Breakfast in the Garden

Huge buff-tailed bumblebee queen (Bombus terrestris) on bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara)

Dear Readers, I love to take a leisurely breakfast in the garden when I’m not working – it’s interesting to sit alongside the other creatures as they start their day. The table is close to the bittersweet and honeysuckle: I planted the latter but the former just appeared, and has proved to be so popular with wildlife that I’ve let it stay. The low-pitched buzzing of the bees as they arrive, followed by the high-pitched whizzing sound as they buzz-pollinate the flowers has been a source of much delight to me. I was most intrigued to see an enormous queen buff-tailed bumblebee attempting to buzz-pollinate one of the flowers – she was about as big as my thumb to the first joint, and I’m guessing that she’s fattening up before finding somewhere to hibernate. She certainly seems like a well-fed individual to me. For a size comparison, there’s a common carder bee (Bombus pascuorum) below, and a quick video of some buzz-pollinating.

Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara) with Common Carder bee (Bombus pascuorum)

I’ve mentioned before that the birds are noticeable by their absence, but I have continued to put out the live mealworms, and they’ve all disappeared (though part of me hopes that some of them have escaped into the undergrowth). However, today I noticed a tiny movement in the jasmine, and for once I actually had the camera ready.

I have heard wrens lots of times in the undergrowth, but rarely see them, and they are very hard to capture on film as they are so active, always bobbing about and intensely wary.

I suspect this one is a youngster – it still looks a little fluffy and has the yellow skin at the base of the beak which helps the adults know where to stick the caterpillars. I’m glad to know that the mealworms are providing a readily-available source of protein, as most young garden birds in the UK are fed on insects, even if they’ll be gramnivorous as adults.  As we know, wrens punch well above their weight in terms of the decibels that they produce. This one had no sooner landed and picked up a few mealworms than it zipped back into the lilac, scolding at the top of its voice.

And what could the reason be? It appears that my cat, usually terrified to venture outdoors, had decided that now was a perfect time to take a hesitant stroll around the patio. Readers, meet Willow – she’s fourteen this year so looking a little scruffy but apart from high blood pressure she’s doing very well. She was rescued when she was three, and was a real scaredy cat when she arrived as a foster cat with her brother, who was a real bruiser. When he was rehomed (much to her relief) she really started to blossom, and we decided that she was the cat for us. She is pretty much perfect (says the proud mother).


So, after a brief tour the cat heads back indoors, and it’s time for me to go indoors too, but not before sussing out the butterfly that’s landed on the hemp agrimony. The twin eyelets on the upper wing tell me that it’s a gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus), and furthermore it’s a female – the male has a dark band across the upper wings.

Now, for all you citizen scientists in the UK it’s the Big Butterfly Count at the moment – it started last Friday so I’m a bit remiss, but it runs until 9th August so there’s still plenty of time. You can download an app for your phone from the link above, or go old-school and use a chart. And this year you can record as many times as you like – all you need to do is watch a specific patch for 15 minutes and record what you see. This is a relief for me because I get different butterflies at the front of the house (buddleia and lilac) from in the back garden (at the moment, hemp agrimony and honeysuckle mainly), and I suspect my lovely patch alongside Muswell Hill Playing Fields will have yet more species. I think it’s been a bumper year for butterflies and moths, so let me know what you find, and I will post on the subject some time next week. Have fun, everybody!

8 thoughts on “Breakfast in the Garden

  1. jentsplace

    I was very interested to see your comment a few weeks ago about the absence of birds in the garden and at the feeders, & your reference to it again in today’s blog. My experience is a little different here, at the feeders outside my window, in Norfolk.
    I have 2 feeders & half a coconut to hold fat balls & we’re having to refill then at the same rate as earlier in the year. Perhaps the birds are greedier here:))x

    1. Bug Woman

      So interesting – I wonder if you’re getting migrants coming in from Scandinavia, I know that Norfolk is often first stop for them (though it’s not really the right time of year….). It might also depend on how cold it’s been in your neck of the woods. Thanks for commenting, jentsplace – it’s good to be reminded that the birds haven’t read the books about how they’re supposed to be behaving 🙂

      1. jentsplace

        Robins, a particularly greedy blackbird, blue tits, a wren & sparrows etc. – I’m deeply ignorant about their migration habits, something I must try & remedy. Thank you again for your wonderful blog.x

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