Category Archives: London Amphibians

Some Very Resilient Frogs

Dear Readers, those of you who have been following the blog regularly will know that I have a great fondness for frogs – their arrival in my garden pond signals the start of spring as far as I’m concerned. That first ‘plop’ as I head out to the shed after dark is as evocative as the first crocus. I pause, looking around to see if I’ve imagined it, and if I stay still long enough, I might hear the trill of the male frog’s song. At first, the sound is almost apologetic, but as the days go on, more and more male frogs appear, until there is a veritable chorus in the shallow end.

The male frogs have largely spent the winter tucked up in a bed of dead leaves and silt at the bottom of the pond. Where the females come from is a little more uncertain. To start with, it’s a bachelor party, but this year, after a few days of gradually rising male frog numbers, I saw one female sitting on a flat stone, while twenty tiny frog heads gazed up at her adoringly.

‘Don’t go in the water, girl’, I muttered as I past by on my way to top up the bird feeders.

But lust will have its way, and not an hour later I peered into the pond to see a large female frog with a male clasped to her back, tumbling over and over in the water while several other males tried to get in on the action. It’s no fun being the first female in the pond, for sure.

Then, I spotted a female with a single male riding on her back. The pair of them were sitting under the lilac bush, unperturbed. What to do? Were they lost, or was the female just seeking a break from all the action? They were certainly vulnerable to cats and, after dark, to the foxes. I picked them up and was, as always, surprised by the strength of those muscular legs as they tried to kick their way to freedom. I gently lobbed them both back into the pond. I hope the female frog will forgive me.

And so the frog breeding season was going along merrily until the temperature plummeted. We had a week of the coldest temperatures that I remember since I moved to East Finchley eight years ago. The pond froze solid. Every day I broke the ice, every day it had frozen again within a couple of hours. My only consolation was that no one had actually produced any frogspawn yet. When I broke the ice I would occasionally see a completely torpid frog at the bottom of the pond. When the temperature goes below freezing amphibians often go into stasis.

When the weather broke, it took a few days for the frogs to revive, and then they came back with great enthusiasm. More and more frogs came to the party. They started to lay great quantities of frogspawn in the shallower parts of the pond. One favourite area was on top of some reeds that I’d cut back – maybe the prickly stems afford the eggs some protection. Once frogspawn is laid, the other frogs seem to take a shine to the same area – maybe if there are thousands of tadpoles in one place, it increases the chances of ‘your’ youngsters being missed in the case of predation. Oh, everything was going swimmingly (sorry)!

And then, the temperatures plummeted again, and we got another bout of snow. What to do this time?

Froglife, the UK amphibian charity, had an emergency post on its website, stating that any spawn laid above the water line would be vulnerable to ‘winterkill’ if it froze. The advice was to take the spawn and put it into an unheated shed or similar for the duration of the coldspell. The problem was the location of the frogspawn in my case – it was so entangled with the reeds that it would have been impossible to remove it.

And then I came up with what I hoped would be a solution.

My birdfood comes in some very irritating, unrecyclable plastic buckets, which I’ve been storing for some unspecified future use. Their moment had arrived! I plonked the buckets over the piles of frogspawn that I could see, immersing the lip of the bucket below the water line. My hope was that even if the surrounding water froze, there would be a small temperature difference which would prevent the frogspawn from freezing.

On the face of it, it seems to have worked. Today, the frogs are back hard at it, and the mound of spawn is as large as I’ve ever seen it in the garden.

I wonder if there’s a maximum number of frogs that the pond will support, and if after that the population will collapse? A few years ago we had ‘the great frog massacre’, in which piles of dead frogs were left by the side of the pond, but so far this year I’ve only seen one poor deceased amphibian. This is very lucky, as judging by the fox footprints all over the frozen pond last week, we have frequent and active vulpine visitors.

