Garden BioBlitz 2012

24th July 2012
Being a bit slow in taking advantage of all the modern "social networking" opportunities available these days, I only joined Twitter in June this year. I soon realised the considerable potential for interacting with and learning from others, that such facilities can provide. I was particularly interested when I saw that a group of Twitter wildlife experts and enthusiasts had got together and decided it would be a great idea to have a National Garden BioBlitz. Basically, this would involve listing all the wildlife you can find in your garden over a 24hr period, recording your findings, taking photographs and uploading the results via iRecord. For 2012, this would be a "trial" event held during the weekend of 21st-22nd July.

I decided to use any spare time during the weekend, to record wildlife ("wild" plants and animals) in our small Warwickshire garden. I emphasise that the garden is small; basically an area or grass, some well-tended garden plots, plently of potted plants and hanging baskets and a patio/pathway. All the planting has been undertaken by us and the previous owner, so virtually no "wild" flowers/plants. I decided to concentrate on birds and invertebrates and any wild mammal that might appear. I knew I could rely on grey squirrels to put in a appearance!

For birds, there was just the "usual suspects"; Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, House Sparrow, Dunnock, Blackbird, Starling, Robin, Collared Dove and Wood Pigeon. And mammals - yes, the expected Grey Squirrels did arrive to plunder the bird feeders! I decided though, to concentrate on insects and other invertebrates. Getting a better understanding of the local insect populations (particularly solitary bees and wasps), is a developing interest of mine. I'm not an entomologist though and my knowledge is modest. I don't have nets, pooters, traps etc; just my eyes, a camera and a selection of insect ID guides.

I did manage to photograph and identify about twenty insects and invertebrates. As a "beginner", my identifications are probably a bit "suspect" on some, but we all have to start somewhere! BioBlotz participants were also reminded of the excellent online facilities provided by iSpot, Twitter and Flickr (and others) to help those struggling with identifications. I won't describe here, everything I "spotted", just some of the more (to me anyway), interesting ones.

There are surprisingly few ladybirds in the garden at the moment. There were masses of 7-spot overwintering early in the year and I have seen Harlequin, 2-spot and Pine Ladybirds recently. When I first saw this one though, I didn't recognise it. Black with six red spots, I guessed it might be one of the varied forms of the 2-Spot Ladybird (Adalia bipunctata). I posted an image on Twitter and this was confirmed by one of the experts.

This is the form sexpustulata. A good BioBlitz find as I've not seen one in the garden before. Adalia bipunctata can be quite varied in appearance, most being red with two black spots or (as this one) black with red spots. There are also intermediates forms with merged or multiple spots.

Another garden "first" for me was this rather striking Horse Fly. It looks to me like Haematopota pluvialis. Horse Flies (or Clegs) are a pest and nuisance to cattle and horses and unfortunately, to man as well. They feed on nectar, pollen and tree sap, but the females also need blood meals when their eggs are developing.

Females (unlike the rather buzzy males) are silent and stealthful in their approach and can also inject a local anaesthetic and anticoagulant into the skin of their prey. Their bite can therefore go unnoticed at first and can bleed freely, allowing the fly to lap the blood. Subsequently, the site of the bite can become very painful and inflamed and can require medical attention. This one was sitting quietly on a leaf.

I couldn't complete the post without mentioning some solitary bees. During the BioBlitz I saw the Harebell Carpenter Bee (Chelostoma campanularis), a Mining Bee (Andrena bicolor) and this rather striking (and tiny) Hylaeus bee. Hylaeus bees (sometimes called White-faced or Yellow-faced bees) are small, mostly black and generally hairless bees; this one was about 4-5mm in length. Once you "get your eye in", you realise that there are lots of very small black bees around but they can be rather difficult to differentiate for the amateur. To complicate the matter, there are lots of similarly-sized and coloured solitary wasps around too. I think (by just a hint of hairiness on the face/head and the small yellow/white facial markings; that this could be a female Hylaeus hyalinatus.

Naturally, there were lots of other insects seen around in the garden that I didn't manage to photograph and/or identify. As a "beginner" though, I'm restricting my garden "list" to those where I can photograph them and confirm the ID myself or via the various online resources. I really enjoyed taking a closer look at the garden and hopefully, if this is undertaken in subsequent years, I'll be in a position to have the experience and confidence to end up with a longer list!

Thanks to all those on Twitter who organised this really interesting trial event. Here's a link to the Garden BioBlitz website

[Click on an insect image for a larger version]

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