Monday, 29 December 2008

Running the gauntlet

Surprisingly, even with this very cold weather, some of the nasturtium has survived and there are still caterpillars of the large white butterfly. Every now and then a caterpillar will make the trek up the wall to metamorphose into a chrysalis. To do this they have to run the gauntlet of predators, mainly spiders. The one below had chosen the window frame between the large and smaller top window. It had actually started to change when this spider found it.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Long tailed tits and sparrowhawk

At about 4.00pm yesterday evening, a pair (possibly more) of long-tailed tits were foraging in the tree behind our garden. Unfortuanletly by the time I managed to get my camera they had moved into the semi-evergreen tree. I could hear them, but could not get a picture. The sun had just set and it was dusk. A few minutes later, as I walked down to the corner shop a sparrow hawk flew low overhead.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

bird feeder continued

The fat ball at the corner of the house has got substantially smaller since yesterday, so although I have not seen any bird activity, they are visiting this feeder.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Bird Feeder

Following my post 1st December, I saw a starling on the fat ball which I hung on the corner of the house. Well, I actually heard it first. I had noticed that there did appear to be a less rounded edge to the top of the ball and that it had been visited, but this was the first time I could confirm this.

If you have not placed feeders for birds because you are worried about cats, check out my entry for December 1st for some ideas that I tried. Its all a matter of placing the feeders in positions where the birds will find them and feel safe feeding. It also helps to be on a bird flight path. When we first moved into our previous house, about 16 years ago, the garden was desolate. However, by hanging a couple of fat balls from the washing line we soon had sparrows, starlings and the occasional green finch and blue tit stop off for a feed.

If you already have bird feeders, but are finding it difficult to attract birds to them, watch how birds use your garden and the surrounding area. The feeders may just need re sighting. People are often disappointed to find only sparrows and starlings visiting their bird feeders - however there is a great conservation concern for both house sparrows and starlings as they have declined greatly in recent years. They are both listed as red status species. So if you are only lucky enough to attract sparrows and starlings take heart in that you are doing your bit for wildlife and for conservation

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Birds in Easthill Park, Portslade Old Village

On the way to the post office I passed through Easthill Park. I took a slight detour to walk through the small wooded area at the north end of the park. The area is small but dense and many birds pass through this area. A small flock of 5 blue tits passed by foraging in the high branches. I also noticed a group of three chaffinch squabbling in the branches just above the leaf litter. Even though I walked slowly, I could not help disturb the occasional blackbird, perfectly camouflaged in the half light of the leaf litter. The first I knew of them was the rattling alarm call as they flew off staying low to the ground. 2 goldfinches were feeding on a few remaining tree seeds high in the branches, probably part of a larger foraging group. I came across a single blue tit preening its feathers (see below).

Blue tit


Also of note were a pair of robins and 2 thrushes. I caught a glimpse of what might have been a red wing through the branches, but too far off to be sure. Red wing are winter visitors often seen in parks and gardens in very cold weather. It appears that locally they tend to be mainly found in the surrounding countryside and move into parks and gardens for shelter when the weather is very bad. (See also earlier posting Wednesday 30 th January). I also observed a cormorant flying over the park, an unusual sight in Portslade Old Village as we are a fair distance from the sea or any rivers.

On the way back through the park I came across a male blackbird having a wash in a puddle on the path.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Birds and bird feeders.

Now the cold weather has set in, I have put up some fat balls for the birds. Our garden is not on a direct bird flight path, so small birds are hard to attract. Many small birds, blue tit, great tit, sparrows and finches fly past end of garden to our back neighbours tree - overhangs our garden. I placed one feeder adjacent to a large apple tree in garden behind ours which is used by birds. I have put up a garden cane, and tied a couple of small branches to it to make it more natural. I tied the fat ball to the top of the cane so it hangs down between the branches (below).

Yesterday I noticed a great tit feeding on a rotting apple (still attached to the tree) and a blue tit foraging in the branches of the apple tree.

I had some success last year with just a cane. The second fat ball was attached to the washing line near climbing plants which small birds occasionally forage in.

I hung the third fat ball on the corner of the house. Small birds fly from the neighbours tree across the track, pass the corner of our house, so birds will hopefully see the feeder.

I have chosen these places by studying how the birds move in the area around pour garden. This will be our best shot.

Our old house was on the direct flight path for many birds, tits, finches, robin, blackbird, thrush etc. Although our garden was visited by lots of neighbourhood cats, I managed to feed the birds successfully. This was partly due to a large rambling rose and an old rose bush in the back right corner. I placed the bird table next to this, so cats could not jump from wall. I placed several bird feeders in the rose bushes. The birds would feed knowing that the cats could not get them. They became so used to this that they continued to feed while a cat sat directly below, looking up.

The rambling rose was also a good defense against the sparrow hawk.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Nasturtiums 2

The nasturtiums have finally succumbed to the cold weather of the last couple of days. Even so, there are still many leaves and flowers unaffected.