So, hopefully soon we will have tadpoles, followed by the hopping of many, many tiny feet. At the moment the pond is delightfully clear and I am preparing for my annual battle with the duckweed. The duckweed nearly always wins, but I intend to hold it off as long as possible.

We owe so much to frogs.  Who knows how many millions of these creatures have been used as subjects in school biology labs and university science projects? And yet, when I spend a bit of time beside the pond it becomes obvious that each frog has a different character – some are bold, some are shy, some are aggressive, some are quick to withdraw from a fight. They are resilient, driven creatures, and even two bouts of sub-zero temperatures haven’t dampened their enthusiasm to pass on their genes to the next generation. And in my garden, no one will pull them from the water and experiment on them for the sake of getting a grade in an examination. I had never really thought of a garden pond as a sanctuary, but I suppose in a way it is.

Now I just need to get the pond declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest so that I can protect it in perpetuity :-).


Bugwoman’s Fourth Annual Report – Part One

Dear Readers, it’s that time of year when I review what’s been going on during my fourth year of producing the Bugwoman blog. What’s been happening in the past twelve months? This week, we’ll be looking at February 2017 through to July 2017 – the rest of the year will make an appearance next week. Stay tuned!

February 2017


We started the Bugwoman year in a celebratory mood. After a year of no blackbirds (following the death of a male at the hands of the local sparrowhawk) a new couple moved in, and it was such a pleasure to hear the song of the male from the rooftop in the evening. I’m pleased to report that I still have a pair of blackbirds in 2018, and I’m hoping that they’re the same ones.


March 2017

In March London suffered the first of several terrorist attacks last year, when a car was rammed into pedestrians as they crossed Westminster bridge. I was on the South Bank when it happened, and wrote a piece about it here.  I find that nature has a way of restoring balance to our troubled minds in times of trouble, and it was especially consoling during my walk, the arrival of spring coinciding with the terrible injuries and loss of life.

And I also made a visit to Crossbones Graveyard, close to London Bridge. This is a site for the outcast dead, and they are remembered in a ceremony every month at the main gates. It is a very special place, and it felt entirely appropriate to be making my first visit there in the week after the terrorist attack. I hope to visit it again soon.


The gates at Crossbones Graveyard

‘A poor man taken out of the street, December 2 1725 – one of the ribbons from Crossbones Graveyard

A bee feeding on willow in the graveyard

And the frogs were back, singing away in the pond.



April kicked off with a garden visit from a female sparrowhawk, who plucked and ate a collared dove that she’d knocked out of the whitebeam tree. A spectacular but discomfiting event.

And then some Bohemian Waxwings visited a tree at the end of my road, something I hadn’t seen for years.

April also found me on my annual visit to Canada – my husband John is Canadian, and I love observing the wildlife on the other side of the Atlantic. The similarities and differences always intrigue me. For example, we have no grackles in the UK.





And our goldfinches are not North American goldfinches…

And we don’t have any cardinals..

But we do have house sparrows.

And these guys of course….





May 2017

At the beginning of May I was still in Canada, and paid a visit to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington (just outside Toronto). I met up with my lovely friend M, who lives in the States but had motored across the border. She is also a writer and a nature-lover. We had a wonderful day!

Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)

Red-winged blackbird

Back in London, I took a walk to look at the street trees of Archway, just down the hill from where I live. It was based on one of my favourite books from last year, ‘London Street Trees: A Guide to the Urban Forest‘ by Paul Wood, and it was so much fun that I plan to do another walk later this year. You can read about the walk here and here.

Chinese Lacebark Elm

A Dawn Redwood (Metasequioa glyptostroboides) just off Holloway Road in North London.

A Bragania visited by a carder bumblebee in Dresden Road, a few hundred metres from the hubbub of the Archway junction.


June saw my monthly visit to my elderly parents turning into something of a drama, after Dad got a chest infection and had a fall. Still, spending time in Milborne St Andrew in Dorset is always a pleasure, and even if I didn’t have much time to admire the scenery, I did get a few brief minutes to look at the garden and take a deep breath.

