July Nature Watch

John Fletcher lives in Great Shefford and runs the Great Shefford Nature Watch facebook group (which anyone in the Lambourn Valley is welcome to join).

He has kindly agreed to write this monthly nature column for us and welcomes comments below. To send in your pictures please email them to penny@pennypost.org.uk

John Fletcher looking at wildlife through binoculars

Local wildlife in July – identifying solitary bees 

Bees are at heart of the ecology we all enjoy and, more importantly, upon which we rely. Sustainability is quite simply undeliverable without bees so it is our absolute duty to understand, protect and promote them wherever we can.

Bumblebee nests grow throughout the season and produce new males and queens towards the end of their life-cycle. Throughout the life of the nest, a large number of smaller worker bees help the nest to grow by collecting nectar and pollen – these make up the majority of bees that you see out and about in summer. These workers only live for a few weeks as adults and then die naturally. It’s therefore quite normal to see fewer and fewer bumbles this month.

But the depth and breadth of bee species is vast, especially in the UK, and there are many species of solitary bees to identify and record (see here for how and why we should record wildlife sightings).

There are six types of solitary bee that will be flying in July, which demonstrate the extraordinary range of size and colouring that exists in the species.

The diminutive black small scissor bee measuring only 4.5mm is often mistaken for a fly, but can be easily recognised by the flowers that they frequent. Harebells or bellflowers offer their preferred habitat, where males will often be found sheltering during inclement weather.

The common yellow-faced bee, is not much bigger than the small scissor bee at 5 mm in length. Predominantly black the males are identified by the yellow spots on their back if they are female or yellow triangles if they are male. Unlike other bees, the common yellow-faced carries pollen back to its nest in its crop, rather like a pigeon, rather than on its back or legs. 

Another tiny bee to look out for this July iso the green-eyed flower bee, which as the name suggests sports large emerald eyes(only the male) and can be found feeding on catmints, lavender, Viper’s bugloss, Black Horehound and willowherbs, with an energetic high pitched buzzing and characteristic darting movement.

Three other solitary species to look out for are the slightly larger Willughby’s leaf cutter bee, the blue mason bee and the wool carder bee.

Leafcutters cut pieces of leaf from plants, including roses and lilac, to line their nests and are similar in size to a honeybee. They are brownish grey in colour and collect pollen on the underside of their tummy, which they have a habit of lifting up in the air while feeding on flowers. 

Blue mason bees look black but on closer inspection have a blue sheen.  Similar in size to a red mason bee, they have the same round bottom and hairs on their tummy to collect pollen. They will also nest in bee hotels, but  will seal their tubes with chewed up leaf, instead of mud. You’re most likely to see these bees on catmint, crane’s bill (hardy geraniums), knapweeds and flowering herbs.

For more details please visit urbanbees.co.uk

Keep an eye out for these wonderful creatures when you are out and about. Click on images below to enlarge and identify

Local wildlife in June

Well firstly let’s talk ducks and I want to thank all the drivers and motorcyclists for taking care going through our villages. There has been the odd hit and run but it looks like the little signs residents have put up have worked so well done.

Our lovely portly friends the hedgehogs are looking to get passionate this time of year as grunting can be heard in the gardens usually at dusk when they start their foraging, though the thought of mating hedgehogs does make you wince a bit. Hopefully you all have small holes in your fences at ground level (known as Hedgehog Highways) to allow our darling hedgehogs through as they do an enormous amount of good eating garden pests like slugs.

In the sky we now see a myriad of birds as many fledglings have left the comfort of their nests and annoying siblings for the freedom of the skies – starlings, house sparrows, robins and blue tits to name but a few.

Please comment below or let me know on the Great Shefford Nature Watch facebook group if you see other fledglings like greenfinch, chaffinch, dunnock (hedge sparrow) and song thrush as I believe that there has been a massive decline in these garden birds mainly due to the magpie. The magpie is not a garden bird as are the others, rather a woodland bird that has adapted. I have had robin, song thrush and blackbird chicks taken from their nests by these rats of the sky. A magpie will have up to seven chicks and all will want feeding till they themselves fledge…Rant over.

