Fox vixen with a rat. Picture (c) David Turner

The late summer weather in my Whitley garden varied from warm to very hot indeed, with the occasional very wet day. The sun helped increase the numbers of butterflies, bees, insects and moths, of course. One of my photograph highlights for July was the vixen fox with a huge rat, striking a superb pose.

At one point this spring, I wondered if the wildlife would suffer from the mixed bag of weather the winter had thrown at us, but wildlife recovered with birds mating and nesting perhaps a month later than normal. You may remember that February and March were very warm at times with the occasional day of showers.

July

The very beginning of July temperatures reached as high as 28ºC. Leaf-cutter bees, damselflies, ladybirds and regular swifts each evening were a delight to watch.

Leaf-cutter bees are amazing to watch; they can make their homes in bee hotels, which are boxes full of hollow tubes in which they lay an egg and then stuff with a very neatly cut leaf, mainly from roses. The bee repeats this process until the tube is full, then they seal it with mud or more cut leaves. This activity does not stop with one tube and all the tubes could become full if many bees are at work. The eggs hatch out in the following spring and the process starts all over again.

The pond was very busy during July with emerging damselflies. We were lucky to have the red, blue and green varieties this year. Like dragonfly larvae, damselfly larvae stay under water for up to two years before they emerge.

A frog also appeared in the pond in July. It was clearly happy there, and although it had appeared to mate in spring, but there was no spawn. I have no answer to this puzzle, but I have my fingers crossed for next year.

Swifts were late arriving this year, but when they came they continued to show interest in my house, although they chose to not actually nest despite the five swift boxes I had put up for them. Swifts are amazing birds; their whole life is played out on the wing and they only land to nest. They don’t build actual nests, but create an area within the nest box which they line with a few feathers.

I spotted what turned out to be an ladybird emerging from its larvae on the evening of 6 July. I have never seen this before and was most interesting to watch; the ladybird emerges without its true colour or spots and it was some hours before the colour and spots became visible. The ladybird flew off once it had fully dried out.

Two young magpies were busy at the bird feeders at the beginning of July and the four fox cubs got back together to play on the lawn. A few more butterflies began to emerge during the middle of the month as temperatures remained high; I managed to photograph a meadow brown, peacock, ringlet, large and small whites and a comma butterfly, but I was not able to photograph a small blue I had seen.

Southern hawker dragonfly drying out. Photo (c) David Turner

I saw dragonfly larvae pond dipping and, on 10 July, a southern hawker dragonfly emerged and flew straight to my finger. It was an amazing moment, not just as a witness, but also to feel the vibration from the dragonfly as it dried out its wings. Four such dragonflies emerged this month. This is really good news as it proves the pond is healthy.

Pied wagtail. Photo (c) David Turner

A pied wagtail started ground feeding on 11 July. This was a surprise as I had not seen one for a while. There was no pairing, so I’m not expecting young this year, unlike previous years.

Bubbles the hedgehog made a rat friend at bubblewrap HQ! Ratty and Bubbles would regularly eat and drink out of the same dishes, but this was short-lived as the fox clearly found the rat nest as no rats have been seen since! Bubbles continues to live within its bubblewrap home and, as we moved into August, Bubbles started lining the bubblewrap with leaves.

Temperatures were still riding high at the end of July, except for 18 July when 4mm rain fell in just a few hours. It soon went back back to 30ºC or higher.

I’ve been seeing more young jays, pigeons,sparrows and great spotted woodpeckers this month, and there were a lot more moths and other insects about. The leaf-cutter bees were still very busy and, as July drew to a close, four southern hawker dragonflies emerged from the pond and a second frog appeared.

August

August started off very warm and became very hot by its end. This meant that butterflies, moths, bees and insects were still plentiful; I saw gatekeepers, red admiral and small blue butterflies.

Another three southern hawker dragonflies emerged from the pond and I managed photographs of a brown hawker which flew into the conservatory.

The highlights of the month were five sycamore caterpillars munching away at acer tree leaves. They had the most amazing colours – yellow, red and orange – and they stayed until they had stripped a branch clean. I just wish I had seen them leaving, but it all happened overnight.

I was somewhat surprised at the number of brown slugs mating on my lawn and patio after a night of rain on 11 August. It was not a pleasant sight, but interesting all the same as I not seen this before!

Bubbles the hedgehog continued to use the bubblewrap as a home and added more leaves every night. It will be very cosy when it’s finished, but it’s a little early to start hibernating so I do wonder if these animals sense a hard winter. Last year the hedgehogs were still out each night until 17 December.

I didn’t see the vixen fox during August, but I did see the two cubs each night. They created more dens during the month, which must be partly practice but also because they were outgrowing previous dens.

September has started off warm, sunny and dry so I hope to be reporting similar activity next month. Enjoy the start of Autumn, folks!

Slugs mating. Photo (c) David Turner


Links
  1. David Turner on Twitter and the Whitley Pump
  2. The natural and social pictorial history of a house in Whitley
  3. Bee ‘n’ bee (bee hotels)
  4. Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
  5. UK butterflies
  6. UK moths
  7. The Wildlife Trust
  8. British Dragonfly Society
  9. Woodland Trust
  10. Bee Conservation Trust