White-tailed bumblebee on the ceanothus in Mum and Dad’s garden

June also saw the great willowherb in my garden infested with the caterpillars of a tiny moth. Surprisingly, they still flowered rather splendidly. ‘Weeds’ are resilient plants, for sure.


In July I made my annual visit to Obergurgl in Austria, for walking in the mountains and admiring the flowers and the insects. Oh, and for cake.

Large Copper butterfly on yarrow

Hoverfly on rampion

Early flowering orchid


Closer to home, I paid a visit to East Finchley Station, and to the N2 Community Garden beside it. There are many new goings on in the entrance to the station…


…on the platforms


….and in the garden itself. It was lovely to go travelling, but it’s always nice to be home.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

I also spent some time posting about my amazing artist friend, Robin Huffman, and her portraits of the monkeys and apes that she cares for when she volunteers at wildlife sanctuaries in Africa. I think her work is absolutely stunning, and to see more of it you can visit her website here. She is currently in Cameroon at the  Ape Action Africa sanctuary in Mefou, looking after several baby monkeys. I imagine that she’s covered in poo, bitten half to death and dreaming of Japanese food, but I bet she’s also deliriously happy.

Sunshine, Olive Baboon (Robin Huffman) (after a photo by Perrine DeVos)

Diva, moustached guenon

Ayla, vervet monkey

So, Dear Readers, that’s the end of part one of my annual review. Stay tuned for next week!






They’re Back…..

There are many signs of spring. The first time that I get up at 6.30 catch a train to Dorset and it’s not pitch dark. The first time that I notice the snowdrops in the garden. The increased urgency in the song of the blackbird, the way that the blue tits and robins seem to have paired up. The lambs in the fields, and the slight softness of the air. The way that my husband has started to need his hayfever medication. But for me, early spring only starts with the sound of a plop in the pond, and the first small heads gathering at the shallow, stony end. It’s not until the first frog croaks that spring is truly on its way.

You can hear it most clearly in the evening, when the other sounds have died down. The frogs suck air into their bodies, so that they swell up, and then let the air out. Each species has a different call. In the tropics, the song of the frogs can be almost deafening, and the ‘spring peepers’ of North America don’t do a bad job either. The common frogs in my garden are a little more discrete, almost as if they feel embarrassed to be making such a fuss. But as the females are attracted to the loudest and longest ‘croaks’ they soon get over their hesitation.

The males acquire a greyish-blue tinge during the mating season, and also develop handsome white throats, which help to emphasise their appearance when calling. They also develop ‘nuptial pads’ on their ‘hands’ which help them to grip the females. When I took the photographs, there only appeared to be one female in the pond, but the huge quantity of frogspawn that has appeared since makes me think that there have been other visitors.

The male frogs tend to hibernate in the mud at the bottom of the pond, so that they can be on the spot when the females (slightly larger and allegedly browner/redder in colour at this time of year) appear. The females are more inclined to hibernate away from the pond, and seeing the way the males behave when one makes an appearance makes me think that they are absolutely right. A lone female can be absolutely mobbed by eager males, who are in a frenzy of lust. I have been watching the frogs from my upstairs window as they clamber over the heaps of frogspawn and attempt to attach themselves to anything that moves. One male frog even entered the water riding piggyback on a female, but he was soon booted off by a bigger, tougher frog. The male frogs take two years to reach breeding age, so every year counts.

Last year, the death toll was staggering in my pond. There was a heap of dead frogs under the hedge on several mornings, whether fished out by a cat, or taken as a stash for a fox, or even plucked out by a crow or magpie, I have no idea. This year, fortunately, I have not seen any casualties so far – I decided not to cut back the dead waterplants around the pond until spring, so maybe this has given them a bit more cover. Anyway, I am keeping my fingers crossed that this happy situation continues.

