inside.

Common Vetch, Vicia sativa, seedpod, Norfolk, August

Common Vetch, Vicia sativa, seedpod, Norfolk, August, close up

If you want to help save this iconic farmland bird there are things you can do. If you own a garden in a rural area, then why not set aside a patch for a wildflower meadow, being sure to include seed rich plants like vetch, red and white clover and the Turtle dove’s favourite – Fumitory. For more information on what we can do in our gardens and farmland, you can download an advisory sheet HERE. There are plenty of other ways to help too, you can donate to the project, or buy Nature Friendly Products by following these links.
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Bee Kind

  • July 28, 2013 4:15 pm

Usual Sunday morning chores interrupted today when I noticed a queen Buff-tailed Bumblebee sitting on the kitchen windowsill, she must have got stuck indoors the previous evening. She dived into the offered teaspoon of honey, allowing me a photo opportunity.

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Many people regard bees rather warily, but they are fascinating and important creatures. Bumblebee’s are normally very docile, interested only in buzzing from flower to flower. This bee clearly needed to refuel as she greedily lapped up nearly half a teaspoon of honey with her incredibly long tongue. As she drank I gently stroked her back with my fingertip, her fur was so soft and silky, like a moles velvety coat, but softer still.

Once she’d had enough, she went for a test flight around the living room, looping around in a large lazy circle to get her bearings and hovering back over the honey. Though they look rather unsteady in flight, they are actually quite agile and accurate in the air. Taking her to the window on the spoon I released her, and she completed a circuit of the garden before buzzing purposefully off down the hedgerow.

To find out more about Bumblebees and what you can do to help them, visit: http://bumblebeeconservation.org/

And why not take the Bee Kind quiz to see how bee friendly your garden is, and get handy tips on how to make it even better for them.

 

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Project Turtle Dove

  • November 27, 2012 10:08 pm

As I write, it’s cold and dark and the rain is dripping down the window. The grey damp chill of a British winter is a far cry away from the heat of the savannah, which is where I imagine our Turtle doves are currently enjoying hours of hot sunshine every day. They are spending the winter in sub-Saharan Africa, but I’m looking forward to next May, when they’ll be returning here to breed.

Inspired by Operation Turtle Dove, I’ve started my own project to help these dramatically declining birds.

So, I’m growing some weeds. The Turtle dove’s diet is made up predominantly of the small seeds of weeds, and in our intensively managed agricultural land, they are struggling to find enough quality food to eat. What is a weed anyway? A plant in the wrong place? A pest? A wild flower? For a Turtle Dove, and a host of other animals, it’s a food source. Which is why, with the same tenderness that I’ll be sowing my tomato plant seeds with in the spring, I’ve carefully planted several seed trays with a Turtle dove’s favourite food.

Fumitory, a Turtle dove staple. (Have you ever tried to photograph your own hand? – It’s really difficult!) I’ve also sown Red and White Clover, Black Medic, and Common Vetch.

My Mum has very kindly donated a sunny corner of her garden for Project Turtle Dove to take place. Right now, it’s just a bare patch of soil, but in the spring I’ll plant out the weed seedlings and hopefully lend a helping hand to the local Turtle doves.

Watch this space for updates!

 

 

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