I took a close look this morning and there are still caterpillars of the large white butterfly and the small white butterfly. It is unlikely that these will survive to become chrysalis.
Caterpillar of the large white Caterpillar of the small white

Thursday, 20 November 2008


Its hard to believe that not only are the nasturtiums still surviving in my garden they are still flowering and spreading across the front of the house. There are still several large white (butterfly) caterpillars feeding on them. Hopefully the frost will hold off long enough for them to develop into a chrysalis for the winter.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Red Admiral, Sparrowhawk and Goldfinch

A dull, overcast day. However a red admiral flew through the garden pushed along by the wind. A sparrow hawk also circled just to the north of our garden, silhouetted against the dark rain clouds. I could also hear the chattering sounds of goldfinches at the top of the tree.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Chrysalis and wasps

I have been keeping an eye on the large white caterpillar that climbed up the wall from the nasturtium's mentioned in my last blog. The caterpillar climbed as high as it could and then attached itself with silk. Since then it has been getting shorter and fatter as the chrysalis developed beneath the skin.
I have been decorating the front of the house, and as you can see I had to paint around the caterpillar.

This morning I noticed the caterpillar had finished developing into a chrysalis. The skin splits away to reveal the chrysalis. You can see the remains of the skin at the end of the tail end of the chrysalis.

I noticed some wasps flying around the tree that hangs over our back garden from a neighbours. They were mostly high up but occasionally one would settle close enough to see. They look slightly different to common wasps, but I can't be certain. I need to try to get a photograph of the wasps face markings.
This one was caught in a spiders web.

While watching the wasps a red admiral butterfly flew over the garden but did not settle.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Cold spell!

The last couple of days have been very cold, so not a lot of visible activity going on in the garden at the moment. When the sun does come out a few bumble bees have been lazily buzzing from one flower to another. The main flowering plants left at the moment are the nasturtiums that are still flowering quite profusely. This big clump has self-seeded from the ones I planted in the window boxes last year.

Despite being almost decimated once by caterpillars of the large white butterfly, they have continued to spread in front of the house. This years second generation of large white caterpillars are still quite evident on the leaves. They are quite large now and almost ready to pupate - as long as develop quick enough before the cold weather sets in. The caterpillars are mainly eating machines, devouring leaves as they grow. They will shed their skin 4 times before they are ready to pupate. Just before they shed their skin for the 5 th and last time they crawl away to find a safe secluded place to pupate.

The caterpillar above made its way up the front of the house yesterday to find somewhere to overwinter. It will attach itself with silk thread and as it sheds its skin for the last time it will reveal the chrysalis. It will remain as a chrysalis throughout the winter until spring when it will emerge as an adult. Some species, such as peacock butterflies overwinter as adults. They will also find a safe place away from the worst of the weather, such as a hollow tree or a garden shed.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Sustainable Schools Project

Yesterday was the launch of the Enguage project, a Sustainable Schools initiative by West Sussex County Council. The project uses a specially designed susguage to measure the sustainability of individual schools. The results show schools where they are doing well and areas that they may need to work on to achieve sustainability in various areas including the school grounds, energy and water use, local procurement, waste management and recycling, well being etc.

The project then aims to guide schools with the aid of a group of specialists in ways that they can improve the sustainability of these different areas. I have been working on the project, with a fellow ecologist, as school grounds specialists. This includes encouraging biodiversity in school grounds and encouraging the use of the school grounds to study and experience wildlife. There are also many other areas of the schools curriculum that could be done outside in school grounds. And of course, time spent outside in the grounds whether it is active sport, drama or quite reading all add to the children's well being.

Here are a few pictures from the Launch

The project launch was hosted by Weald School, one of the pilot schools. The launch took place in the hexagonal library.

The display included a case study and a display stand, two laptop presentations about our work with school grounds, information, exhibits and literature.

Information about nest boxes, bird nest quiz and live exhibits; large white caterpillars, snails and damselfly larvae.

My IT based habitat mapping project, here are examples of several schools. Photographs depicting different areas of the grounds can be linked to the map. These can include both movies files and sound files, (the latter either animal sounds or children's descriptions etc.) linked to the photographs.

Example of how literacy, numeracy, art and other cross curriculum subjects can be used to study the school grounds.

If you would like to see more info about working with school grounds, check out the blog entry for June 2008 "National School Grounds Week."

If you would like to know more about the Enguage Project, check out the Enguage Project link on the West Sussex Grid for Learning below.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Summer stroll

A sunny day for a change so I decided to take a quick walk around Easthill Park before I started work. Just outside the park, a great spotted woodpecker was drumming and moving around in the branches. It reached the highest most branch only to be confronted by a sleepy wood pigeon determined not to move from its spot (picture below).
The woodpecker appeared to be trying to get the pigeon to move and gave up after a few minutes. Just to my right, a red admiral butterfly flitted from flower to flower in the shrubs.
As I walked around the park I saw or heard the usual birds, blackbird, robin, dunnock, sparrow etc. One carrion crow stood out from the rest as it had some white feathers.
It seemed to be hastled from time to time by the magpies which are also very common.
Grey squirrels were very active collecting acorns which they either eat or rushed of to bury.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Hummingbird Hawk Moth