The fresh-laid frogspawn is always delightfully turgid, as if it’s going to burst at any moment, and I love seeing the tiny tadpoles already developing in the jelly. The outer layer of the spawn gradually breaks down, so that the tadpoles are released into the water after about two weeks. In the meantime, it’s fortunate that almost no warm-blooded predators like a snack of frogspawn, although there are videos of cats tucking in on the internets, and I have known of ducks who would visit a pond once a year to tuck into the eggs.

I have one rather idiosyncratic frog in the pond at the moment. One of his eyes is cloudy, and I’m sure that he’s blind on that side. It doesn’t seem to bother him as he croaks away as part of the froggy chorus, but I suspect it will make him more vulnerable to predators. I just hope that he manages to breed – I always have a soft-spot for the underfrog.

It’s no wonder that frogs have long been symbols of fertility. The ancient Egyptians had a frog goddess called Heqat, and I can well imagine that the annual flooding of the Nile brought a great chorus of frogs, signalling another year of good harvests.

By Daderot - Daderot, CC0,

Statue of Heqat, the Frog Goddess, from pre-Dynastic Egypt (approximately 2950 BCE) (Photo One – Credit Below)

The Chinese frog spirit Ch’ing-Wa Sheng is associated with good luck and prosperity in business, but many cultures also have proverbs about frogs such as ‘sitting in the well, looking to the sky’, which means a person who knows little of the world and has a very limited outlook. I much prefer the delightfully characterful Japanese frog in the illustration below, who looks as if he has had too many worms for dinner.

Frog and Mouse by Getsuju, a Japanese artist of the Edo period (Public Domain)

The presence of frogs signals the great rush to breed that is taking place all around us at this time of year. We tend to think that spring kicks off in April, but by then many animals will already have bred. We humans are a little on the sleepy side with regard to what’s going on around us, but frogs have a limited window to get on with passing on their genes – they are cold-blooded, and the tadpoles need the water to be warm for them to mature, something that can take a good few months in these unpredictable times. In fact, when I reared some tadpoles in a tank a few years ago, they matured a good month earlier than the ones in the much colder waters of their natal pond. So I wish my frogs success in their breeding, avoidance of predators and disease, and a warm summer. The world would be a much sadder place without the annual frog chorus.

Photo Credit

Photo One (Heqat the Frog Goddess) – By Daderot – Daderot, CC0,

All other blog content copyright Vivienne Palmer. Free to use and share non-commercially, but please attribute and link back to the blog, thank you.













Bugwoman’s Third Annual Report

IMG_5397Dear Readers, what a year it’s been! It started in February 2016 with a rather disappointing revisit to the Abraham Cruzvillegas installation at Tate Modern, which contained soil from different sites in London, and was supposed to provide an idea of the diverse flora from the capital. Sadly, it was rather underlit, and none of the raised beds were labelled, so it was impossible to know where each sample of soil had come from. Plus it finished in February, just before everything started to come into flower! A most frustrating exercise which could have been both artistically and scientifically interesting. Harrumph!  It did provide an excuse for a bracing walk along the Thames, however.

IMG_5528March was all about frogs and this poor little fox, half eaten up with mange. It was the start of my daily walk to St Pancras and Islington Cemetery, where I dropped medicated food to try and clear up the fox’s skin problem. As a result I met a group of people dedicated to looking after the cat population in the cemetery, and the other animals too, especially my friend B. To my surprise, the homeopathic medication sent from the National Fox Welfare Society worked, and I gained many glimpses of the foxy population.

The fox with mange

The fox with mange

The first frogs of the year

The first frog of the year

Fox at sunset

Fox at sunset

By April there was some improvement in the original fox, and she had a mate. Plus, from looking at her underside, it seemed that she had cubs, though I didn’t see them while they were very small.

