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Nature blog - Jenny Bourne

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April!

Date posted: Wednesday 18th April 2018

April!

A day of hot sun, interspersed among days of drab, overcast, cold and wet weather – a fellow plotholder with a generally cheerful disposition said the other day, ‘Is it me or is the weather really depressing!’ and the next day the temperature was up in the high teens! And today so hot – 25o or more..crazy! Everything seems at least 2 weeks behind as it’s been such a cold wet season so far, but the first sand martins were flying over Rick’s Pond in Home Park last Monday and in the past week the chiffchaffs are back in the woodland alongside the park and red admiral and large white butterflies are about. My pond is teeming with tadpoles, clustered in dense black masses under the surface and darting around, safe under the netting put up to dissuade the pair of mallards that took up residence last year, hovering up the easy pickings! The heron’s been around but so far hasn’t made it to the pond…

This early bumble was crawling around the rim of my cold frame yesterday – not sure where it had been over-wintering, but it flew up into the nearby plum with alacrity and was straight into the blossom flowers. Nor sure what it is exactly so have forwarded the photo to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust for ID! The bee flies are omnipresent, not much welcomed as they are parasitoids of mining bee larvae. However Paul Evans has a more tolerant view of them:
‘She looks like a fly in a fur coat; her wings made of clear cellophane with black bat markings; her syringe proboscis not for piercing flesh but sipping nectar; she is either a blur of speed or a full stop. The bee-fly is a chimera of contradictions and as true a sprite of spring as any of the animals associated with the season. In the accelerated world of flies, she will mate soon and when her eggs are ready, she will seek out the tunnel entrances of mining bees of Andrena species and flick them into the holes or as close to them as possible. When the eggs hatch, the spectral pale larvae will travel into the bee mines, seek out the eggs and larvae of the bees and eat them.
What with parasitoids of larvae such as bee-flies, external parasites such as mites, internal parasites such as nematodes, predators such as wasps and cuckoo bees disguised as offspring to deceive parents – it’s a wonder there are any bees left. Of course… the bee population can weather such attacks – it’s the changes in climate and profligate poisons we are responsible for they can’t take. The bee-fly is an actor in the uncanny drama of life feeding on life; a noble parasite with the glamour of a celluloid film star, a femme-fatale misunderstood and maligned for the briefest of lives.’ The bee-fly is a true sprite of spring | Environment | The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/apr/12/bee-fly-true-sprite-spring

The strange spiders that appeared in the shed window a couple of years ago are back, this time in the plastic lid of the cold frame, securely cocooned in the hollow panels. When they emerge they are a fleshy dark pink colour.

Despite putting up a range of bird feeders in our courtyard garden and walls covered in ivy we don’t have the wonderful dawn chorus – apart from the ‘mighty wren’ and the occasional distant blackbird and great tits. But the wren, that may be nesting in our ivy, has been singing it’s little heart out for the past few weeks, sometimes from earliest morning to late in the evening! This wren at the back of my neighbour’s plot was drumming up that unmistakeable agitated call, perched on the park wall and then dropping down lower… wonder if it’s got a nest nearby?

A Radio 4 programme this morning about ‘alien species’ invading our shores – this time harlequin ladybirds and the more alarming arrival of the Asian hornet. It seems that the harlequins, although predating on the larvae of native ladybirds, as well as on lacewings and other beneficial insects, don’t appear to be having too much of a negative impact on ‘our’ ladybirds, but the Asian hornet is a far more sinister incomer. It’s slightly smaller than it’s European cousin, with dark brown legs lightening at the ends and a darker body, without the distinctive black/yellow stripes of the European hornet. They predate honey bees and are tree dwellers, often close to a beehive. There have only been isolated cases so far, but presumably only a matter of time!

On a brighter, cheerier note, April flowers around my plot to gladden the heart after what feels like one of the most miserable early springs on record!