Barn owls will be quartering the fields more frequently as the chicks get bigger and hopefully there is an abundance of food as with these (and many other birds of prey ) the last born sibling can become a meal for the first born. Horrible thought but it’s all about survival and owls have evolved to start incubation once the first egg is laid (unlike garden birds that lay a full clutch then start incubation) allowing for the third or fourth chick to be on the menu. So yes hopefully plenty of mice and voles to go around. Barn owls can frequently be seen in the fields on the right hand side just after Maiden Court, driving towards East Garston.

Butterflies and moths again will be in abundance as the weather gets warmer, so keep an eye out for the striking Elephant Hawk Moth around the honeysuckle and other tubular flowers like foxglove. And now all the beautiful blooms of flowers and meadows plants are showing their stunning colours you may see the tortoiseshell, peacock, red admiral, large and small whites and many others. I even had a small copper in the garden last week but it flew off when I desperately tried to get a picture.

Swifts are an incredible bird, eating, sleeping and the only bird known to actually mate on the wing. They can fly distances of up to 500 miles (800km) a day during their migration from central Africa, south of the Sahara flying up through Spain & France at altitudes of around 10,000km. If you hear a bird that sounds like a high pitch scream then that’s the swift which could be attaining speeds of up to 69mph. There is only one predator that can catch these in flight and that’s the Peregrine Falcon with its 200mph stoop.

Swifts lay two to three white eggs in nest in building crevices and more recently nest boxes made for them, and they will defend their nests ferociously. It has also been recorded that when a swift female incubating eggs lost her mate, another male swift took its place and removed the eggs, mated with the female to keep his gene line intact – a bird version of infanticide which is recorded in lions.

Finally if you ever see a swift on the ground stumbling around it’s probably not injured it just has the tiniest claws and such a long wingspan that it’s impossible for it to get off the ground, so simply pick it up and lift it into the air, it will undoubtedly fly off.

As I said, let everyone on Great Shefford Nature Watch know your thoughts and also of course any pics would be great.

Click on these pictures to enlarge and to see captions:

Local wildlife in May

Here is some of the amazing wildlife to look out for this month:

The arrival of the beautiful swallow having flown three thousand miles from Africa and sleeping on the wing.

The first cuckoo will soon be make that amazing call to let all birds know treachery is at hand.

Barn owls will very soon be hunting for mice and voles between East Garston and Great Shefford, such a beautiful sight watching them quartering the fields then dropping like a stone on an unsuspecting victim.

Red kites will be sky dancing and locking talons in mid air like a distant scene of a dogfight, and will be getting mobbed by angry crows protecting their nests.

Hares are a beautiful sight this time of year. Watch them boxing in the fields as the female tells the male ‘I’m not ready yet’.

Bats are attracted by flying insects so if you keep an outside light on at dusk you have a chance of seeing these surprisingly charming creatures feeding.

Hedgehogs are out of hibernation now and love to wander up and down the garden looking for slugs and small invertebrates. Please do your best not to use slug pellets as these will have a detrimental effect on other wildlife as well. For instance song thrushes eat snails and if a snail has eaten slug pellets the toxins get into their system and the thrush’s eggshells don’t form properly and when the mother sits to incubate she crushes the eggs.

Butterflies to look out for are Brimstone and Orange Tip along with the usual Peacock and Tortoiseshell, and of course the gardeners favourites the small and large whites otherwise known as cabbage whites. A really special one for me is the holly blue with a very light blue underwing and striking azure blue above. I find it’s a great idea to buy books for identification though online is just as handy.

Bees are always a welcome sight especially bumblebees with their dominant black and yellow colours but it’s the tail which defines what type it is. Buff tailed and white tailed are the most common but there’s cuckoo, gypsy cuckoo and many more so keep your eyes peeled.

To keep our precious wildlife safe…

Please drive carefully along local roads as there are deer everywhere and if you are near a stream you might, like us, have an abundance of ducks this year with a plethora of ducklings. I found a dead female on the road in our village and dead ducklings have been found on the road in East Garston.

Please also think twice about using slug pellets in your garden due to the toxic affect on hedgehogs and birds that eat the slugs and snails. Here are some tips on gardening without slug pellets.

Thank you!


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