The vixen (looking a bit better I think)

The vixen (looking a bit better I think)


The dog fox waiting for his dinner

The dog fox waiting for his dinner

Yet another fox

Yet another fox

On the Wednesday Weed front, I found some honesty

IMG_5987and some fritillaries.

IMG_6003May brought comfrey and lady’s smock, and a few more foxes


Lady's Smock (Cardamine pratensis)

Lady’s Smock (Cardamine pratensis)


The vixen and the dog fox earlier this week

The vixen and the dog fox – the vixen definitely looks as if she’s feeding cubs

And by June, I think this is the first sight of a cub. Plus, we had fledgling long-tailed tits, and a rather surprising creature spotted while on the New River Walk in Islington

IMG_7158IMG_6662 IMG_6639IMG_6793In July, I was off to Austria for our annual two weeks in the Alps. Where it snowed.

IMG_7258Though not all the time, fortunately….

IMG_7221August saw my first visit to Woodberry Wetlands and a trip back to my roots in the East End, to see what had happened to Stratford since the Olympic Games. I was impressed with the wildlife that I saw in both places.  And the fox cubs were out and about in the cemetery.

Woodberry Wetlands

Woodberry Wetlands


Heron and Mute Swan at Woodberry Wetlands

Young goldfinch at the Olympic Park

Young goldfinch at the Olympic Park

Kestrel at the Olympic Park

Kestrel at the Olympic Park

Another young fox

Another young fox in the cemetery

September saw my first ever pied flycatcher, during a visit to see my parents in Milborne St Andrew, Dorset.

img_8010I had never seen so many rose hips as there were in the cemetery, either.

img_7989And the horse chestnuts reminded me of my Auntie Mary. How often the fruits of the season jog my memory, putting me in mind of people and places long gone.

img_7954And the foxes were still about, of course.

Dog Fox

Dog Fox

October brought a trip to Venice with an 89 year-old friend of mine, and a particularly wonderful encounter with a young vixen in the cemetery.

img_8087img_8066img_8314img_8247In November, I discovered the joys of a slow shutter-speed on my camera, and had an encounter with a grey wagtail at the Barbican Centre.

img_8613-2 img_8615-2

Grey Wagtail

Grey Wagtail

December brought a return to Milborne St Andrew, some very fine Islington cats, and a supermoon. It also introduced me to the hidden meaning of having pampas grass in your front garden.

Ice on a Dorset stream

Ice on a Dorset stream

A very fine Islington cat

A very fine Islington cat



Supermoon apparently tangled in branches

Supermoon apparently tangled in branches

Pampas grass

Pampas grass

And finally, January has brought a stroll along the Mutton Brook in East Finchley, stinging nettles and a Very Fine Cat Indeed.

The Mutton Brook

The Mutton Brook

Stinging nettles with small 'friend'

Stinging nettles with small ‘friend’

Bailey, the world's most magnificent cat.

Bailey, the world’s most magnificent cat.

So, dear Readers, what an exciting year it’s been! If there are things that you’ve liked particularly, do let me know (and yes I will be spending more time in the cemetery on fox watch in the months to come). I am also open to suggestions if I have missed your favourite ‘weed’, or if there is somewhere in London that you’d like me to take an excursion to.  In the meantime, thank you so much for your support, and I look forward to your company in 2017. The world is an uncomfortable place for many people at the moment (including me) and there is much solace to be gained in the plants and animals that surround us.

All blog content copyright Vivienne Palmer. Free to use and share non-commercially, but please attribute and link back to the blog, thank you.







All Change in Bugwoman’s Garden


The whitebeam tree, pre-trim. The squirrel drey in the top right was uninhabited.

Dear Readers, every five years I have some work done in the garden that fills me with trepidation. My whitebeam and hawthorn trees are very beautiful, but are also a bit big for a smallish suburban garden, and so I ask the tree surgeons to come in and give them a good trim. I know it sounds strange, but I feel guilty about it every time, and always apologise to the trees in advance, and try to explain what’s going to happen. I know that both trees will take a while to recover, and that the birds will be confused about where their favourite perching places have gone. But, nonetheless, if I want to preserve good neighbourly relationships, and also to get maximum light to the (north-facing) garden, it has to be done, and early in the year before anything has really started to grow.

