After last months column, in which I included a piece about the Great tits which nested in our garden urn, two people have contacted me about unusual nesting sites. Debbie and Keith have a pair of Robins which have built a nest in an old saucepan in their garden shed and Anne and Tony have Blue tits which made their home in a disused pump. I have heard before of old pumps being used by Blue tits; these pumps were originally connected to a well which was the only source of water for households in the past. It seems that birds which would naturally nest in holes in trees, such as Blue and Great tits, are attracted to holes in man made objects. As far as our urn nesting Great tits are concerned, we put a wooden rack close by, so that the birds could get used to its presence before we put the urn on the rack, on its side, to make it easy for the chicks to leave. But before we could do this, they beat us to it and one morning the urn was empty. How did they negotiate the curved sides? They must have flown straight up from the nest to leave via the narrow hole at the top, so their wings would have to have been quite strong by then. As my husband said, ‘Great tits are better at being Great tits than we are!’
Who’d have thought it. Slugs are in! At least the Yellow cellar slug is.This British resident is in decline since the Green cellar slug, native to Ukraine, arrived in the seventies. Both species are similar in appearance, being yellowy-green with grey blotches, but the native one has a yellow stripe down its tail. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is not sure why the foreigner has affected the numbers of our yellow one but as there is usually more than one reason for the decline of a species perhaps there are other factors playing a part. The RHS are asking for people to go out into their gardens at night, with a torch, and look for our yellow friend. (Go on, you can do it!) There are over 40 species of slug in Britain but only 9 of them are gardeners enemies. Most generally act as cleaners; some feed on fungi, algae and lichen and both cellar slugs eat detritus, rotting vegetation and mould. I read about an Australian gentleman who keeps cellar slugs in his bathroom to keep the grout between the tiles clean and mould free. To tread on one of his unusual pets in the shower would be a memorable experience.
A plant disease, called Xylella, has caused devastation to trees all over the world. In southern Italy a large plantation of affected olive trees had to be destroyed to prevent the disease spreading to neighbouring land. It affects the tree’s water carrying system (xylem) and is spread by sap sucking insects. As far as we know Xylella hasn’t reached Britain yet but it is feared that it is only a matter of time before it does. There are various ways that it could arrive but the most obvious one is on imported plants. Either the plant could already be infected or they could be carrying a sap feeding insect such as a Froghopper, also known as the Spittlebug; the juvenile (nymph) produces foam from its rear end to conceal itself from predators. Incidentally, and nothing to do with its disease spreading capabilities, this little animal is the best jumper in the insect world achieving a mighty 27 inches which even beats the flea! (Just thought I’d throw that in in case you get it in a pub quiz. You will shine!)
An attractive insect that you may find at this time of year is the Four banded longhorn beetle. This is one of over sixty species of longhorns; they don’t actually have horns but their long antennae gives them their name. They can be found feeding on pollen and nectar of various flowers but seem to favour the umbellifers which include Hogweed, Cow parsley and wild Carrot. You may also come across them resting on dead wood where the female will lay her eggs which hatch into maggot-like grubs. These larvae feed on the decomposing wood of many trees but birch logs seem to be top of the menu. Leaving a wood pile in your garden will benefit many species of wildlife, providing a hiding place for hedgehogs, toads, voles and numerous insects including this pretty longhorn beetle.
A flower this beetle will also feed on is the Bramble. Some of these shrubs have white flowers and some have pink They attract many nectar feeders including butterflies, bees, hoverflies, flies and beetles. The leaves are food for caterpillars of various moths and butterflies and, of course, the fruit is eaten by lots of birds and mammals including your dog. The seeds contained in the blackberries are not digested and will be deposited in faeces giving rise to more plants. However this prickly shrub doesn’t need any help with propagation because underground roots will send up fresh shoots and, like the Rhododendron, if one of the arching branches comes in contact with the ground it will root. These habits can make Brambles unwelcome in cultivated land but what nicer idle, summer occupation than to wander down a lane eating sun warmed blackberries.
Things to take part in this month include:
• Common (and not so common) wild flowers – Erpingham.
• Mini-beast magic – School Common, Southrepps.
• Summer insect walk – Pigneys wood.
• Big butterfly count/morning stroll and BBQ lunch – both at Cley Marshes.
Details: www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk or 01603 625540.
© Sheila Sims 2019