Early yesterday evening a hummingbird hawk moth Macroglossum stellatarum visited the last red Valerian flowers in the corner of the garden. It zipped about, just like a hummingbird, with its very long proboscis dipping into the tiny flowers. I have seen hummingbird hawk moths from time to time in the garden, usually visiting the Red Valerian which is not surprising as Red Valerian is a Mediterranean plant species and hummingbird hawk moths migrate each year from the south of France. Hummingbird hawk moths are usually seen along the south coast between May and September. It is an example of a moth that is active during the day, so it is easy to spot.
The hawk moth is pictured below. Not an excellent photograph but is was very dull and in a dark corner.
This observation fits in well with the theme of this blog, "keep an eye out at all times because you never know what you will see or where". I had just gone out to the green house in the garden to pick some beans for our evening meal, between showers of rain, when I noticed the hummingbird hawk moth zipping past.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Convulvulous Hawk Moth

I returned recently from a holiday in Ireland to find a dead convulvulous hawk moth Agrius convolvuli on the steps in our garden. I have only previously seen one of these large hawk moths before and that was at our old house and was hidden in a pile of watching left on a chair. The body of this specimen measured 5 cm.

The convolvulous hawk-moth is a migrant species which may originate from Mediterranean region of Europe or even north Africa if the weather conditions are suitable. August and September seem to be the most likely months to see this spectacular moth.

Sunday, 27 July 2008


I was attracted by a strange low shrieking sound in the garden. I walked across the garden following the sound when I noticed movement low down in the tree. At the same time a kestrel burst out of the side of the tree (it probably spotted me) and circled twice before disappearing over the roof tops. The movement had not been the kestrel, as it exited from a different place and too soon. However, no matter how hard I searched I did not discover any other animal.
I also rescued yet another gatekeeper from the conservatory

Friday, 25 July 2008

More butterflies

I observed 5 different types of butterfly in the garden over the last few days, meadow brown, gate keeper, speckled wood small white and large white. There were at least two meadow brown and at least 2 gate keepers. the gate keeper is very similar to the meadow brown, but the former has small white spots on the lower wing.

Meadow Brown

Gate Keeper

Speckled wood

Monday, 21 July 2008


Saturday 19th July, a small white butterfly visited the nasturtians in the window box, carefully depositing single eggs on some of the leaves.
Many of the eggs were on the exposed upper surface of the leaves. Butterflies have taste buds in their feet and can sense leaves that will be good food for their caterpillars.

Sunday 20th, I discovered a butterfly, wings crumpled as if it had recently hatched. The butterfly, possibly a gate keeper was hanging onto the long grass.
When butterflies first emerge from their crysalis they have to pump blood into their wings. Usually they would be ready to fly in about an hour. I went back later and the butterfly had gone.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Butterflies and moths

Yesterday morning, and again today, a holly blue butterfly visited the garden (on several occasions).
Yesterday afternoon a comma butterfly flew around the garden settling for a while before flying to another location. Seen below resting on the piece of driftwood near the pond.

I also noticed leaf-cutter bees were back in the garden. These looked slightly smaller than the first ones. The pieces of leaf were also smaller. These ones were making a nest in an old flower pot. Like the original bees, they entered through the gap where the old soil had dried away from the edge (below).

Thursday, 3 July 2008

swifts butterflies etc

Another catch up for end of June early July. Red admiral butterfly has been visiting the garden but no pic yet. A meadow brown butterfly did visit my garden over several days.

A very large (Queen?) red tailed buimble bee flew into our conservatory and needed to be helped out.

One warm, muggy evening the black ants left the nest by our side gate for their mating flight. Both the new queens and the much smaller (winged) males were visible in amoungst the workers. many of course did not make it.

Some ended up in spider webs, some were snatched out of the air by birds while others were picked off the ground by starlings and a herring gull. The idea being the females get a head start and only then 'fit' males will manage to fertilise a queen. The queens that were successful return to the ground and bite of their wings. They will start new colonise. the poor old males are not needed anymore. The successful queens will be looked after hand and foot (so to speak) but are destined to spend their life underground as egg laying machines.

From time to time I spot the tiny movements of a baby frog in the garden. Back in the pond, some of the tadpoles haven't even got their back legs yet.

The two herring gull chicks on the roof behind us were learning to fly in their usual clumsy way.

Last, but by no means least, the swifts nesting next door have been putting on spectacular air displays in the evening. The picture don't do them justice (not even the video I took). In the picture above they are just begining to turn for a run across our front garden. They will scream in (lower than the gutter of next doors house) and pass overhead almost close enough to touch if I stood up. Our garden is higher than next door so they are much lower when they pass.

When I stayed with out friends in Tenerife a few years back I would get up early to see them. Our friends lived in the mountains and by about 8 am the swifts had made their way up to us. I would walk a couple of hundred yards down the road and sit on a wall. They flew so close you could actually see their eye move as they flew past, checking me out. Another great experience with swifts was also up in the mountain in Tenerife. At the end of the road was a photo point over looking the valley. The swifts would scream low up the road and at the last moment star burst around us reminiscent of a red arrows display. Swifts would pass each side and above fly out over the valley, regroup and repeat the whole thing again. An amazing experience.