So, the tree surgeon Michael, and his sidekick Scott, arrived, and Michael spent the next six hours in the whitebeam. In the pouring rain. He is something of an artist, taking a drawing of the tree before he starts, and preserving its character and shape as he goes (something that some of the guys employed by the council could do well to learn, though I have no doubt that those poor souls are up against a ferocious timetable). And this is the result.

IMG_5669Not pretty at the moment, I know, but all the fundamental features of the tree are still there. And he’s even left me some branches to hang the bird feeders on, which is very important. The chaffinches and collared doves and robins were very upset at their absence, but I think they’re happy again now.


The robin has just learned how to use the bird feeder!


Male Chaffinch



By the time Michael went home, he was absolutely dripping wet. I do hope he doesn’t come down with some evil disease as a result.

And in the evening, an annual event occurred. As the drizzle continued, a little army of heads popped up in the pond. It was as if they’d been waiting for the temperature to go up a few degrees.

There had been a few males around for several weeks, but no frogspawn. And yet, when I got up, all this had been laid in one night.

IMG_5650The frogs seem to like the shallow end of the pond, and once one female has laid her eggs, everyone else tries to lay theirs on top. At first, each egg seems pumped full of fluid, fit to burst, but over time the eggs seem to lose their rigidity and become softer, eventually releasing the tadpoles into the pond.

IMG_5656I had never noticed frogs’ eyes before. I love the almond shape and the golden iris.

IMG_5664IMG_5665There is something so benign about that gaze, so utterly harmless.

IMG_5663And yet, something has killed one frog per night ever since they started to breed. I find their little corpses, hands together as if in prayer, their white bellies exposed. They seem to have one tiny bite behind the head. Usually, they aren’t eaten, but today I found one that had been partly dismembered. It could be a cat, a fox, or even a crow (though I suspect that they scavenge the dead ones rather than hunt the live ones). But still, there are probably a hundred frogs in the pond at the height of the season, all so intent on breeding that everything else is an afterthought. No wonder their croaking and squirming and skirmishing attracts the attention of predators. It would be strange if it didn’t.

And, while this is not a cat blog, or a dog blog, I do have to share two photos with you this week. One is of my cat, Willow, who is under the impression that she is a panther.

IMG_5643And the other is of a dog that I met in Coldfall Wood. This little one might be a ‘toy dog’ but he has the heart and spirit of a Newfoundland. I salute you, sir! He was undaunted by the sudden increase in depth and volume of the Everglades pond, and was determined to go swimming. His owner told me that he often tries to stalk the ducks, who can see him coming a mile off and fly just when he comes within sniffing distance. I only hope that his owner had a fine collection of towels. This was one very wet dog.

IMG_5613 IMG_5612

The Liminal Frog


Common Frogs (Rana temporaria) in amplexus

Frogs are mysterious creatures, neither land-living nor water-dwelling, but a bit of each. For a long time we didn’t know exactly what they were. In 1694, in France, it was described as ‘an insect that commonly lives in marshes’. Until the late nineteenth century, they were classified as reptiles, and it was only fairly recently that they were grouped as amphibians – animals which need water in which to breed, but which may live on dry land for the rest of the time. Frogs are certainly associated with damp conditions, which they need to prevent their skins from drying out, but they can be found quite a distance from water once the breeding season is over.

All through the winter, the male frogs have been hibernating, either in piles of deadwood, or under my wooden raised path, or in the sediment at the bottom of the pond. Then, one morning, I’ll look out of my bedroom window to see a cat sitting next to the water, taut with attention, and I’ll know that spring is coming, and the first frogs have woken up.

IMG_1210The male frogs emerge first, and wait around for the females to show. These are more likely to hibernate outside the pond – very sensibly because, as we’ll see, once they’re in the water they’ll be extremely popular.

The male frogs develop special bulges on their thumbs called ‘nuptial pads’. These help to hang onto the female during mating, and seem to have some kind of modified mucous gland inside, although there is no evidence that I’m aware of that they actually ‘stick’ to the females. No, grabbing and hanging on to a female (called ‘amplexus’) seems to be down to brute force and perseverance.


A splendid illustration of a nuptial pad, courtesy of Christian Fischer [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

A splendid illustration of a nuptial pad on an Edible Frog (Pelophylax esculentus), courtesy of Christian Fischer [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

The male frogs sing to attract a female, and on a warmish spring night I can hear the little calls while I’m washing up. Once a female has arrived, it’s every frog for himself. Usually, a relaxed relationship seems to develop. The female carries the male everywhere, and gets on with her day to day business. She is often full of spawn, but it might take her weeks to decide where, and when, to lay her eggs. As soon as she does so, the male frog releases his sperm, and the spawn is fertilised.

Two relaxed frogs waiting for a happy event.

Two relaxed frogs waiting for a happy event.Note how plump the female is! Hopefully it will be any day now.

Sometimes, however, things go wrong.

Oh dear.

Oh dear.

This froggy sandwich has been going on for several days, and none of the participants seem very happy. Look at that tangle of limbs! My heart goes out to the frog in the middle.  I have rarely seen so much pushing and shoving outside of a Northern Line tube train at rush hour. Frog hands are shoved under frog chins, legs kick and the whole group goes round and round in circles. I managed to capture one such attempt at resolving the situation. If you turn your sound up, you will even hear them singing.

There is much about frogs which is decidedly human in appearance. Their long, muscular legs and elegant fingers have something of the supermodel about them, whilst their big eyes and down-turned mouths always look a little disappointed to me, as if life has not turned out at all as they expected. And for many frogs, dissected in school labs, used in experiments or thrown, legless into a bucket after their limbs have been harvested for cuisses de grenouille, this would be a reasonable conclusion to come to. But for millions of other frogs, living out their lives in the relative peace of back gardens, lakes and ponds across the country, spring is a glad season, full of sex and excitement. It’s followed by a chance to retreat back into the undergrowth and do nothing more strenuous than munch on slugs and flies for the rest of the year. Happy is the garden with resident frogs, chilly-skinned, golden-eyed, and unchanged for 200 million years.

By Bernie (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Bernie (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons

Much of today’s information came from ‘Frog’ by Charlotte Sleigh, one of the wonderful Reaktion series on the cultural history of different species. Highly recommended!

Bugwoman’s First Annual Report

IMG_1194Dear Readers,

A year ago today, I created my first ever blog post for Bugwoman’s Adventures in London. At that time, I had no idea what I was doing, except that I had a passion for my local wildlife, and wanted to write about it, so I set myself the task of investigating the creatures that lived within a half-mile of my North London house. I wondered if anyone else was interested in the overlooked, under-reported animals that inhabit our gardens, our streets and sometimes even our houses.

Indoor Woodlouse 002

Woodlouse galloping over the duvet

In a world where the creatures and plants that live with us have so often been pushed to the margins, it was a relief to see that they are not going quietly. Once I started to pay attention (and of course I had to, because I needed something to write about), I found animals everywhere. There were foxes, frogs and snails in the back garden.

The Gardener's Friend

The Gardener’s Friend

Cropped Fox

A very confident fox hoovering up the suet pellets from the bird table

There were mistle thrushes on the local playing fields, and crows, parrots and woodpeckers in the tiny remnant of local wood around the corner.


Ring-necked parakeet setting up house

Crows 16

Crow bathing in Coldfall Wood

Jays stole the peanuts that I’d intended for the tits, and finches ate a 25kg bag of sunflower seeds every month.



There were damselflies and butterflies, Spanish slugs and froghoppers, early bees and leafcutter bees.

Red Admiral Cropped 2

Red Admiral on Ivy

Elecampane blog 6

Leaf Cutter bee on Elecampane in the garden

To begin with, I concentrated on writing, but soon I discovered that I wanted to photograph the creatures that I saw, to put together word and image. I grew to love sharing the sounds of nature with the people who read the blog, and even experimented with video. It fulfilled a deep need in me, but also seemed strangely familiar. And then I remembered why.

When I ten years old, I was in charge of the nature table at school. Do schools even have nature tables these days, I wonder? It was always full of bits and pieces that the children had found, acorns and feathers, seashells and stones, even, in pride of place, a shrew’s skull. But this wasn’t enough. I created a weekly nature magazine, eight pages every week, full of competitions and animal stories and accounts of creatures spotted. The other children read it mainly, I think, for the bars of chocolate that I bought with my pocket money to offer as prizes, but for me it was a chance to share what I had discovered with anyone who would listen.

“Look”, I wanted to say. “Isn’t that extraordinary?”


The trunk of the Totteridge Yew, over 2000 years old and still going strong

It isn’t enough for me to know something, or to have seen something. I need to share it, to help other people to see it, to hear about what’s going on in their gardens or parks. I want to be told stories too, and so often that’s what I get. A fox or a robin or a magpie shared, sometimes across continents, knits a community that does see, does care. Mine is not the only heart to leap at the sight of a heron, or at the sound of the first frog-song from the pond.

Heron Blog 22

But the real revelation for me this year has been the Wednesday Weed.



I started off knowing very little about the plants that grow in my neighbourhood – there were maybe a dozen that I could identify by sight. So, when I started writing about them, I thought that it would be a short-lived phenomenon. But instead, I realised that I was falling in love with the diverse, often scruffy, always overlooked plants that were everywhere around me. Like Londoners, they came from every corner of the world. Like Londoners, many of them were scratching out a living in the poorest of habitats, but surviving nonetheless. And like people everywhere, each species had its legends, its history and its place in the fabric of things. I loved unearthing the strange and wonderful stories of Herb Robert and White Deadnettle, of Groundsel and Yarrow, of Feverfew and Cuckoopint. It made me humble to realise how little I knew that would have been second nature to my recent ancestors. It reinforced my sense that so many people are alienated from the world around them, including myself. But it filled me with a kind of joy that it was so very easy to find out about the plants, to start to know them.

White Dead-nettle (Lamium album)

White Dead-nettle (Lamium album)

Trailing Bellflower

Trailing Bellflower

Pineapple Weed

Pineapple Weed

There is still something of the Ancient Mariner about me as I grab passers-by to encourage them to look at some bird or plant that I’ve found. An unfortunate young man got out of a council van outside a derelict house last week, only to have me inform him that the patch of Annual Mercury in the front garden had both male and female flowers, and, look, this is how you told them apart.

“Cool”, he said, in a way that made me think that perhaps he was either very slightly interested in what I’d told him, or very polite.

Annual Mercury (Male)

Annual Mercury (Male)

The mood of the media is unrelentingly negative. I don’t have to watch it for long before I feel my anger and grief turning to helplessness and depression. What, after all, can ‘ordinary’ people do? Fortunately,  ‘ordinary’ people are not ordinary at all. ‘Ordinary’ people get off their backsides and save the local woods that they love. ‘Ordinary’ people put up bird feeders, grow plants for pollinators, protest, sign petitions, fight for their communities. Only today, a report showed that urban gardens provide a haven for bees and other pollinators, and have more species than farmland. An indictment of farmland, to be sure, but how heartening for anyone with a garden or a window box or space for a container, no matter how small! Writing the blog has shown me how many people, all over the world, are noticing, caring and acting. Let’s not be downhearted, dark as things often seem. A lot of people, doing small things, can change everything.